Promoting Economic Growth through Reforms in Education

The Myanmar Government has initiated reforms in post-primary education. Photo credit: ADB.

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Myanmar has taken steps to improve its education sector to advance inclusive growth and reduce poverty.


Myanmar's education sector is a critical supporting pillar to the country’s socioeconomic transformation and recovery from the impacts of decades of isolation.  However, the lack of basic data and gaps in capacities, policy, and planning posed a key roadblock to education sector reforms urgently needed following decades of underinvestment. 

The Government of Australia co-financed with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) two critical technical assistance projects for Support for Education Sector Planning and Support for Post-Primary Education Development, that supported a government-led stock take of the education sector after decades of underinvestment. Both projects supported Myanmar’s landmark Comprehensive Education Sector Review, which culminated in the government’s National Education Strategic Plan, 2016-2021. In particular, they provided analytical, policy, and capacity building support focused on post-primary education: secondary education, technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and higher education.  

Myanmar’s first evidence-based education sector plan in decades now serves as a roadmap for national reforms that will help reshape the education system to meet the needs of the country’s socioeconomic transformation.

Project Snapshot

  • 2012–2017 : (Combined)

  • $2.8 million : (combined)

  • Financing :
  • Financing :
    • Government of Australia
  • Executing agency :
    • Myanmar’s Ministry of Education

Employers and investors cite a weak education and skills base as a leading constraint to conducting business in Myanmar. The government recognized the need to put education at the core of its reform agenda, to address these challenges and fuel Myanmar’s transformation. 

With progress toward universalizing primary education, more than 80% of Myanmar's youth complete primary education. However, in recent years, less than half (44%) of youth completed even lower secondary education. Less than 20% of youth successfully complete upper secondary education, with a smaller number able to access higher education or vocational training. 

Low access reflects a legacy of underinvestment in post-primary education. Weak human capital, in turn, threatens to trap Myanmar in an economic model based on unskilled labor while leaving many youth unable to participate in and benefit from growth.  

After opening up from decades of isolation, the government recognized the need for urgent reforms. However, these reforms were blocked by a dearth of data and limited capacity to diagnose challenges, root causes, and priority interventions. As part of the Comprehensive Education Sector Review and in parallel with support from other partners, the government enlisted ADB’s assistance to strengthen analytical, policy, and planning capacities, with a focus on post-primary levels of education. 


International evidence confirms that education is one of the most significant contributors to eliminating income inequality and reducing poverty. But how can Myanmar advance these aims if a “missing majority” is left weakly educated and unskilled? 

Myanmar has been taking steps to improve its education sector after decades of neglect. Enrolment and completion rates are rising at all levels, but only a minority of youth are able to successfully complete education and training at post-primary levels. Low quality has also been a critical and interlinked challenge, and a leading factor driving students to drop out after primary school.  Moreover, outdated curriculum, teaching, and assessment (as well as weak infrastructure, etc.) mean that graduates are ill-prepared to function in a modern society and economy. As Myanmar’s industry and service sectors expand, gaps for basic “soft skills” (e.g., critical thinking, communication, and math and science skills) and vocation-specific “hard skills” will only become more pressing. 


In 2012, Myanmar embarked on far-reaching reforms, including in the education sector. However, such reforms were hindered by lack of hard evidence on challenges facing the sector, as well as limited capacities and exposure to international experience. 

Understanding realities on the ground

The Comprehensive Education Sector Review, which started in 2012, was a collaborative effort. In coordination with other development partner assistance, the technical assistance projects supported officials seconded from the Ministry of Education and other ministries. This process built local capacities through learning-by-doing in data gathering and analysis, including analysis of equity across gender and other dimensions. It also supported engagement with local education sector stakeholders (including via consultations and surveys) and distillation of relevant international experience. This helped ensure that realities on the ground and global experience informed evidence-based policy reforms and planning.    

Making education work for a transformed Myanmar

Myanmar’s emerging economy needs to attract investment in modern sectors to generate jobs and fuel economic transformation. Expanded and higher quality education is a vital prerequisite.

In addition to feeding into the review of the education sector and drafting of the National Education Strategic Plan, the projects supported Ministry of Education efforts to prepare for reforms of secondary education.  Secondary education accounts for the largest share (half) of youth entering non-agricultural wage employment, and reforms are urgently needed to shift from rote-based approaches to a focus on flexible “soft skills” such as analytical and critical thinking, communication, and math and science skills.  

The projects helped the Ministry of Education develop secondary education components of the new Basic Education Curriculum Framework, and supported development of new and gender-sensitive lower and upper secondary education curricula.

Finally, the second project also contributed to drafting of the human capital pillar under the government’s Private Sector Development Framework and Action Plan, complementing broader support by ADB and Australia to formulate that policy document.


Both technical assistance projects were highly successful in providing timely and effective support to critical government-led processes.

In coordination with support from other development partners, the two sequenced technical assistance projects supported the Myanmar government’s completion of the landmark Comprehensive Education Sector Review and formulation of an evidence-based National Education Strategic Plan. 

The National Education Strategic Plan provides a common roadmap for government and development partner investments to move from “education for the sake of education” to an education system that supports Myanmar’s socioeconomic transformation. 

Its overall goal is improved teaching and learning, vocational education and training, and research and innovation leading to measurable improvements in student achievement in schools and educational institutions. To advance this goal, chapters of the national plan identify specific interventions (strategic components) linked to nine transformational shifts related to: 

  1. expanded preschool and kindergarten education;
  2. accessible and inclusive basic education; 
  3. basic education curriculum relevant to the needs of a 21st-century Myanmar; 
  4. assessment of students focused on learning, not rote memorization; 
  5. interactive and student-centered teaching practice; 
  6. expanded, higher quality alternative education; 
  7. labor market-responsive vocational education and training (TVET); 
  8. accessible, world class higher education; and 
  9. education sector management, capacity development, and quality assurance. 

Key directions of the plan have also been integrated into the new cross-sectoral Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan. Launched in 2018, it links closely to the international Sustainable Development Goals.  

The Australia-cofinanced assistance to the government of Myanmar supported strengthened capacity for policy formulation and planning under the Comprehensive Education Sector Review, which culminated in the National Education Strategic Plan. 

This assistance comprised the first two phases of sequenced ADB support via four technical assistance projects. In turn, these provided the foundation of ADB’s first-ever education lending for Myanmar, Equipping Youth for Employment. Approved in November 2016, the project is now supporting key government reforms in secondary education, as well as TVET, to help critical subsectors collectively strengthen the flow of “soft skills” and “hard skills” needed in a modernizing economy.  Looking forward, ADB is committed to supporting to Myanmar’s education reform agenda.


Collaboration and coordination 

Both projects benefited from strong ownership by the government and linkage to the government-led, development partner-supported Comprehensive Education Sector Review process. This helped ensure the sustainability of the outcomes of the technical assistance projects by building the capacity of government counterparts in sector analysis and planning, among others. 


The technical assistance project designs built in substantial flexibility. Intensive ADB staff involvement throughout these projects also helped capitalize on the flexible designs by immediately responding to shifting contexts. 

Sequencing and follow-through

The projects’ inclusion in a sequenced longer-term game plan meant that their outcomes were sustained and magnified in succeeding support, including ADB’s first-ever education loan project in Myanmar. 

Chris Spohr
Principal Portfolio Management Specialist, Myanmar Resident Mission, Asian Development Bank

Chris joined the Asian Development Bank in 2000 after completing his PhD in development economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His work at ADB has principally focused on projects and analytical work related to education and training, poverty and social protection, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDs, gender, and civil society. Since mid-2014, he has been based at the ADB Resident Mission in Naypyidaw, providing frontline contributions to ADB’s support to Myanmar’s transformation. He is currently on leave.

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