March Goes on as Education Talks set to Resume

By Nobel Zaw 10 February 2015

RANGOON — Talks look set to resume on Wednesday between student protesters and the government, as students vowed to continue demonstrations that have spread to various parts of the country.

On Monday, education reform advocates met with Deputy Education Minister Thant Shin to forge a path forward after quadripartite talks were cancelled by the government last week. Attendees of the meeting decided to reschedule the talk to take place on Wednesday at the Rangoon Division Parliament building.

The quadripartite discussions—which are meant to bring student leaders, advocates, ministers and lawmakers to the negotiating table—were a hard-won achievement of the student movement, promised after protests against a new education policy sprung up across the country.

An initial meeting on Feb. 1 yielded positive results as stakeholders agreed on an agenda and methodology, committing to reconvene in Naypyidaw on Feb. 3. The second meeting, however, was cancelled by the government, which questioned the legitimacy of student delegates as representative of the larger body of demonstrators.

Protests continued amid controversy between politicians and activists, and despite increased security. Thein Lwin, a member of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), was dismissed as a central executive committee of the National League for Democracy on Monday because of his ties to the student movement, while protests gathered steam in the former capital and outer regions of Burma. Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Ko Ko later denounced the activists as pawns of political hardliners.

The government on Tuesday reiterated a call for students to stop protesting with an announcement published in state media urging parents to “recall school children away from student protesters.”

Aung Hmine San of the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE) said that the students will not bow to pressure, but that those who wish to take leave from the demonstrations for yearly exams are supported by the movement. This, he argued, was all the more reason for discussions to get underway quickly.

“I don’t want a bad conscience, and I don’t want parents to worry, so I want to hold these meetings,” said Aung Hmine San. “When their parents call them, we take them to their parents.”

Thein Lwin and Aung Hmine San both attended Monday’s meeting with the deputy minister, reaching an agreement to resume discussions immediately, with two moderators from the government and two representing the students. The government agreed to allow equal representation among stakeholders.

Media be will be allowed to attend opening remarks and a closing press conference, but discussions will take place behind closed doors.

The student protest movement has gained considerable traction since they began in late 2014. Protestors say the current education law restricts local autonomy in favor of centralized control over education and restricts the formation of student and teachers unions.

A core group of hundreds of demonstrators set off from Mandalay on Jan. 20, planning to march to Rangoon. There are now several separate student protest groups that plan to converge in Burma’s former capital.