Language Education Policy Studies
An International Network
New members welcome!

Myanmar Language Education Policy 

Myanmar, which was also known as Burma, is a Southeast Asian country, bordered by China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh and India. The eight major ethnic groups with different tribes in each group, total 135 recognized ethnic groups living in Myanmar.  The country was colonized by the British in three wars (1824, 1852 and 1885), completely achieved from 1885 to 1948. During another period from early 1942 to 1945, the Japanese invaded Myanmar.

 In the pre-colonial period, Myanmar people learned the teachings of Buddha from Buddhist monks. The British applied two language systems for administrative purposes; using English for the majority Burman populated areas and allowing ethnic languages in their areas of the country. The majority’s Burmese languages were resisted in the administrative system (Khin Khin Aye and Sercombe, 2014). There were three types of schools in the British colonial period: the vernacular school in which the medium of instruction was Burmese or one of the recognized indigenous languages; the Anglo-vernacular school in which English and Burmese or one of the indigenous languages were the medium of instruction and English was taught as a second language; and the English school in which English was the medium of instruction, with Burmese as the second language (Thein Lwin, 2000a).

Myanmar declared its independence on the 4th of January 1948. Ten years later in 1958, the Ministry of Education declared the policy on the medium of instruction. That policy stated that Burmese was to be used as the medium of instruction in schools and English was to be taught only from the fifth Standard onwards. However, there was a broad spectrum of state, private, Christian and Buddhist monastic schools legally functioning around the country and private and Christian schools taught English from the beginning of primary education. At the university, Burmese was also a medium of instruction for all subjects. English was the medium of instruction in the Honors and Masters classes. Since Burmese is the official language and medium of instruction in all public schools, the Burmese language had expanded with a great opportunity since the independence time of 1948. Nevertheless, children in ethnic minority areas had the opportunity to learn their mother tongue as a subject in primary schools (Thein Lwin, 2011).

However, beginning from the military regime in 1962, the use of the Burmese language as the medium of instruction still remained without any considerations of ethnic minority languages by preventing further national integration. English was the sole foreign language, but it was still taught from fifth standard as the second language. English language education was reintroduced from standard 0 as a second language in 1982. Via the 1966 Education Act; the government gave different non-Burman groups freedom to promote their languages and cultures in school. While languages of ethnic minorities had not theoretically been prohibited, following independence, there was a lack of political will and financial support to ensure minority groups equality with Burmans.

Burmese language has constantly been used as the medium of instruction since 1948.


Chapter 7, section 39 (a) of Myanmar National Education Law issued on 30 September 2014 by the Union of the Republic of Myanmar states the goal of: “giving the ability to raise each ethnic group’s rich literature, culture, arts, traditions and historical heritage along with the values that every citizen should have.” Moreover, section 43 (a) in this chapter of National Educational states that: “Instruction can be in Myanmar or English or in a combination of Myanmar and English” and section 43 (b) states that: “If there is a need, an ethnic language can be used alongside Myanmar as a language of instruction at the basic education level.” Section 44 states that: “In Divisions or States, teaching of ethnic languages and literature can be implemented by Division or State governments, starting at the primary level and gradually expanding (to higher grades.)”


In practice, the indigenous ethnic languages still have a little chance to be promoted over Burmese language because they are not still recognized as the official languages of the respective regions in the new language policy of Myanmar. However, some difficulties might be encountered to use indigenous ethnic language as a subject (first or second language) and medium of instructions. Some mother tongues do not have written languages. Some languages do not have sufficient vocabulary to use in educational purpose. Teachers of the ethnic languages may be with the lack of teacher training and language skills. There might be the lack of textbook material to teach ethnic languages. The main problem is the multiplicity of languages of ethnic languages in each state or region, which may be challenging to make a consensus of which language will be used as a mother tongue in this region.




Myanmar (Burma) in 4k (Ultra HD) 60fps


Khin Khin Aye & Sercombe, P. (2014). Language Education and Nation-Building in Myanmar. Sercombe, P. & Tupas, R (ed.), Language, Education and Nation-building: assimilation and shift in Southeast Asia. Palgrave Macmillan Press.

National Education Law (2014), Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Parliamentary law No.41.

Thein Lwin (2000a) Education Cost of Army Rule, paper presented at the seminar ‘Burma Days in Oslo’ University of Oslo, Norway. Retrieved from:

Thein Lwin (2011). Languages, Identities, and Education – in Relation to Burma/Myanmar. Retrieved from:


This web page has a copyright. It may be referred to and quoted, or reproduced and distributed for educational purposes according to fair use legislation only if the following citation is included in the document:

This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Thin Zar, E. (2018). Language Education Policies in Myanmar. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved at: (insert link) 


Widget is loading comments...