Education Organizations Continue Opposition After Controversial Law Passes

By Yen Saning 30 September 2014

RANGOON — A Myanmar Teachers’ Federation representative said that independent education organizations plan to develop a joint strategy to continue their opposition to the controversial, new National Education Law, which was passed by Burma’s Union Parliament on Friday.

“The NNER has a plan to revise their national educational policy,” Arkar Moe Thu, secretary of the federation, said Tuesday. “We will hold more meetings and consultations with the public to ask what [education law] they want,” he said, adding that the groups were also considering setting up their own, parallel higher education institutions.

In recent months, the teachers’ and students’ organizations and the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), backed by a coalition of 200 civil society groups, have fiercely opposed the law. NNER includes the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, the Thinking Classroom Foundation, Buddhists monks, ethnic education groups and Christian churches.

NNER has warned that the new law fails to guarantee independence for higher education institutions and would perpetuate military regime-style controls on universities and colleges through the formation of a “National Education Commission” and a “Higher Education Coordinating Committee.”

“These two committees are not in keeping with a democratic education system, but are meant to revitalize a military dictatorship,” Arkar Moe Thu said.

On Friday, however, MPs of the ruling Union Solidarity Party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the legislature’s military block approved 19 of 25 amendments to National Education Bill proposed by President Thein Sein, passing the bill into law. MPs voted down six proposals by the president, including a suggestion that full implementation of education reforms is postponed until 2027.

In June, to the anger of the NNER, Parliament already passed the bill. The vote on Friday dealt with some further adaptations to the law suggested by the president to the Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee. MPs could only vote for or against the proposed amendments.

“The Parliament has approved what the Joint Bill Committee suggested,” said Myat Nyarna Soe, secretary of the Upper House’s Education Development Committee.

The NLD MP said he disagreed with the criticism of the National Education Law, saying that it sets out a broad range of long overdue reforms for Burma’s education system.

“Even though there were lots of people who reject this law, in our country’s history, education changes were never made by [changing the] law,” he said, adding that the new law would, for example, outline clear standards and requirements for the country’s education system.

Under previous decades of military rule, Burma’s education suffered due to a lack of funding and strict junta controls, leading to a demise of the education system, once considered among the best in Asia.

Myat Nyarna Soe said further laws would made to supplement the National Education Law, which he referred to as the “mother law”, adding that separate “sectoral laws” would be drafted to stipulate specific reforms for higher education, basic education and vocational teaching.

He said that certain other criticisms of the National Education Law—such as that it lacks details on the right to association for students and teachers, and does not guarantee access to mother tongue-based language education for Burma’s minorities—could be addressed during the drafting of the sectoral laws.

“People should start to prepare or lobby on this from now,” Myat Nyarna Soe added.