Language Education Policy Studies
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Myanmar English Education 

In this high pace era, English can be assumed as a fundamental communication tool and lingua franca for economic and political development. Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country, offers English as the only foreign language learned as a mandatory subject for all levels. Burmese is a national and official language taught at school and used in administration. English language education has been varied throughout the times in Myanmar. 

In the pre-colonial period, the Buddhist monasteries were the center of education and culture. This meant education focused on religion and ethics rather than society and economics. As early as 1813, before the first Anglo-Myanmar war in 1924, missionary schools could operate freely; missionaries began providing English language education (Han Tin, 2000, p. 137). During the British colonial period, English was the language of administration and the medium of instruction from kindergarten to university. English fluency was essentially required for the people who wanted to work under government administration. The British banned the Burmese language, stirring nationalism amongst education activists (Khin Khin Aye, 2014). One slogan from the Myanmar nationalist movement was:

Bama pyi thi do pyi

Bama sat hi do sa

Bama saga: thi do saga:

Do pyi ko chit per

Do sa ko myat no: pa

Dp saga: ko lei sa: pa

Burma is our country.

Burmese literature is our literature

Burmese language is our language

Love our land

Value our literature

Respect our language



After Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the new Myanmar government redesigned the education system and textbooks to build on Myanmar culture. Despite the growing national sentiment, English remained the medium of instruction for the university level. From 1958 to 1982, textbooks in all fields of study were written in Burmese. The Nationalist movement rejected the colonial English language, so students did not learn English until standard 5.

The 1981 New Education Program re-introduced the English language as a compulsory subject from Standard 0. In the 5-4-2 curriculum cycle of basic education, the textbooks of all subject areas, except Burmese, are written in English for the last two years of high school. The English language is assumed to be the medium of instruction for higher education; however, the lack of government support with material aids, teaching methods, and proficient ELT teachers, results in university graduates failing to speak English after 15 years of studying the language. An exception to this are the children of the elite who study abroad.

When English is assumed to be a development language, in a country like Myanmar which maintains the position of the least developed country (LDC) in the report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) since 1980 (Myanmar Times, 2014), it might have been the essential language for the country’s development. However, the sanctions imposed in 1997 by U.S and European countries on the military regime prohibited foreign investments and employment opportunities which could generate country’s development and English language role. In addition to Western sanctions, the civil wars caused between ethnic armed groups and military junta block peace, stability, and tranquility to guarantee and invite other foreign countries’ interests.

A little piece of light on English language education and motivation to learning English came along with the 2010 Democratic election and ASEAN economic community. Non-government organizations (NGOs) offered aid to the urban and rural areas, creating many job opportunities. Moreover, President Obama lifted the U.S. sanctions against Myanmar in October 2016. Foreign eyes fell on Myanmar leading to some economic development. Thein Lwin (2011) noted in his examination of language education policy in Myanmar that “learning the English language may lead to economic advantages, help in dealing with the outside world, and improve prospects of study abroad and employment” (Lwin, 2011). Many young Myanmar seek English education for more employment opportunities. English schools have emerged as the requirement in preparing the capacity building of Myanmar youth.

The current Rohingya crisis and the government’s action on and against this specific minority group was deemed an ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the UN. The U.S and the EU consider placing sanctions back on Myanmar, referring to the government’s unsatisfactory action on the crisis (CNBC news, 2017). In addition to Western blocks, the pressure by powerful ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia on Myanmar might also impact the economic connection within ASEAN countries; which might also affect the motivation and future of English language education relating to the development of the country.


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Chadran, N. (17th Oct 2017).US considers slapping sanctions back on Myanmar a year after removing them.  CNBC news. Retrieved from:

Han Tin (2000). Myanmar Education: Status, Issues and Challenges. Journal of Southeast Asian Education 1(1): 134-62.

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.

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

Trautwein, C. (8th Dec 2014). Myanmar maintains position on list of world’s least developed countries. Myanmar Times. Retrieved from:

Wong Soon Fen (2005). English in Myanmar. SEAMEO RELC Journal. 36(1): 93-104. SAGE Publications


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

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