Indigenous Origins of State Education: Lessons from Myanmar’s Colonial Past

Indigenous Origins of State Education: Lessons from Myanmar's Colonial Past

Htet Thiha Zaw, Rackham Predoctoral Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. 

Why did states expand their involvement in education, when it can be cheaply provided through societal organizations, and when building a new education system involves large fiscal costs? I address this puzzle in the context of colonial states with significant fiscal constraints, identifying two key factors: the presence of indigenous institutions as education providers and the level of local resistance against state control. I argue that only when indigenous education levels and anti-colonial resistance were both sufficiently high did the state shift from relying on indigenous providers to replacing them with schools under stronger state control.

I empirically evaluate this argument with original panel data covering 33 British Burma districts over two decades (1901-20). This period captures the pivotal transformation from a traditional reliance on monastic education to a state-controlled system. The results show that colonial districts with high Buddhist male literacy and high numbers of riots and unlawful assemblies experienced significant increases in female enrollment, a key measure of state involvement (as Buddhist monastic schools generally excluded women). The findings improve our understanding of the role that societal organizations played in shaping the development of state institutions as well as how the state-building process occurred under weak fiscal capacity.

Htet Thiha Zaw is a Rackham Predoctoral Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. His core research investigates the interconnected history of indigenous societies and state development in violent repression and education, with expertise in the history of Burma/Myanmar. His research also covers topics in contemporary comparative education policy, such as education efficiency and early-childhood education.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023
12:00 Noon
Room 203, Luce Hall
34 Hillhouse Avenue

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