Lawmakers Highlight Shortcomings in Ethnic Language Teaching

By Lawi Weng 10 June 2016

RANGOON — Ethnic minority lawmakers from different parties have criticized government policy on the teaching of minority languages in schools, citing the failure to incorporate it into normal school hours and the rock-bottom salaries paid to ethnic language teachers.

Min Kyi Win, a lawmaker for the Mon National Party in the Mon State parliament, told The Irrawaddy that the teaching of the Mon language only took place after conventional school closing times.

“Our state parliament has discussed it already,” said Min Kyi Win, adding that they had “resolved to request that the Union government” facilitate minority language teaching during normal school hours.

Nang Than Than Lwin, a female lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) in the Lower House of Parliament, complained of the same thing to The Irrawaddy, regarding the instruction of her Karen mother tongue in Karen State; there has been similar dissatisfaction reported on the teaching of the ethnic Shan language in this capacity as well.

However, Nang Than Than Lwin said she was hopeful that effective cooperation between the Karen State government and the Ministry of Education would resolve the matter in her region.

Minister of Education Dr. Myo Thein Gyi told Parliament today that state and divisional governments are responsible for implementing the plan. “We [at the Ministry of Education] will continue to provide what they need,” he said.

Regarding Karen State, Myo Thein Gyi said the ministry had been providing free ethnic minority language textbooks to schools in ethnic Karen, Mon and Pa-O communities. This would continue through the 2016-2017 academic year.

Ethnic lawmakers also expressed dissatisfaction with the 30,000 kyats (US$25) per month salary that has been paid by the government to teachers of ethnic minority languages since September. This is conspicuously lower than the 50,000 kyats (US$40) per month paid to teachers at monastery schools, according to Min Kyi Win, the Mon National Party lawmaker.

“They 30,000 kyats provided by the government is very low. The government should pay more,” he said.

Under previous military-controlled governments, ethnic minority languages were banned on school premises and in all educational curricula. The teaching of ethnic minority languages in government schools began under the previous government in Mon State in 2014, after a bill was passed to allow the teaching of Mon, Karen and Pa-O in local schools.

The practice has since spread, but has yet to reach all of Burma’s states where ethnic minorities predominate. It does not cover the teaching of other subjects in minority language mediums; all other classes remain in Burmese. It remains to be seen how the NLD government will extend the policy.