Tired students and anxious parents gather
outside a school in Yangon’s Lanmadaw township last
week following the day’s matriculation exam session.
Pic: Aye Zaw Myo
THE importance of Myanmar’s annual matriculation exams
can easily be gauged by the excitement and anxiety displayed by
the crowds of parents milling outside the schools where their
children are taking the tests.
This year the exams were scheduled by the Ministry of Education
to take place from March 10 to 19, and at 9am on the first day
the parents were in place at the entrances of various basic education
high schools (BEHS) throughout Yangon, seeing off the children
who were preparing to take the tests that could very well decide
the path they will take for the rest of their lives.
When the bell rang to signal the start of the exams, many parents
tried to control their rampant emotions by reciting mantras or
saying prayers according to their religion.
Snippets of conversation could be heard among adults worried
about whether their kids would succeed: “I’m worried
about my daughter because she tends to get dizzy then she’s
excited”; “My son is sometimes too careless when he
writes his answers down on paper”; “I hope my child
can answer all the questions within the time limit”.
In the midst of this emotional scene, a handful of entrepreneurs
walked calmly through the crowd handing out pamphlets and brochures
advertising local business courses purporting to help prepare
matriculated students for overseas educational and employment
More than 500,000 students take the matriculation exams every
year. Matriculation students are divided into three categories
– science, art, and art and science – and must take
tests in six subjects: Myanmar, English, mathematic, history,
science and geography. Each student typically sits for exams on
six of the nine days of the matriculation period.
“When I was a matriculation student, parents never saw
their children off to the school like they do know. It’s
a bit different,” said U Aung Maw, the parent of a student
taking the exams at BEHS (1) in Dagon township, as he surveyed
the hundreds of adults milling around.
At 12 noon, as the time neared for the day’s exams to
end, the parents gathered around the school entrance waiting for
their children. When the students came out they did not seem very
stressed, maybe because the subject of the day was Myanmar, which
many consider the easiest to pass.
“I was able to answer all the questions but I don’t
expect to pass with distinction,” said one of the students,
Ma Sandar. “We’re more worried about mathematics and
physic, which are much harder.”
The scene was much the same at BEHS (6) in Botahtaung township,
where another student, Ma Moe Moe, was showing her parents a paper
with the questions from the test she just took.
“I’m not worried about Myanmar because it’s
easy for every student. Physics and mathematics are much harder,”
she said. “I was able to answer most of the questions on
the Myanmar exam but I skipped one about farmers. I can’t
write an opinion about a farmer’s life.”
Each year about 30 percent of the students who take the matriculation
exam earn passing scores. Those who fail can try again at a state
school the following year. Failing a second time, they must take
the exams at private institutions until they pass.
“I think the exams are harder now than in the past so
it’s more important to enroll your kids in tuition classes
to make sure they get a high score,” U Aung Maw said.
Daw Myint Cho from Dagon township, whose son is matriculating
this year, said the exam period can be extremely exciting for
“We spend all year trying to prepare our children for
the exams and then it all comes down to nine days. Then when the
exams are over we have to wait five months for the results. It’s
very stressful,” she said.