CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ethnic educators try to find means to gain access to support and recognition from government education ministries for unofficial (ethnic national) schools, where many minority children are learning in their ethnic languages.
Educators gathered at the Ethnic Education Forum held in Moulmein, Mon State, this week and shared their challenges in maintaining ethnic education, said U Thein Naing, an ethnic education consultant.
“We discussed how we approach both the state and Union governments, as well as the parliaments … to explain the issue and to seek acknowledgment. We hope the Union education ministry will recognize and provide support to these schools, ” he said.
There are more than 2,000 ethnic national schools, at which an estimated 100,000 children are educated in their mother tongues. These schools are outside of the government-supported system.
They are run individually through the support of the communities within the ethnic states of Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan, Kachin and in the refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border. Some are under the control of ethnic armed organizations.
Organized by the Mon National Education Committee, nearly 90 education experts and teachers representing 13 different ethnic education departments, civil society groups and international partners gathered at the forum from May 15-16.
They discussed the challenges facing and the need to promote ethnic education, mother tongue based-multilingual education (MTB-MLE), federal education, a community school bill and bylaws, and educational research priorities.
U Thein Naing added that although there has been some collaboration between the ethnic national schools and the township, districts and state level governments, more recognition and support is needed.
He said monetary support for teacher salaries is still needed, even though many ethnic national schoolteachers attend trainings alongside government schoolteachers in the summer.
But government recognition of a mother tongue based curriculum or integration of it into a nationwide program “is still weak,” U Thein Naing said, adding that this means that children who can only access these ethnic national schools are lacking protection under the law.
“We want to help a democratic government recognize the civil rights of children, as well as their right to education. These children need to be recognized under the law as well, as well as receive educational support.”
This month, a study on MTB-MLE by the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC) suggested the government consider adopting multilingual education in government schools, as well as recognize the indigenous national schools.
In Mon State, there are ethnic national schools and mixed-schools, and they are run in collaboration with the government to some extent. However, in other ethnic states, these schools are run independently without adequate educational materials.
In Karenni State, there are more than 1,000 students learning at more than 39 unofficial schools with 120 teachers. These schools are not supported by the government, said Elizabeth Mimar, a spokesperson for the Karenni Education Committee.
Educators put their efforts into overcoming these hurdles. U Thein Naing told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the drafting of the Community School bylaws is in progress. If Myanmar rules to adopt a community school bill in the works, there is a chance that these ethnic national schools will receive recognition and support,” said the consultant.
The drafting process started about six months ago, after the secretary of the [government] National Education Policy Commission Dr. Khaing Myae encouraged ethnic school educators to draft one, he said.
The government had allowed the teaching of ethnic languages at public schools since 2012, however, the classes are outside of school hours and the teachers are paid less. Furthermore, the ethnic language teaching is merely a translated version of Bamar texts and teachers have been urging for a mother tongue based curriculum that would allow for a multilingual approach.