Rohingya Vision

For Rohingya students, university remains an elusive dream

Sixteen-year-old Zaw Myint Tun, who sat Myanmar’s national matriculation exams in March, wants to study engineering but is prohibited from doing so by law because as an ethnic Rohingya he is not considered a citizen of Myanmar (Photo by Will Baxter)

For Rohingya students, university remains an elusive dream
April 06
07:15 2015

Sixteen-year-old Zaw Myint Tun wants to be an engineer. In mid-March, he sat Myanmar’s national matriculation exams in the hope of going to university and pursuing his goal.

In preparation, he told in an interview, he drew out a study schedule, with different exercises covering the six subjects included in the matriculation exams.

“I would get up at four in the morning to do the exercises before school,” said Zaw Myint Tun, dressed in a sharp plaid shirt and sporting a strictly-business crew cut. “At seven, I would drink some coffee to wake up a bit, then go to school. After school, I had more tuition until late.”’

Last month, students all over the country took the exams, in which a higher overall score will get you into a more prestigious institution of higher learning, on a more prestigious course.

For Zaw Myint Tun, only a score high enough to get into a university in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, will do. The closest university to his home in Thetkepyin village, Akyab (Sittwe) University — which has a lower entrance requirement — would not let him in.

Zaw Myint Tun is a member of the Rohingya ethnic group in western Myanmar’s Arakan  (Rakhine) state, who since violent riots spread across the state in 2012 have had restrictions placed on their movement, as well as on their access to basic services and education.

His family fled their hometown of Kyaukphyu by boat, reaching the part of the Akyab (Sittwe) peninsula that now forms a sort of open prison of camps and villages for more than 100,000 people.

Zaw Myint Tun has already lowered his expectations from actually studying engineering, which is one of a handful of subjects, also including law and medicine, that can only be studied by Myanmar citizens. Most Rohingya, including Zaw Myint Tun, do not have citizenship as the group is not recognized as an official “nationality” in the country.

“I know I can’t do engineering at a Government Technical College, so I will take mathematics or English,” he said. “Then I will try to find a job at a construction company where I can train to be an engineer.”

If he gets onto a course in Yangon, he will likely still face difficulties. According to Muslim former students in Yangon, even non-Rohingya Muslims have faced discrimination at Myanmar universities, with degree certificates in some cases being withheld if the student cannot present a national identity card.

“I will have to get a permit from the immigration department,” said Zaw Myint Tun, who is in a better position than most Rohingya students as he has been singled out for financial support by displaced people from Kyaukphyu.

But no efforts have been made by the university to reach out to young Rohingya people in Akyab (Sittwe), who would anyway face a difficult task studying at their home — which for most is a crowded temporary shelter.

“After the violence, the students are living in very tough conditions,” said U Khin Maung, the headmaster at Thetkepyin High School. “Their circumstances are unstable, so many are not really interested in studying.”

Thetkepyin school has only seven government-trained teachers, alongside 51 local volunteer teachers, and some 2,600 students to teach, the headmaster said. Much of the teachers’ work involves building up basic education among a population with high levels of illiteracy and widespread trauma.

However, he insisted, “The teaching is good here. Our students are improving a lot since the violence, but the normal school education level has not been resumed yet. After the violence, many were affected, both mentally and physically.”

Last year, only two students out of 18 who took the matriculation exam passed. One of those made it onto a pharmaceutical course in Yangon, offering a chink of hope to this year’s cohort of 98 who sat the exam.

“I’m hopeful that 10 to 15 will pass this year,” Khin Maung said. “Sittwe University is closed to them, so they have no future here. But we encourage them. If they work much harder, they might get into Yangon University and get out of here.”

Note:Changes have been made,UCAnews is not responsible for these.




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