More Funding Sought for Foundering Mon Language Program

By Lawi Weng 22 May 2015

RANGOON — A lawmaker has asked the Mon State parliament to triple the 10,000 kyats (US$9) per month that it pays part-time instructors who teach the Mon language at government schools, in line with a financial pledge that has yet to be fulfilled.

Aung Naing Oo, an ethnic Mon lawmaker in the state legislature, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the Mon State government had only provided 10,000 kyats a month to the schoolteachers, one-third the stipend that they were promised.

The state government last year agreed to pay part-time Mon language instructors 30,000 kyats monthly, an allocation that advocates of ethnic minority language instruction hope will one day come from the national budget. Union-level funds have not been forthcoming, however, in part because lawmakers in Naypyidaw are currently debating amendments to the National Education Law.

Not content to wait for the money to flow from Naypyidaw’s coffers, Mon State lawmakers and the regional government pledged to offer language instructors 30,000 kyats, but the allocation never fully materialized.

“They did not provide full salary as they said they would. They told us our schoolteachers need to teach 30 hours a month in order to get a full salary, but the education department [the state-level Ministry of Education] only allowed our teachers to teach 20 hours a month,” Aung Naing Oo said.

With the academic year beginning next month, the lawmaker put the issue to the Mon State parliament on May 8 in hopes that the legislature could negotiate with the state-level Ministry of Education to extend Mon language instruction to 30 hours a week, making instructors eligible for the promised stipend.

Ethnic Mon lawmakers pushed hard last year to hire Mon instructors to teach the local language at government schools, in what was a pioneering effort to return ethnic minority language instruction to the classroom.

But Aung Naing Oo said the regional government’s political will to make the program a reality was lacking.

“This government did not want to promote our ethnic language. They could negotiate within their ministries if they wanted to promote our ethnic language,” he said, adding that the future success of Mon language instruction depended on having the financial resources available to attract qualified teachers.

Nai San Tin, another Mon State lawmaker, said ethnic Mon lawmakers were now reluctant to recruit teachers if a full stipend could not be guaranteed.

“It is better if the government hires its own schoolteachers,” he said.

There were about 300 instructors who taught the ethnic Mon language part time at government schools last year, according to Nai San Tin. That number is expected to be significantly lower if the stipend is not increased.

Under the democratically elected U Nu government of the 1950s, all schools in Burma’s ethnic minority regions were permitted to teach ethnic languages, but the military regimes that ruled the country from 1962 enforced monolingual education in all state schools. As a result, in Mon State as in other parts of the country, only schools run by ethnic rebel administrations have taught local languages.

Amid political reforms initiated after President Thein Sein came to power in 2011, ethnic lawmakers have made requests for mother-tongue teaching to be reinstated. Since 2012, teaching ethnic languages has been permitted, but only outside normal school hours, and without any state funding.