When official recognition of schools in non-government areas in Kachin and Northern Shan States was withdrawn in the aftermath of the renewed Kachin war of 2011, students from these areas, most of whom are internally displaced, found themselves no longer eligible to take government regulated matriculation exams. This meant that they were deprived of opportunities to pursue higher education at universities inside the country. With their futures in limbo, girls especially are in danger of falling prey to human traffickers and a life of misery and exploitation.
To mitigate the situation, the Metta Development Foundation (Metta-Myanmar.org) stepped in to find pathways for the disadvantaged Kachin girls to continue with their education. Metta approached the Asian University for Women (AUW) at Chittagong in Bangladesh (www.asian-university.org), and an agreement was reached whereby up to 15 young Kachin women would be admitted with full scholarships for each academic year.
The AUW is a perfect fit for the Kachin students as the university provides programs specially designed for young women like them who have potential, but limited opportunity to pursue higher education. The university brings together young women of diverse backgrounds within the region, many from underserved communities, and provides them with training to become “leaders and changemakers”. Faculty members are recruited from many of the world’s top universities to take charge of the university’s courses in liberal arts and sciences.
To qualify for admission, applicants are required to go through a written examination and an oral interview to establish they have the obligatory level of proficiency in English. The English proficiency requirement part has proven to be the biggest hurdle for the young Kachin women. Thus far, it has not been possible to take full advantage of the quota set aside for young women from the Kachin area. For the 2018 academic year, 15 young women went through the qualifying process, but only 5 made it to the final selection stage. For the 2019 intake, only 8 qualified out of 18 applicants. As for the 2020 intake, 16 young women have already taken the written test, out of which 7 have been short listed for the interview stage. To date, there are 13 young Kachin women in total enrolled at AUW.
Placement results determine whether students can enroll directly in the 3-year undergraduate course, or if they need to take pre-courses to upgrade their English skills and make up for inadequacies in their educational background. All the Kachin students needed to take an extra year of pre-course, while 4 needed to take 2 courses of 1 year duration each, to ensure success in the degree program.
Metta provided support to the young women through each step of the application process – from the selection stage of exams and interviews to the final stage of departure for AUW. Given that the students come from economically challenged families, the young women needed financial assistance for everything from travel expenses within the country to passport and visa fees, and electronic communication needs such as laptops and phones to basic essential needs such as clothing, toiletry, etc. Expenses for the 2018-2019 phase of the project was covered entirely by individual donations from local and international sources.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 13 Kachin women studying at AUW have returned home under the arrangement of the Myanmar government. It is hoped that they will be able to return to campus for the new term scheduled to begin in the last week of August. Metta will again have to provide assistance for their return to the university, while seeking funds anew to support successful applicants for the 2020 academic year.