It’s a rare day that good news emanates from the confines of Yangon’s Insein Prison.

But while many high school students around the country were left disappointed by the release of matriculation exam results on June 7, the day was one of success for two young men serving five-year jail terms.

They became the first inmates to pass their high school exams while serving a prison term since the opportunity to study was introduced in 2010.

Insein Prison warden U Kyaw Htay, who is also a deputy director in the Corrections Department, said everyone in the prison had high expectations for the two men, 18-year-old Ko Hein Htet – also known as Tayote Gyi – and 19-year-old Ko Myo Nyunt Oo, who goes by the name Ko Myo.

The pair were jailed for robbing K164 million from a house in Insein township. They have so far served more than two years, and with sentence reductions have only 13 months left of their term. They will now

continue to study at the University of Distance Education, U Kyaw Htay said.

“Both of them are truly bright and we always treat them as if they were our own sons,” he told The Myanmar Times last week.

Seven inmates sat this year’s exams, and the five who did not pass plan to sit them again next year, along with five new students who are entering their final year of high school.

Already there are 121 inmates enrolled in formal education in the prison. Some are learning the basics of reading and writing for the first time, U Kyaw Htay said.

“The very first thing we ask the inmates to do is to read a kindergarten textbook. If they cannot do that, we teach them how to read and write, since there is nothing else much to do in here anyway,” he said.

The “school” is run by an inmate who was formerly managing director of a company and holds a masters degree. Other inmates who have completed high school serve as teachers.

On the weekends, teachers from nearby state high schools provide guidance on the buildings and curriculum, while the township and district heads of education sometimes drop by to encourage the students and teachers, he said.

There are also informal classes in which students can learn to use computers or study Vipassana meditation.

Author Zay Ya Min Shin, who has previously advised prison wardens on education activities for prisoners, said the Insein program had gradually shown results since it was introduced in 2010. He praised the Insein Prison warden for strongly encouraging inmates to enroll in formal studies while serving their prison terms.

A celebration is now planned to congratulate the pair – and to encourage more inmates to undertake study and possibly pass their high school exams in coming years.

Translation by Mabel Chua