State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended and addressed the 2018 Conference on Implementing Education Development held at the Myanmar International Convention Centre (II) (MICC-II), Nay Pyi Taw yesterday morning. Following is an unofficial translation of her address.
Today’s topic for discussion is very important for our country. Although we say higher education sector, this starts from the primary level. For many years, our education system has been weak starting from the primary level. When our youngsters reach higher levels, it became more difficult to raise their levels. So if teachers and the Ministry of Education struggling in the higher education sector are facing difficulties, our students must also be facing difficulties. We need to think how to overcome the bad foundation in order to reach the ultimate fine destination. The responsibility of everyone involved in the higher education sector is enormous.
To achieve success in education, there must be a belief in achieving success. This must be in the mind of our youths. Parents and teachers who guide and teach them also need to have this belief. As the youths are capable of achieving success, there must be a belief to achieve success.
We all need to think what sort of knowledge is required for a society to progress. We need to look at our country’s weaknesses. We also need to look at our country’s strengths. Our country’s strength, our culture’s strength is in the value the society places on education since the early part of our history. We have words and sayings that values knowledge. We all need to know that knowledge or education is not something that we obtain from a school room only. Our children need to know this, too.
The biggest challenge we face now is how to make our youngsters in our universities reach up to the required level when their primary, middle, and high school education were not up to the required level. We have to find a way on how to bypass or overcome this. I sometimes think whether jumping over or going around an obstacle is the correct way of overcoming it. Do we really need to go along the same path? Why can’t we find a path that is more suitable for us? When doing this, we can take lessons from others. Taking lessons is not copying. Based on other people’s experience, we find the best way for us. This is taking a lesson. Copying what they did, without thinking whether it is appropriate or not for us, doing something they did because it made their country rich, is not right. Countries are different. Countries progress in different time periods. The time our country is striving to develop is not the same, as problems faced by successful countries in the region during the 1980s when they were trying to develop were not the same. That is why we need to aim towards education development that is appropriate for our country.
I’m very much encouraged by the mindset of our youngsters in primary and middle schools. They have full confidence. They have the will to study. They are keen and alert. As for youngsters in high schools, the teachers will know more. How are they when they are in the universities? Do they have the will to learn? This is most important. I don’t differentiate between a good, bad, sharp and dull person. Whether a person can be taught or not is also not dependent on the person’s age. Some who are 90 years old can still be taught, while some who are young couldn’t be taught. Influence by the surrounding environment is the major factor whether a person could be taught or not. A person who was raised well since young will have a mindset of wanting to learn new things. If the response towards a young person’s inquisitions was not positive, their inquisitiveness will become dulled. That is why our higher education system needs to encourage this mindset towards learning.
The other thing is not to be afraid of failure. In our country, failure means having less marks or points in comparison to others in a test or an examination. If our points are less than others, we say we fail and the others win. I say this again and again. We need to compete with ourselves. We try and put in the best we can. When we compete with others, we compete to their level only. I don’t want to encourage this, as it develops into jealousy that is not beneficial for the society.
Higher education must not be differentiated by age. Higher education doesn’t mean attending a university. Higher education is an education that couldn’t be completed. I need to caution everyone on this. The major weakness in our country, where we need to strengthen is in the public servants. Public servants passed through our old education system, and then they reached the level of being public servants; they need to review whether they’ve reached the level required to be good public servants. I hope there are many public servants who are doing this, and it is important that they do so. Only through this can they improve. The higher education system needs to be thought out and implemented with an aim not only for students in schools and universities only but also for the people of the country.
We are now spending more on education. Spending correctly is more important than spending more. To think how we can spend the money we have for the best benefit of our country is important. We must be good at the beginning to be good in the end. Generally, we have high esteem for our teachers in universities over our teachers in the primaries. I don’t think this is right. Good teachers in primaries set a good foundation for the children’s future. Based on this solid foundation, upper structures like primary, middle, high school and university (education) are built up. Education personnel involved in higher education and the people who are interested in education must not differentiate primary and other education levels. They need to look at it as a continuous process.
To say it openly, the teachers themselves are the products of a past weak education system. But it is not too late. We always have time to raise our quality. So please study. Strive towards raising ourselves. By raising ourselves, we are raising our country and be honored. I want to encourage this. In the end, it is the mindset. If the mindset of our teachers and our students are correct, we will succeed for sure. If we help ourselves in cooperation and coordination, we will succeed. We have friends around the world that will help us, too. But in the end, we have to depend on ourselves. No help is more effective than the help you give yourself.
Research is important in higher education. Research is finding new ways. Research is not an end. It is the beginning of new ways and means. Our education policy includes the encouraging of research. As we have ignored research for long, our inborn inventive minds became dull. That is why research has been given priority. Research must be conducted on topics and subjects that are appropriate for our country. Only then can our progress be practical. Only then can there be progress in our country. Only then can we and our education be abreast with the world. I don’t think I need to emphasize that many support materials are required to conduct a good research. I would like to say that the private sector can participate in this. In developed countries, businesses provide much support in research. We need to have that sort of support. We must lay a foundation for our country in the practice of struggling for its future. This is a matter that is important for higher education. I must talk about libraries when I talk about research.
We were just getting out of an era where we didn’t have many libraries. We lack libraries and bookshops. Traditionally, our culture values literature. Selecting books at road side stalls are one of the important relaxation habits of our culture. Gradually, this habit is declining. There aren’t many bookshops, anymore. We compare nations with the numbers of bookshops they have and the ease with which we can get a book we want. This does not depend on whether a country is rich or poor. In some countries that we think are poor, books are readily available.
Bookshops are everywhere. These are, in fact, countries that are developed. Their prospects are bright.
When obtaining higher education, I encourage the desire to read and the habit of reading. There are thoughts on higher education departments to conduct things freely on their own thoughts, ideas and beliefs. When thinking in this way, equal value should be given to both university education and vocational education in the higher education system.
Vocational schools are much required in our country. These are very valuable. In some of the most developed countries, vocational education is valued highly. Our country’s advantage here is that the interest and values our people, students, as well as parents are giving importance to vocational education within the past couple of years. We need to build up on this.
In most Asian countries, vocational education is considered as beneath university education. As vocational education is considered as second rated, the students brought out by our education system do not meet the country’s requirement. But now, I’m encouraged to see the value placed on vocational education.
Not only the Ministry of Education but the private sector also needs to assist in this. I want to encourage private sector to establish and support vocational education and schools.
I also want to clear a bit about distance education. For many years, our distance education has become an easy way of earning a degree. A degree obtained easily is not similar to a hard earned degree. I don’t blame earning a degree through distance education. But we need to value the education provided. Our distance education system didn’t provide the required education. We are now striving towards making our distance education system a system that provides good education like a university education. All need to cooperate in this.
Raising the capacity of the teachers is a big challenge. To raise the education level of the students, we need to raise the quality of our teachers. We need to struggle a lot here too. Teachers have their responsibilities toward their families so they could not give all their time towards the education of the students. But I want teachers to try their best to increase their capability for the sake of the country. Through this, they’ll be satisfied themselves. They’ll become people who work not only for the benefit of the students and the country, but also for the entire world as well.
Education development is most important for our country. Some may have not noticed this, but I do. We must encourage enthusiasm in our students and the confidence they have. We must instill in them the belief that they are capable to achieve success. If we didn’t do this in the beginning, we wouldn’t be able to correct it later on.
Most youths who are in the higher education level now are victims of a weak education system. They need to change the old habits they have acquired. They need to be taught on how to obtain education that is appropriate to the times. This is a big challenge our teachers are facing. If we can overcome this challenge, we can be satisfied for our country’s future. We don’t need to wait until the youngsters attending primary schools come of age. All have the responsibility of overcoming this big challenge to our higher education system in creating educated youths that would support our country’s development. This responsibility lies with the teachers who are government employees, the teachers, the students and even the private sector. The main responsibility is on the parents. Only when parents instill in their children proper mindsets and good values, can the teachers have good support. All need to work together in this for success to be achieved, and I believe it can be achieved. Because of this belief, I can say we will succeed. In conclusion, I urge everyone in the higher education sector to put in their efforts with this belief.