MANDALAY — More than 100 people set out on a march from Mandalay to Rangoon on Tuesday, as student leaders restarted a dormant campaign to protest the National Education Law.
In November, student groups had called a 60-day moratorium after four days of countrywide protests against the law. In the interim, student groups requested the establishment of a 15-member committee comprising students, government leaders, parliamentarians and the National Network for Education Reform to discuss changes to the law. The moratorium expired on Friday without an official response, leading to students traveling from as far afield as Monywa, Sagaing and Pakokku to join the march.
“We received no responses from the government during those 60 days,” said Ei Thinzar Maung, a member of the Mandalay District Student Union. “That’s why we have resumed protests, to draw attention of the government to the need to democratically amend the National Educational Law.”
The overhaul of the country’s education system was passed by Parliament in Sept. 2014, in the face of strong criticism from students and educators.
Student groups have presented a number of demands for the bill’s overhaul, including a legislative guarantee for the free establishment of student and teacher unions independent of the government, changes to the exam and entrance systems at the universities, the introduction of ethnic languages, and a modernization of the syllabus at basic education schools and universities.
“The government needs to increase the budget allocation for education to 20 percent, and student activists removed from school need to be allowed to return to the classroom,” said Min Thwe Thit, one of the protesting students. “Hopefully the government will listen to us and they will amend the law for the sake of our future education. If not, we will have to continue nationwide protests until our demands are met.”
The students say they plan to link up with other protesters during the 650-kilometer (404-mile), 15-day journey to Rangoon. Upon arrival, they intend to establish a protest camp which will urge the government to negotiate with students and teachers over future changes to the law.