Burmese University Students Protest Education Bill

By Zarni Mann 21 July 2014

MANDALAY — Students at Yadanabon University in Burma’s second-biggest city staged a protest against the national education bill on Monday, urging the government to amend it after consulting with teachers and students.

About 50 students holding placards lined the front gate of the university compound in Mandalay. They criticized the bill for giving the government too much control over universities.

“We do not agree with the one-sided draft bill because it still has central control, no academic freedom and no rights for students. If the drafted bill is enacted, our country’s education will remain unchanged,” said Nyan Htein Lin, a second-year student.

The protesters said the draft bill neglected the right to learn ethnic languages at universities and at the basic education level, while also prohibiting student involvement in political movements.

“The bill still includes the system whereby we have to choose a university depending on our matriculation marks. With that system, we cannot freely choose a major that interests us or our university,” added Aung Myo, another second-year student.

“We strongly urge the government to rewrite the bill after taking suggestions from teachers and students. Now the bill has been written by one side and clearly shows the government still controls academic freedom.”

The students also called on Parliament to be more transparent in their dealings with the draft bill.

“We do not know what is going on with the drafted bill in Parliament. If the government forced lawmakers to enact the bill, neglecting the teachers’ and students’ desires, there will be no future for better education,” Aung Myo said.

The National Education Bill—drafted by the government’s Education Promotion Implementation Committee (EPIC)—was submitted to Parliament in early March.

The bill has been widely criticized since then, including by the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), a network of civil society groups. Students from Shwe Bo University in Sagaing Division also staged a protest against the bill last month.