Myanmar Students Vow Continued Reform Push After Passage of Education Law

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myanmar-student-protestors-yangon-feb8-2015.jpg Myanmar students hold placards and flags as they march in protest against the proposed National Education Law in Yangon, Feb. 8, 2015.

Myanmar’s Union Parliament on Thursday voted into law a controversial bill for education reform, angering student activists who said the law in its amended form has failed to include key provisions they believed had been agreed to in government-sponsored talks.

The now-enacted National Education Law “is very different, both in concept and essence” from the 11 demands student leaders thought they had won in four-way discussions earlier this year with government representatives, lawmakers, and education reform advocates, one student activist told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Thursday.

“The government and parliament refused to approve the draft law that included student demands presented in the talks,” said Aung Nay Paing, a leader of Democracy Education Initiative Committee, which had participated in the talks.

“They have broken their promises and agreements,” he said.

Student demands had included a secure role for student unions in forming education policy, though the law now cites only participation by “student representatives,” Aung Nay Paing said, adding that the new law simply strengthens government control.

“This puts student unions on a level with other, ordinary social organizations,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like this.”

Education reform advocate Thein Lwin of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), quoted in The Irrawaddy on Thursday, meanwhile called for a stronger role for student unions across the country.

“Considering Burma’s university history, we need to enhance the role of student unions, which had [existed] until 1962” when they were abolished following a military coup, Lwin said.

Continued push for reform

Other demands proposed by students and reformers include a decentralized education system; changes to university entrance exams; modernization of the national curriculum; the provision of free, compulsory education through Grade 9; and the guarantee of “mother tongue instruction” in the language of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities in the lower grades.

“Under the current system of ‘English and Burmese as the medium [of] instruction, students are taught almost exclusively in Burmese at government schools—a system that does not look likely to change  under the amended law,” The Irrawaddy said.

In a move likely to win reformers' support, one provision of the new law promises to "set a target to use 20 percent of the state budget for education spending" in response to earlier demands, The Irrawaddy said.

Aung Nay Paing said that his group will continue to push for reform.

“We didn’t get what we wanted, but we will hold a meeting with the Democracy Education Initiative Committee’s members and discuss exactly what we are going to do next.”

In May, more than 70 student activists meanwhile went on trial in a court in central Myanmar to face unlawful assembly and rioting charges stemming from a protest calling for education reform.

Most were among the 127 arrested two months before during a violent police crackdown on student-led peaceful protests in the central town of Letpadan in the Tharrawaddy district of the country's Bago division, where they had stopped en route to a cross-country march to the commercial capital Yangon.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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