PM Lee opens Singapore-Myanmar vocational school in Yangon

PM Lee touring the campus of the Singapore-Myanmar Vocational Training Institute with Mrs Lee and Mr Ong on the final day of his three-day visit to Myanmar yesterday. The school is modelled on Singapore's ITE.
PM Lee touring the campus of the Singapore-Myanmar Vocational Training Institute with Mrs Lee and Mr Ong on the final day of his three-day visit to Myanmar yesterday. The school is modelled on Singapore's ITE.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

YANGON (Myanmar) • Mr Ko Ko Lwin, 22, has a degree in marine engineering from Myanmar Maritime University. But that did not stop him from signing up for hands-on skills training at the Singapore-Myanmar Vocational Training Institute (SMVTI) last year.

"I wanted to improve my skills and get more practical training," he said, adding that at SMVTI, each student is assigned to one training machine while at his previous school, 40 students used one machine.

The school trains Myanmar youth to be skilled workers and was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, the final day of his three-day official visit.

PM Lee toured the campus, located on the site of a former polytechnic in downtown Yangon.

It will take in a total of 800 students in two groups, every year.

SINGAPORE'S POSITION ON CHINA AND THE U.S.

A dinner is a dinner, but it's a signal of the importance of the US to us, and our view of the US in the region.

You may have noticed that our ambassador in China has just written a letter to the Global Times to state our position on this. We welcome China's development and its growing influence in the region, but at the same time, we value American engagement and we don't see China's growing influence as necessarily being at the expense of America's contributions to the region, or Singapore's relations with the US.

Just as I'm visiting China for the G-20 and Asean summits, it's good also to cultivate our relationship with America.

The Obama administration particularly has put in an exceptional effort to focus on Asia-Pacific. Mr Obama has paid a lot of attention. He himself has attended Asean meetings regularly. It was (during) his administration in the first term that the US joined the East Asia Summit.

My visit is to mark what has been a very good relationship with the Obama administration, and I hope to see how we can keep things going beyond November and January into the next administration.

PM LEE, when asked about the state dinner US President Barack Obama will host for him at the White House in August. He also referred to a recent commentary in China's communist party-linked tabloid Global Times, which said Singapore is taking sides against China on issues such as the South China Sea territorial disputes by allowing US military planes and naval vessels to be based in the city-state.

Modelled on Singapore's Institute of Technical Education, the SMVTI offers six-month courses in hospitality and tourism, electrical skills and electronics, facilities management and engineering services. It helps to match its graduates with jobs.

About 40 per cent of the pioneer batch of 400 who graduated last month have found jobs or internships.

Myanmar's director-general of technical and vocational education Win Maw Tun said the tourism industry is booming, adding: "You can see a lot of hotels around the city. We need qualified human resources for these businesses."

There are plans to replicate the school elsewhere in Myanmar, like in its eastern Shan state, he said.

Singapore will also sponsor internships to the Republic for the top graduate of each course in every cohort.

But Singapore will hand the reins over to Myanmar in time, said Mr Tan Seng Hua, chief executive of Institute of Technical Education Education Services. "Once the local team is ready, we'd be very happy to see them take over," he said.

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who is part of the Singapore delegation to Myanmar, told reporters that the institute is Singapore's way of helping Myanmar.

"Myanmar is going through a very special period of its history. A lot of transitional issues - the democratising process as well as the liberalising of its economy to be more market-oriented," he said.

It is meaningful for Singapore to contribute to Myanmar in this period, especially since it has experience in training workers, he said.

"We live in Asean and Asean is one big family," said Mr Ong. "We find common causes in many issues of the world. And when help is needed, we will extend our help."

Charissa Yong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'PM opens S'pore-Myanmar vocational school in Yangon'. Print Edition | Subscribe