Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Chastises Myanmar Student Protesters

By Htet Naing Zaw 29 January 2020

NAYPYITAW—Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi criticized university student protesters on Tuesday as they staged a protest during her address at an educational event in Naypyitaw.

Representatives from student unions stood up as the State Counselor addressed the Educational Development Implementation Conference and raised placards with messages that questioned Ministry of Education and university policies.

“There are many opportunities to complain, if you want to present [your opinions]. There are ways you can use to voice complaints. You can present your opinions openly with your signature. But don’t misuse events like this,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the student demonstrators during the conference at the Myanmar International Convention Center 2 in Naypyitaw.

Students demonstrate at the Education Development Implementation Conference on Jan. 28. / The Irrawaddy

Students primarily held signs with messages opposing the Education Ministry’s plan to extend the school year for one month at basic education schools and criticizing a lack of transparency in the contract to build a new food court on Mandalay University Campus.

One of the placards read “Can the extension of the school period boost the national economy?” The Education Ministry has claimed that the one-month extension is intended to give parents more time to focus on their work.

Other placards had messages including “Immediately fix mismanagement,” “No unproven experiments on the education system,” “Answer the Mandalay University protest immediately” and “Don’t postpone the truth.”

The Mandalay University Students Union has maintained a protest camp on the school’s campus since September over the university rector’s decision to award a food court contract to a businessman without following the university’s rules for tenders. The Education Ministry formed a committee to investigate the case soon after the protest began but has not released any results from the inquiry.

Tuesday’s protest lasted nearly 10 minutes before officials came and attempted to stop the protest, leading to a scuffle between authorities and the students involved. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi then acknowledged the protest as she was delivering her opening address.

Students demonstrate at the Education Development Implementation Conference on Jan. 28. / The Irrawaddy

“I can’t see the placards from here. It will not be effective, and don’t use events like this for yourselves and your organizations. It is unacceptable,” she said.

She said they should not just focus on their rights, but should also heed their responsibilities and show discipline. Otherwise, the country will not develop, she said.

Student demonstrators asked Education Ministry officials to allow them to meet with the State Counselor for 10 minutes but their request was denied.

“We just want to inform her because we think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t know [about the school year extension and the Mandalay University protest]. We assume she has not handled these things because she has no knowledge about them. We just want to tell her what is happening,” Ko Aung Pyae Sone Phyo, secretary of the Yangon Education University Students Union, told reporters.

“We just wanted to report those two issues, in addition to the mismanagement of the Education Ministry. We want to ask to what extent a policy which is adopted without listening to the voices of those concerned can be successful,” he added.

The Education Development Implementation Conference in Naypyitaw on Jan. 28. / The Irrawaddy

The student demonstrators said they wanted to meet someone who can make decisions about their concerns.

Dr. Tin Maung Win, a deputy director-general with the Education Ministry, reportedly told the student demonstrators that he did not want students to bother the State Counselor because her health is crucial for the country.

“As the State Counselor said, they should have considered the occasion and circumstances before doing what they did,” Deputy Education Minister U Win Maw Tun told reporters.

He has said the ministry will continue with its plan to extend the school year by one month at basic education schools despite strong opposition from teachers and trainee teachers.

Trainee teachers at education universities and colleges across Myanmar have launched a campaign to protest against the one-month extension, using green ribbons as symbols. The committee behind the campaign said that the campaign will be stopped only after the Education Ministry changes it decision.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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