Burma

Myanmar Junta Threatens Teachers, Parents to Get Children Back in School

By The Irrawaddy 16 June 2021

Before it was closed due to nationwide COVID-19 restrictions last year, the primary school in Kan Maw Village, Tanintharyi Region had 180 students. Now it has just four attending classes.

Embarrassed by the humiliating student turnout after the government reopened schools early this month, regime soldiers recently gave teachers and village elders in the southern Myanmar community less than a week to boost attendance more than 22 fold.

On June 1, the junta reopened government schools across the country amid occasional arson and bomb attacks on government buildings by anonymous attackers. The regime claimed the attacks were perpetrated by “destructive elements”—military jargon for anti-regime resistance forces—to undermine the country’s stability. Despite the regime’s assurances to parents that their children will be safe at school, there are still many vacant seats in classrooms. The regime admitted this during a press conference last week, saying that out of more than 4.1 million students enrolled nationwide this year only about 3.2 million have shown up for school.

Students from Kan Maw’s primary school are among the nearly 1 million missing. As of Monday, only four had come to school—in stark contrast to last year’s turnout of 180. The extraordinarily low attendance is an embarrassment for the regime, which put serious efforts into reopening schools across the country, touting the importance of education for children. But many in the country saw it as merely the junta’s attempt to show the world that everything in Myanmar is back to normal after the coup.

So, a regional authority, a military colonel, was sent to the village to boost student turnout. He went about his mission in typical military fashion, simply ordering people to make it happen, and brooking no complaints. The use of such pressure tactics on teachers and community elders to boost low student turnout has been reported in other parts of the country as well.

In a video file shared by Khit Thit media, the colonel tells the teachers and village elders that he wants at least 90 students—half of last year’s number—to show up by June 21.

“If you can’t make it, I will make trouble for you,” he threatens, before adding, “Just wait and see what I do if you don’t get that number [of students] by June 21.”

In fact, he dropped some hints about what he was planning to do.

In the video, the colonel is overheard saying he will drop by every house in the village and grab the children.

“Any parents who refuse to send their child to school should be prepared to die!” he says.

The colonel seems determined to make his mission a success. However, with the regime’s Tuesday announcement of the detection of more deadly and severe coronavirus variants in the country, it’s uncertain whether schools will be kept open. Of the 373 new cases reported in Myanmar on June 14—two weeks after schools reopened—more than 200 were found at a private high school in Yangon. A teacher at the school died of COVID-19 while in hospital. Of the 456 students, teachers and staff at the private school, 246 have tested positive for the disease.

The colonel—and the regime as a whole—would be better off putting more effort into COVID-19 prevention and preparing to treat patients than worrying about the number of students at schools.

 

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