As industry opens up, Capstone Education finds niche in Myanmar market

Ko Thaw Zin Aung Gyi and Ko Aung Tun Lin, the founding partners of Capstone Education, a local education consultancy, saw the need to invest in Myanmar education long before authorities finally permitted full foreign capital investments in the industry on April 20.

Locally schooled but having qualified to study abroad at Ivy League universities, the pair witnessed firsthand how handicapped Myanmar students are when preparing for an overseas education.

“When I was at Oxford, there were only three other Myanmar students there compared to dozens from India, China and even Singapore. Something is clearly wrong in Myanmar. Our students have no idea how to prepare for an Ivy League education,” Ko Thaw Zin Aung Gyi told The Myanmar Times.

The way he tells it, students from Korea or China begin preparations to enter a top US or UK university at the age of 10. “Parents there spend huge sums of money as soon as their kids hit eighth grade with the sole aim of getting them into an Ivy League university. This is the competition our students are facing,” he said.

The problem in Myanmar is lack of knowledge over the processes involved in applying for the world’s top universities. Preparations are far from easy. To stand a chance for entry into Harvard University, for example, a student must ensure he is consistently top of the class from ninth to twelfth grade.

But that’s not all. He must also be involved in extra-curricular activities that demonstrate leadership skills, aptitude in sports, community involvement or all of the above. By eleventh grade, the student must be ready to take the SATs the following year and score at least 1,500.

“If you are applying to study hospitality management, you should definitely make sure you have interned at a reputable hotel. That is how you build up a resume that will get you into an Ivy League university. But for young students, it is a very stressful and time-consuming process,” said Ko Aung Tun Lin.

Filling the gap

Enter Capstone Education, which aims to help students in Myanmar prepare for an overseas university education in the US or UK. “Our service is to help students adequately prepare for college or graduate school applications as well as build up leadership skills and achieving their career aspirations,” said Ko Thaw Zin Aung Gyi.

Importantly, the pair wants to help parents of students attending international schools in Myanmar get the most out of their investments. The way they see it, the fees for attending an international school locally can easily add to up to $300,000-$500,000 over the years.

“So if parents are going to spend that kind of money, they should aim to send their kids to a top international university where they can receive the best education and network with the world’s brightest students,” said Ko Thaw Zin Aung Gyi.

The start-up was founded by the pair in 2017. Ko Thaw Zin Aung Gyi earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University, a US Ivy League institution, before pursuing his graduate degree from the University of Oxford in the UK, where he majored in Public Policy.

Ko Aung Tun Lin earned an honours degree in Architecture with honors from Barrett the Honors College at Arizona State University before pursuing a graduate degree in architecture from the public University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Now, Capstone Education has around one dozen students using its college preparation service and response has been “phenomenal,” said Ko Aung Tun Lin. “All of our students have said that wish they had received this type of service and our advice early on.”

In fact, the pair has noticed that interest among local students in going to the US for higher education is on the rise. “Most of our clientele comes from US-curriculum international school. However, we also have clients who have graduated from public schools and other non-US-curriculum private schools that really want to go to the US.”

The response from parents has also been encouraging. “Myanmar parents aren’t as knowledgeable about the college application process compared to, say, parents from South Korea or China. Given that competition to universities is worldwide, Myanmar parents are quite enthusiastic about our service since it will give students a leg up,” Ko Thaw Zin Aung Gyi said.

Foreign capital

Capstone Education is finding a niche in the industry just as the government is deepening its focus on improving local educational standards. Public spending on education has risen by more than 85 percent in 2016-17 to K1.7 trillion from the year before and spending in 2017-18 is expected to be at a similar level, according to a report by the Oxford Business Group.

As a result, the number of private schools operating in Myanmar has grown rapidly, from just over 50 in the 2012-13 academic year to 585 in 2016-17, according to the MOE. That’s an increase of more than 100 schools per year on average.

It also bodes well for Capstone Education, which is aiming to send as many Myanmar students to top overseas universities like Yale, Oxford, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as possible.

“We are optimistic that further investments can be [channeled] into the education sector and that more prestigious schools will open. These developments will be very beneficial for Myanmar students as they will have a better platform to prepare for and gain admissions to the best universities in the world,” they said.

“In terms of our business, we could potentially grow our clientele base and become larger as more international and private schools open up.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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