UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova pledged to accompany Myanmar’s reform agenda by strengthening support to education, youth skills and the protection of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, during a meeting with President Thein Sein in Paris on 17 July.
“When there is strong political will and ownership of policies as in education and culture, we can accompany you in meeting your priorities and be successful, and I definitely see this political will in Myanmar,” said the Director-General, who had met previously with the President during her official visit to Myanmar in August 2012. Since then, she said, a full-fledged office had been established in Yangon to expand cooperation with the country.
Expressing appreciation for UNESCO’s cooperation with Myanmar, President Thein Sein outlined several development challenges. Despite high school enrolment and adult literacy rates, he noted that “we have a high rate of drop out after elementary school, so it is pertinent that we are trying our best to implement the Education for All initiative by 2015.” Mrs Bokova drew attention to her visit to the Yangon Institute of Education, and to UNESCO’s projects to strengthen pre-service teacher education and to set up a Centre for Excellence for Business Skills Development in the Yangon Institute of Economics.
Turning to culture, the President affirmed that “the Government is trying its best to preserve Myanmar’s rich cultural heritage but we lack conservation technologies to do so,” requesting further technical assistance from UNESCO. The Director-General commended Myanmar for submitting the nomination of the Pyu Ancient Cities to the World Heritage List, and for its commitment to conserve and protect its immense cultural heritage, including the Bagan Archaeological Area and Monuments, which she had visited. “You are a country so rich in cultural heritage, not to have a site inscribed on the World Heritage List is a loss for the whole of humanity,” said Mrs Bokova. “This heritage is a challenge to protect and preserve, and it is very important to train experts and specialists,” she said, assuring the President of UNESCO’s continued commitment to build capacities, including with donor support. The President also called upon UNESCO to assist in the restoration of colonial buildings in Yangon, a subject he had discussed in London earlier in the week with the Prince of Wales Foundation.
President Thein Sein also shared Myanmar’s deep appreciation for the inscription of the Maha Lawkamarazein on the Memory of the World Register in 2013, the country’s first heritage on the list. This Stone Inscription is a collection of 729 stone slabs on which are inscribed the Tripitaka - the full Buddhist scriptures. “The people of Myanmar are very pleased about this because it carries great religious importance.” He called for further cooperation with UNESCO to preserve the culture and traditions of the country’s ethnic groups, a point welcomed by the Director-General. “In a country as diverse as Myanmar, it is important to look at how the protection of the intangible cultural heritage can serve as a tool for national cohesion. We know from experience that by inscribing the traditions of minorities we give them reassurance about their place in a society.”
Noting that Myanmar will be the Chair of ASEAN in 2014, the Director-General drew attention to the expected signing of a Framework for Cooperation between UNESCO and ASEAN at the 37th session of the General Conference in November. “This will be a solid basis for partnership with ASEAN that will also enable us to develop further our cooperation,” said Mrs Bokova. President Thein Sein welcomed this and reiterated Myanmar’s to continue strengthening cooperation with UNESCO.
The Director-General encouraged Myanmar to run for different committees ahead of next General Conference, noting that she would like to see the country more visible in such areas as education, sustainable development, biodiversity and culture. “This will give you more access to our networks and provide openings onto different experiences,” she said.