Govt, Students Reach Agreement on Education Reform

By Nobel Zaw 12 February 2015

RANGOON — Government representatives agreed in principle to the demands of students and education advocates protesting the controversial National Education Law during a meeting in Rangoon on Wednesday.

Agreement was reached on all 11 of the students’ demands, according to a joint-statement released by educational and political stakeholders following the meeting. However, any proposed amendments to the education law would still have to be approved by parliament.

The apparent breakthrough comes after months of protests against the National Education Law that gained traction after the legislation was passed by parliament in September 2014. Critics of the law contend that it centralizes authority, restricts the formation of student and teacher unions and curbs curricular freedoms.

Following Wednesday’s talks, Zeyar Lwin, a member of the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE) said during a press conference that MPs pledged to consider amendments to the law in the parliament.

“We reached an agreement to have the bill sent to parliament on Feb. 16,” Zeyar Lwin said. The next round of quadripartite talks is scheduled for Feb. 14, where the students’ 11 demands will be discussed in more detail.

Among the students’ demands are that the government reintegrate students who left school for political reasons, increase educational spending to 20 percent of the national budget, and amend the law to decentralize curricular control and allow the formation of student and teachers unions.

The students also called for multilingual education that respects students’ mother tongues in ethnic states and inclusive education for disabled children.

According to Wednesday’s joint statement, the 20 percent target would be reached gradually, within the next five years.

On Jan. 20, hundreds of students set out on a march from Mandalay to Rangoon to protest the law, with the government eventually acceding to their demands for quadripartite dialogue involving student leaders, advocates, ministers and lawmakers.

However, after a generally positive meeting in Rangoon on Feb. 1, the government reneged on a pledge to resume talks on Feb. 3 in Naypyidaw. Burma’s Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Ko Ko subsequently claimed that protesting students were threatening the country’s stability.

President’s Office Minister Hla Tun, who represented the government in the dialogue, said on Wednesday, “Representatives should explain today’s meeting results to the protesting students so as to reduce the worry of parents and the pressure of protest groups.”

However, Min Thwe Thit of the ACDE said all demonstrators around the country would continue marching and that a decision on whether to halt demonstrations would depend on the desire of students.

While the core group of hundreds of demonstrators set off from Mandalay on the 400-mile march to Rangoon, several separate protest groups also plan to converge in Burma’s former capital, including groups from Dawei in Tenasserim Division, Pathein in Irrawaddy Division and Pakokku in Magwe Division.

Additional Reporting by Sanay Lin.