Educators in Mon State Struggle with Tight Budgets

By Lawi Weng 21 December 2016

RANGOON — The chairman of an ethnic Mon organization told his education department on Saturday not to expect a big budget from the federal government anytime soon.

Nai Htaw Mon, the chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), spoke on Saturday during a conference of the Mon National Education Department in Lamine sub-township, Mon State. The NMSP chairman told seminar attendees to prepare their own budget proposals, and not to count on a federal system supplying any education money.

“If we expect our ethnic education system will be paid for with money from the federal government, and if we rely on a budget supplied from the state government, this will be difficult to realize soon,” said Nai Htaw Mon.

The party chairman asked his people to consider their own local systems first for supplying the education budget. More than 200 ethnic Mon community leaders attended the two-day seminar.

Nai Htaw Mon also said that Burma will never achieve a federal system of government as long as the Burma Army continues to attack ethnic armed groups.

“The Burma Army increased their military operations, and it is now difficult to have political dialogue in the country,” he said. “Therefore, it is unlikely we will have a federal system in the country soon.”

Over the weekend, DVB reported that NMSP chairman Nai Htaw Mon told his party to be prepared to start a military offensive quickly, in case they must support one of their ethnic allies. The NMSP is not a signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), and it is a member of the United Nationalities Federal Council.

Mon community leaders were looking for ways to separate their education budgets from ethnic and national politics. They have said that the national education plan—and its funding—must be treated as a long term project.

Over the weekend, Mon educators decided to make the Mon National Education Department a separate entity from the NMSP political wing. They feared that if they remained within the NMSP, then the education system risked falling apart whenever there is renewed fighting with the Burma Army.

The Mon National Education Department plans to register with the national government to obtain full legal status.

The Mon National Education Department has a budget of 700 million kyats (US$500,000) per year. About 20 percent of that money is raised from the Mon people, and the other 80 percent comes from foreign donations.

Although a teacher in Mon State can earn about 70,000 kyats ($51) per month in salary, the Mon National Education Department can only afford to pay 50,000 kyats ($36). Typically, the department must ask community members to pay the difference.

Almost every Mon township is behind in its payments to school teachers.

“We were behind 5 million kyats ($3,600) in payments to our school teachers last year,” said Nai Mann, a community leader from Thanbyuzayat Township.

Some communities are able to help pay the salaries of their schoolteachers, but some are not.

At the two-day education summit in Lamine, attendees made plans to ask for additional education money at dhamma talks, from phone credits, and from Mon community members.

The Mon National Education Department operates 133 schools independently, and it partners with the Burmese government to operate 92 more. It employs 800 teachers and enrolls over 25,000 students.