Investing in Home-Grown Talent | Why We Invested: eTekkatho Digital Libraries
Myanmar finds itself on the cusp of technological revolution. Encouraged by outside investment and the country’s innovative spirit along with high smart phone penetration, a tech-focused entrepreneurship ecosystem is emerging.
Education is critical to sustaining this streak of innovation. However, Myanmar’s education system has largely been neglected and underfunded for decades, making it hard for employers to find the right local talent to fit jobs coming out of the growing economy, including in the tech sector.
Over a 50 year period, Myanmar allocated an average budget of 1.3% of total government expenditure to education, although it has increased in recent years. In fiscal years 2016/17, education accounted for 7% of the total budget, with about US$1.1bn (MMK 1.5 trn) allocated. The government announced that US$ 1.3bn (MMK 1.7 trn), or 8.4% of the budget, would be allocated to education in 2017/18. Though the amount committed to education in Myanmar has grown, the percentage spent in Myanmar pales in comparison to what other countries in the region spend. According to data from The World Bank, Bangladesh allocated 15.6% of its total budget to education in 2015, India allocated 14.1% in 2013, Singapore allocated 20% in 2013, and Thailand allocated 18.9% in 2013.
Due to this historical lack of investment, the quality and the infrastructure of Myanmar schools and universities has faltered. Teachers are insufficiently trained and students are forced to learn from aged resources. The most visible of those aged resources are university libraries, which have very limited print collections, typically with only a few bookshelves containing out-of-date textbooks. Moreover, fixed internet connectivity outside Yangon and Mandalay is poor, and most universities in the country don’t have an adequate internet connection. As a result, educational standards have been undermined and students are missing out on the opportunity to acquire the skillsets they need to succeed in education and in the modern workplace.
This is why we have invested US$ 200,000 over two years in eTekkatho Digital Libraries, a program established by the Tekkatho Foundation at universities across Myanmar. eTekkatho is an open, free, self-contained, and robust digital library of educational resources which students (with or without easy access to the internet) can access. The library works on local network topology, meaning eTekkatho does not rely on universities having a reliable internet connection or a fixed IP address. This allows eTekkatho to be set up anywhere, so they can target hard-to-reach and underserved communities. eTekkatho is able to create networks enabling students to access content on their personal devices, and the library’s Intranet structure allows students to access content from anywhere on the campus in addition to the computers at the library buildings.
The eTekkatho digital library contains relevant, high quality resources especially selected to support learning, teaching, and research in Myanmar, and the content is updated regularly. The main library covers subjects identified by universities and users as being of particular importance: education, environment, geography, earth sciences, English language, teacher training, information technology, and mathematics. The library also contains special collections of rich resources such as MOOCs from The University of Manchester and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), basic science videos from Khan Academy and Fuse School, research and study skills, bilingual Wikipedia resources, and Yaung Zin teacher training resources, designed for teachers in monastic schools to encourage child-centered learning.
As of June 2017, the eTekkatho digital library had been set up at 24 public universities and six public community libraries, including National Libraries in the capital Nay Pyi Taw and in Yangon, which is the largest city in Myanmar. Over 4,000 students have attended eTekkatho training courses and more than 400,000 pieces of content have been downloaded so far. With our investment, eTekkatho aims to broaden its available subject areas and to increase Myanmar language resources. The organization will also add more tools to build students’ confidence in learning and using English, which will enable students and teachers in Myanmar universities to access high quality resources for learning, teaching, and research and to equip them with basic IT and information literacy skills.
If Myanmar is to secure its position as one of Southeast Asia’s most vital new economies, continued investment in education will be critical. We believe initiatives like eTekkatho Digital Libraries have the power to modernize and transform the impact of education in Myanmar.