A US$100 million World Bank-backed project will improve the quality of education for more than 8 million Burmese schoolchildren and will extend financial assistance to some 100,000 underprivileged students, a release from the global lender said on Wednesday.

The initiatives, under the Decentralizing Funding to Schools Project, were approved on Wednesday by the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors, and will mark the first time the lender has engaged with Burma on education.

“Improving access to quality education and focusing on the most disadvantaged and poor children in remote areas of the country, is essential to reducing poverty and development of the country,” said Kanthan Shankar, the World Bank’s country manager in Burma. “We are encouraged to see the government’s increased investment in the education sector over the last couple of years.”

Burma’s education sector deteriorated under the country’s former military regime, and reforming it has been a leading initiative of the government—currently undertaking a “Comprehensive Education Sector Review”—and the opposition National League for Democracy, which has made reform a key part of its platform.

Though spending on education has increased since the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011, it is still dwarfed by the military’s budgetary allotment. In 2013, education spending amounted to 5.4 percent of the total 19 trillion kyats (US$19 billion) budget, compared with more than 12 percent spent on defense.

The World Bank-supported project, of which $80 million is being financed by the International Development Association and $20 million from the government of Australia through a multi-donor trust fund, will provide direct support to all schools under Burma’s Ministry of Education. It will expand funding for the Burmese government’s School Grants Program and Student Stipends Program, the latter of which focuses on 40 townships in Burma.

In January, the World Bank announced that it had approved a package of grants and loans to Burma worth $2 billion over a number of years, going toward projects in the energy and health care sectors.

Link: http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/world-bank-project-puts-100m-toward-education-burma.html