Director-General Pledges Full Support to Myanmar’s Democratic Transition
Director-General Irina Bokova pledged UNESCO’s full support to Myanmar’s democratic reforms, modernization and peace-building process during meetings with President U Thein Sein and five of his cabinet ministers, in the capital city of Nay Pyi Taw on 7 August 2012. She also affirmed UNESCO’s commitment to accompany the country’s transition in a discussion on education, culture and freedom of expression with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the National League for Democracy and Member of Parliament since April 2012.
“I come at an important moment in the life of your country and commend you for your commitment and efforts to modernize, open up and to make education a priority,” Ms Bokova told the President, recalling that Myanmar has been a member of UNESCO since 1945. “Through our knowledge and expertise, we can offer our support to your efforts in peace-building, improving education quality, promoting education for peace and human rights, and recognizing the role of culture for constructing more inclusive and harmonious societies, and for creating jobs.”
“Education, science, culture, communications and peace-building are core elements for our country at present,” said the President. “We have to make all citizens literate, advance education and create jobs for the people of Myanmar.” He drew attention to the signing of peace agreements in the past year with ten out of eleven armed groups in the country, stressing the urgency to provide education, health and other basic needs as part of the reconstruction and rehabilitation process.
Culture has a central role to play in the reform and peace-building agenda. Noting that the people of Myanmar place great value on their rich cultural heritage, the President called upon UNESCO to provide assistance for the preservation of ancient sites such as Pyu Cities and Bagan, both on the World Heritage tentative list.
The recognition of the languages, cultures and traditions of the country’s 100-plus ethnic minorities was highlighted as a key to peace-building. The Director-General stressed that “culture and heritage have a multiplying effect on the lives of people,” underlining the importance of “preserving cultural diversity and having a notion of national identity. ”
She encouraged the President and the Minister of Culture and Information to ratify Conventions relating to intangible heritage (2003) and to the diversity of cultural expressions (2005). “These Conventions play a role in peace-building by recognizing the cultures and traditions of different communities, creating more inclusiveness and creating jobs.”
Literacy, cultural heritage and respect for cultural diversity were also at the heart of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s concerns. She noted the need for accurate data to reflect the real situation of literacy in the country and measures to reduce high school drop out rates that fuelled illiteracy. Reflecting on issues of identity and culture, she said “the best way to preserve our own culture is to give people confidence in themselves so that they can create a society in which they can take pride.” Education also has a role to play in building up a culture of negotiation.
All ministers called for extended cooperation with UNESCO.
Foreign Affairs Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin stated that as part of the move towards a “new political and economic system, cooperation with the United Nations is a cornerstone of our foreign policy.” He said that “UNESCO’s role is very important for Myanmar’s reform, underlining that “education can help to build confidence, trust, national unity and democracy.”
U Aung Min, Union Minister for Railways and Vice Chairman of a national peace-making committee, called for assistance to provide literacy and skills to internally displaced persons and refugees, explaining that the Government would establish a “Peace Centre” to improve the coordination of the peace process between government, international organizations, civil society, NGOs and donors.
The Minister of Education Dr Mya Aye and Chairman of the Myanmar National Commission for UNESCO, stressed the need to upgrade the quality of teachers, increase literacy schemes in rural and remote areas, train instructors to teach in local languages and better connect technical and vocational education with job opportunities.
The Minister for Information and Culture U Kyaw Hsan, reiterated the call for capacity building, technology and financing to preserve the country’s cultural heritage, prepare nomination files to inscribe sites on the World Heritage List and assist with documenting intangible heritage. He also requested support to upgrade journalism curricula, in response to the Director-General’s insistence on positive role media can play in the in the peace-building process.
The Minister for Science and Technology U Aye Myint made an urgent appeal for assistance in teacher training for technical and vocational education and integrated rural development to improve livelihoods, stressing that the country had to prepare for joining the ASEAN free market in 2015.
“I believe this is a beginning of a deeper and longer-term cooperation,” said the Director-General, pledging to strengthen UNESCO’s presence in Myanmar, including through the establishment of a project office in the country.