Govt Neglecting Student Demands, Mandalay Protestors Say

By Zarni Mann 27 November 2014

MANDALAY — Student activists here said authorities are neglecting the desires of students and teachers despite a sustained campaign of public protests against the controversial National Education Law.

About 50 students from student unions of Mandalay, Sagaing, Monywa and Myingyan took to the streets of Burma’s second biggest city again on Thursday and set up camp in front of City Hall, where they held an unauthorized demonstration against the education legislation.

“The authorities are still neglecting our opinion on the National Education Law. We gathered here to create awareness. We will do these kinds of protests until our demands are met,” said Swe Lin Tun, one of the protesting students.

The students said they noted President Thein Sein’s pledge to approve the formation of student unions, which the president made while meeting with divisional lawmakers in Rangoon on Wednesday.

“In fact, we are not demanding only [the right] to form student unions. We are demanding the abolition of the centrally controlled education system,” said Min Thwe Thit, who also participated in the protest and added that the president’s promise alone would not guarantee student unions’ legal existence.

“The students have been treated like guinea pigs for more than 50 years under this outdated education system. How long will we continue with this system?” he said.

The student activists were under tight police surveillance on Thursday, after protestors went forward with the planned demonstration despite not having obtained a permit from local authorities, as is required by law.

Police initially prevented them from exiting the Eain Daw Yar Pagoda compound, the students’ planned meeting point. They managed to convince police to let them proceed with the demonstration, after pleading with officers that the protest was for the good of their own children’s education.

Police eventually allowed the students to march to City Hall, where they set up a protest camp. A significant police presence remained at the venue on Thursday. Students wrapped up their protest with a march to Mandalay’s famed Mahamuni temple, where 17 pro-independence leaders were martyred during the British colonial era.

“We are protesting not just for us, but for every student, including their children. If they want to arrest us for doing something good for everyone, let them,” said Ei Thinzar Maung.

Beginning on Nov. 14, more than 300 representatives from students’ organizations across the country staged a four-day protest in Rangoon against the National Education Law. Activists decided to suspend the protest after announcing a 60-day deadline for the government to respond to its criticisms of the law. The students have threatened to take the demonstrations nationwide if they do not hear back from education officials by then.

A lack of university autonomy and the unclear legal status of student unions are among the complaints that students have put forward regarding the law. They also say their input and that of education experts was not solicited by parliamentarians.

The National Education bill was signed into law in September. Bylaws for the legislation have yet to be drafted.