MPs Call for Complete Education Reform

By Lawi Weng 1 August 2012

Burma’s Lower House of Parliament delayed the drafting of the 2012 University Education Bill on Tuesday with MPs calling for a complete overhaul of existing policy.

Several MPs including Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi discussed the draft proposal which mirrors the current strategy enacted by the former military regime where all universities come under government control.

Suu Kyi said that such a system was not suitable for a democratic country and called for independence to be enshrined in Burma’s higher education institutes.

“The new draft that we are going to write will be similar to the education system in 1920, which was used at Rangoon University. We may have a good education system after review and development from the current draft,” said Ba Shein, an ethnic Arakanese lawyer and MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party in the Lower House.

Thein Nyunt, a Lower House MP representing Thingangyun Township, said that teachers and education experts must be involved in the drafting process.

There are currently around 170 universities in Burma which come under the control of the Ministries of Education, Health or Science and Technology, depending on the subjects taught. This week’s parliamentary debate was proposed by two MPs—one from the National Democratic Force and another from the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The Burmese schools system suffered greatly under the former military junta as all aspects became under the control of central government after 1974, according to Dr. Kyaw Zaw Naing, who is currently helping reform education in Rangoon.

He explained that to have a good education system there must be autonomy at universities with the right for each to make their own decisions. The government should only establish one national policy without controlling individual universities, added Kyaw Zaw Naing.

Suu Kyi talked about the importance of education while receiving her honorary doctorate at Oxford University in the UK last month. She said that currently the authorities still exercise control and watch over students at universities in Burma and this should be changed.

University is a place where students should have freedom to create their dreams and speak out about what they believe in, said the democracy icon, adding that too many young people did not get the chance to study.

The new education legislation was drafted by the parliamentary Education Promotion Committee after political reforms in Burma were instigated by President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration last year. Burmese academics have called for universities to open throughout the country again as many have remained closed for years.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, U Myint, Thein Sein’s chief economic advisor, said, “I want to see a good education system in the country for a very long time.”

U Myint heads the Centre for Economic and Social Development of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute and is also a former economics lecturer. He distributed a proposal in May which called for the restoration of Rangoon University to its former campus in the center of the city.

His open letter said that Rangoon University was one of the most prestigious seats of learning in Asia for many years but “has lost much of former glory and splendor.” The Students Union building was blown up by dictator Ne Win in 1962 and the original lecture halls remained closed for much of the 1990s as the university was considered a hotbed of dissent by the then-ruling junta.

Myint Myint Khin, a former professor at Rangoon Medical School, said that the government needs to reform education from the bottom-up. “The current system is failing because so many schools have been shut down,” she said, adding that students must not just be forced to read but instead encouraged to develop cognitive and creative skills.