RANGOON — The Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF) said it plans to cooperate with students’ organizations and join their protests against the National Education Bill if the proposed legislation is not revised in Parliament in the coming weeks.
The MTF also called on authorities to stop their criminal investigations into recent, unauthorized student protests against the bill.
Last month, teachers, students and education experts slammed the bill and said the government had failed to properly consult them during the drafting process. Students’ organizations held protests against the bill in recent weeks at universities across the country to highlight their concerns.
The MTF, which comprises associations representing teachers in all levels of the education system, said on Monday that it would join the student organizations during future protests.
“We have the same intention as them, which is to reform the education system in a democratic way. So we encourage them and we will fully cooperate with them,” Arkar Moe Thu, secretary of the MTF, said.
The National Education Bill is a key piece of legislation intended to reform Burma’s education system which suffered from decades of underfunding and overbearing government control under previous military regimes.
Teachers, students and the National Network for Education Reform, a collection of civil society and political groups, have criticized the bill for not releasing schools and university’s from central government control, and for preserving the risk of political influence in education.
They said their suggestions during consultation meetings on the bill were ignored by the Ministry of Education.
Arkar Moe Thu of the MTF said on Monday, “The controls over the education sector during 50 years of military rule have left Burma’s education system far behind and destroyed its education standards.
“So for education system reform we want the management of education institutions to be free from government control.”
Despite these concerns, Parliament passed the bill on July 30 and sent it to President Thein Sein. He sent it back to the legislature last month, saying some two dozen amendments were required. Lawmakers are expected to discuss the bill during the current parliament session, which ends this month. The president will then have to accept the changes lawmakers will make and sign the bill into law.
Ye Yint Kyaw, an executive committee member of the All Burma Federation of Students Unions (ABFSU), said student protests against the bill had not been held since early September because of ongoing university exams.
“At the moment, we are holding public talks about why we are opposed to the bill. In the future, we will hold protests again and more public talks,” he said.
Criminal Investigations Against Student Protests
Ye Yint Kyaw, who is based in Mandalay Division, said that students at colleges and universities in the region have held recurrent protests against the bill since May.
Authorities in Monywa, Taunggu and Prome townships, he said, have since launched investigations into the student protests as some were reportedly held without prior government approval.
Ye Yint Kyaw said he and another ABFSU executive committee member are being investigated by Prome authorities, while another seven students are under police investigations.
Organizing an unauthorized protest violates the Peaceful Assembly Law’s Article 18 and can result in a six-month prison term. The controversial article has been routinely used to apprehend activists in Burma in recent years.
The MTF condemned the criminal investigations into student protests and called for the government to immediately cease the investigation.
“We have learned that the authorities are investigating and threatening to take legal action against students who have been holding peaceful protests to call for a democratic education system,” the group said in a statement on Monday.
“But these actions by the authorities go against the president’s speeches on the ‘Third Wave’ [of reforms], which aims to establish democratic practices. Therefore… we seriously reject these actions,” it said.