Improving Post-Primary Education Outcomes

Weak learning pathways in Myanmar’s education system impede student progress. Photo credit: Eric Sales/ADB.

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Myanmar is improving its secondary education system through reforms of curriculum, teaching, and student assessment.


Problems with post-primary education pose an increasingly binding constraint to the flow of skills into society and the economy. In particular, secondary education is marked by high rates of student dropout and failure to graduate, leaving the majority of youth without access to most forms of technical and vocational education training (TVET) or higher education.

This study analyzes the issues affecting enrollment levels, grade progression, and exit from education, and provides insights into the links between education quality, management, and attainment.

Analysis in the report principally draws on data from three sources: the Education Management Information System of Myanmar’s Ministry of Education; the Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey; and an ADB-funded survey of nearly 800 post-primary and secondary schools of different types in selected townships spanning all states and regions.

Key Findings

The study notes that, despite relative gender parity, gaps across urban-rural and socioeconomic dimensions widen dramatically at the secondary education level.  Children from rural families and from poor or otherwise disadvantaged groups are significantly less likely to transition from primary to secondary school or to successfully complete their secondary education.

The analysis demonstrates that "low quality drives low quantity" in Myanmar's education system. In particular:

  • While direct costs (e.g., fees) and opportunity costs (household income foregone by a child attending school instead of working) are important, "lack of Interest" is the lead reason for dropout within secondary education. This stems from perceptions that the education offered is not relevant to the real world or finding a decent job;
  • Private tutoring fees are the leading component of household spending on education in Myanmar;
  • Every year, two-thirds of the minority of youth reaching the end of upper secondary fails the final matriculation exam, leaving them without access to higher education and many forms of TVET.

Other factors that have depressed educational outcomes include:

  • The impacts of rote-based instruction and classroom overcrowding which have seen children with weaker academic and socioeconomic backgrounds slip behind and drop out;
  • The concentration of secondary schools, higher education institutions, and TVET providers in urban areas, and a lack of needs-targeted stipends, free dormitories, etc.;
  • The focus of public TVET provision on multiyear programs targeted at matriculation exam passers, and TVET providers targeting more affluent urban youth and niche skills like computers and languages rather than basic skills.

Rote-based instruction and classroom overcrowding cause children with weak academic backgrounds to drop out. Photo credit: Myo Thame.


The study finds that systemic issues and quality-related challenges have undermined the ability of the education system to equip youth with foundational skills needed in a modern economy. Key reform priorities include:

  • Changes to secondary education curriculum content, pedagogy, and student assessment to address the "lack of interest" factor and to refocus learning on soft skills;
  • Reform of TVET to improve relevance to employment and equitably expanding access to courses and programs that provide basic skills to disadvantaged youth;
  • Quality and management-related reforms needed in higher education;
  • Enhancing post-primary education outcomes also requires initiatives to address:
    • supply-side constraints, including expanding secondary school networks to underserved rural areas;
    • demand-side constraints, including through targeted needs-based stipends; and
    • strengthened learning pathways linking general education and TVET.

A relevant curriculum and reformed teaching and student assessment methods are needed to improve Myanmar's secondary education system. Photo credit: Eric Sales/ADB.

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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