Shans Push for Native Language

Shan children taking classes at a charity school by the Thai-Burmese border. (Photo: shanrefugeeschools.org)

Shan children taking classes at a charity school by the Thai-Burmese border. (Photo: shanrefugeeschools.org)

More than 200 ethnic Shan delegates attended a seminar in Rangoon on Sunday to discuss how to develop Shan language curricula at government schools in Shan State.

The meeting was hosted by the Shan Literature and Culture Committee, and according to one of the organizers, Dr. Sai San Aik, about 248 people attended, including prominent politician Hkun Htun Oo from the Shan National League for Democracy, professors, teachers, academics from the Institute of Education, Buddhist monks, and Shan army leaders who recently signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government. Many of the delegates wore traditional Shan costume.

“We have our own language curriculum, but it is somewhat out of date,” said Sai San Aik. “We discussed how to develop a new updated curriculum—one that could be taught in government schools.”

With more than six million people, the Shan are the largest ethnic minority in Burma. Their language is from the Tai group, originating in southeastern China, and is similar in spoken form to modern Thai. However, nowadays a minority of Shans read or write their alphabet due to decades of military rule when Shan language was banned in schools in favor of the majority Burmese language.

“We called this meeting after we heard that the government was going to offer the opportunity for our ethnic language to be taught at government schools,” said Sai San Aik.

However, other sources indicate that education authorities in Shan and Mon states were in fact offered only the possibility of their native tongues being taught out of school hours.

“Bamar [majority Burman] people want their children to learn their own language. Similarly, we want our children to learn our language, and we are worried that it is in danger of disappearing,” said Khunsai Jaiyen, the editor of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News. He pointed to oft-quoted UNESCO research stating that it is imperative to allow children to learn their native tongue before tackling a second language.

Nai Sunthorn,a leading Mon language teacher based in Sangkhlaburi, western Thailand, said he too agreed with the UNESCO doctrine. “We have even found within our community here in Sangkhlaburi that the children who learn their mother tongue [Mon] become better performers at school,” he said.

Currently, Shan State education authorities employ a similar, if not identical, syllabus to schools in central Burma and the rest of the country.

Burma’s Railways Minister Aung Min, who is Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator with ethnic armed groups, last week told 10 political party representatives that his government intends to allow the teaching of ethnic languages in schools during a meeting which included President Thein Sein.

He said that his government will provide US $1 million to the Mon State assembly to initiate a program of Mon language in the region.

The Mon have a long history of literature, and their language was once dominant in the region, centuries ago, when the Mon kingdom ruled parts of Burma and northern Thailand.

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) founded schools in 1972 that taught Mon language, history and culture to local students.

According to statistics from the Mon National Education Department, which is under control of the NMSP, there are currently 156 Mon-language schools in Mon State, while 116 schools offer a mixed curriculum of Burmese and Mon language lessons. There are currently around 17,000 Mon students and 800 teachers in Mon State.


5 Responses to Shans Push for Native Language

  1. We must build ” Strength thru Diversity”
    Knowing and speaking more languages is always a plus.
    Knowing our ethnic nationals’ culture and heritage is a plus.
    Not only Shan speaks Shan, Mon speaks Mon, Shan and Myanmar for example should be able to speak Mon, Karen, Kachin and vice versa.
    The country has one or two foreign language universities.
    The authorities should take pro-active steps to think of and established an ethic language and culture university.
    This can enhance richness in diversity and will go along way in reconciliation with our ethnic nationals.

  2. Every ethnic group has the right to teach and to learn its dialect or language. Lahu, Pa-O, Wa, Palaung, Shan and Kachin, all the ethnic must receive freedom of choice in education. No one must impose to others what to learn or what not to learn.

  3. People in Burma should try to protect and preserve cultural and linguistic traditions that have existed in Burma for hundreds, if not thousands of years, as long as one can (of course, nothing is forever; Pyu is gone, but Mon is still spoken)

  4. Burma has diverse ethnic groups and each and every ethnic group wants their children learn their own languages at schols. Nothing’s wrong. Yes, they have their own culture, own language and strong nationalism.
    I am not sure that they will use their own language, for example, Karenni, will be used as the official language. In Philippines, official language was, once, not Tagalg, it was English.

    Teach own language at school? Teach every subjects except English in own language?
    I do not oppose to teach own language at schools, but please consider in depth before you start writing curriculum.

  5. The government and the NLD must join forces to stop this kind of nonsense. It is an insult to the glory of the Maha Bama race.

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