Burma’s Lower House Approves Amendments to Controversial Education Law

By Nobel Zaw 8 April 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday approved amendments to the National Education Law, which will be resubmitted to the Upper House with changes that activists view as regressive.

The National Education Law, passed late last year, has come under intense criticism and sparked a powerful student movement calling for decentralization, more spending and more curricular freedoms.

Student activists submitted 11 core demands to the government, all of which were accepted during quadripartite negotiations between the government, lawmakers, students and advocates.

But the bill to amend the law has been altered beyond recognition, critics said, after being volleyed back and forth in Parliament.

Key figures in the student movement said that several of their demands had been compromised during the parliamentary process, including a major raise in education spending and the freedom to form truly independent teacher and student unions.

Aung Nay Paing, a member of the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE)—a student body formed in the wake of the education protests—said that while the new version of the bill technically preserves the right to form unions, it contains strict limitations on their freedom.

“Everyone is asking about this, [the government will] allow teacher and student unions. But we need to ask how freely they can be formed, whether they can be formed without being controlled by the universities,” he said.

As for the budget, student negotiators initially demanded that federal education spending increase to a full 20 percent of the national budget over the next five years, a huge surge that was shot down by the Lower House on Tuesday.

Lt-Col Myo Tin, a member of the Bill Committee, told The Irrawaddy that such a rapid increase would not be feasible.

The ACDE also took issue with amendments that retain centralized power over educational policy, particularly the bill’s failure to reform the National Education Commission, of which the student movement has been unwaveringly critical.

Some of the amendments were welcomed, however, Aung Nay Paing said. The current bill allows students who have left school to return and enshrines the right to incorporate mother tongues into language earning curricula for primary school students.

The amendment bill will return to the Upper House, where if accepted it will be sent to President Thein Sein to be signed into law. If the Upper House does not approve the amendments, the bill will be sent to a joint session of Parliament.