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Feb 20, 2015

DRS provides technology for Myanmar’s (Burma’s) first census in 30 years

DRS Data Services Ltd, the UK technology company that captures data for millions of exam papers, elections and population studies around the world, is paving the way for Myanmar’s first census in thirty years. The Southeast Asian country, which was under military rule between 1962 and 2011, is estimated to have some 135 different ethnic groups and around 60 million people. DRS will provide the technology, training and support to manage the process, having previously handled similar undertakings in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, each with contracts from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This involves the design, printing and shipping of 16 million specially formulated questionnaires, which, after the census in April 2014, will be scanned and analysed to give more accurate information on the country and its citizens.

“The idea is to use the census as a benchmark to help push forward the country’s current transition, using data to provide social, economic and demographic characteristics of people and households for the purpose of ongoing reforms, development planning and good governance,” said HE. U Khin Yi, the Minister for Population and Immigration in Myanmar.

Towards the end of 2013, up to twenty-four 40ft shipping containers were packed full of the ready-printed forms and transported by sea, along with seven DRS scanners, going separately by air. The census will take place between 30th of March and 10th of April, with the help of 130,000 school teachers acting as census-takers. These enumerators will be fully trained during February and March on how to visit each household and fill in the forms.

Then, all the forms will be collected and stored in a 7.5 million sq. ft. purpose-built warehouse in Myanmar’s administrative capital, Nay pyi daw. Scanning will begin during the first two weeks of May, registering and processing up to 24,000 forms an hour, using Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) and Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) software.

Around 60% of all the forms will be fully recognised automatically and sent directly through to a central database for analysis. However, any ambiguity or uncertainty over character recognition – for instance, a ‘1’ sometimes resembling a ‘7’ – means documents being sent to a team of 80 ‘keying stations’ and being manually inspected for extra clarity. Thanks to the easy-to-use DRS software - which monitors the performance and accuracy of the PC operators and changes the screen colour from blue to red, alerting supervisors to additional training requirements - users can typically inspect 200 characters in less than 10 seconds.

“Training and accuracy of data is crucial, otherwise it’s a case of ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’,” said DRS census specialist Ann Stewart-Baker. “So we have to get everything absolutely right.”

A pilot census to test the process was carried out in 20 townships across the country in March and April 2013. During the test, 20,000 forms took just over three days to scan - instead of probably around six months to manually record (or three years for a full census). Moreover, there was no loss of data, and the results - after being passed through a third party analysis tool - were 100% accurate.

For the April 2014 census - after recording over 800 times the amount of data - Myanmar expects to release the preliminary results within three to four months.

Commenting on the operational and logistics challenges of the Myanmar census, Stewart-Baker added that paper was a more appropriate medium for a census in developing countries, where a lack of electricity, literacy and internet connectivity can make other options – such as using handheld devices - unrealistic.

The 2014 census is deemed an important step in preparation for the next general election, scheduled in 2015, as well as being a significant step in securing international funding and support.


About DRS

DRS has over 40 years’ experience in delivering data capture projects around the world.  Specialising in examination and assessment processing and electronic marking, it also provides solutions for elections and censuses. Established in 1969, DRS Data Services Ltd today provides solutions for censuses and intercensal surveys, including paper-based national or regional censuses and specialised industrial, commercial and agricultural censuses. The services cover key stages from planning through to document scanning of enumeration/census forms using DRS PhotoScribe® PS900 series scanners, before the data is finally processed and prepared for detailed analysis.

DRS has delivered twelve national censuses in Africa and continues to work directly with national statistical offices and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) across the globe. Recent projects include the planning and development for the process and capture of data for the Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Pakistan censuses. The latter involved the printing and delivery of over 42 million census questionnaires. Systems are implemented using the company’s extensive expertise in document design, printing, award winning scanning and image capture technologies, software, logistics, project management and consultancy. Visit www.drs.co.uk for more details.