Myanmar Schools Open, But Classrooms Are Empty as Students Boycott
By The Irrawaddy 2 June 2021
Although Myanmar’s junta opened public schools on Tuesday amid efforts to normalize the country, classrooms remain empty as teachers and students boycott in protest of military rule.
Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF) said more than 90 percent of students didn’t turn up to attend classes despite the junta’s calls for full classrooms.
Myanmar had approximately 9.2 million of students in 2019-2020 school year under the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government. According to MTF, fewer than one million returned to school.
Members of the teachers’ federation observed attendance at schools and found most classrooms deserted, which is entirely different from the beginning of previous academic years.
Only a few dozen students have shown up in some schools that had enrollment of 3,000 to 5,000 in previous school years. And there are also several schools in Myanmar that remain completely closed with zero attendance.
Kaung, a high school student in Yangon, and his friends didn’t enroll for this academic year.
“We don’t want to go to schools opened by the military government which killed students and hundreds of people,” he said. Several students shared the same thought, with Kaung saying they won’t return to schools under the regime.
A senior student who had been a schoolmate of Kaung and his friends was shot dead during a brutal crackdown by the regime on an anti-regime protest in Yangon.
As of Tuesday, which marked four months since the military coup, at least 841 people had been killed and more than 5,500 people had been arrested. Hundreds of youths including high school students and dozens of children are among those killed by the junta’s forces.
A mother of a primary school student said that she didn’t enroll her son in school because of her safety concerns. A number of schools across the country have been set on fire or bombed with homemade grenades by unknown attackers. The regime has claimed that school attacks were carried out by civilian resistance fighters who have taken up arms to defend civilians against the junta.
People’s Defense Forces formed by civilian resistance fighters in several cities said they will only target regime forces and will not launch attacks that could harm innocent civilians.
Armed junta troops were seen standing guard outside and inside schools, joining school buses, and patrolling around school buildings. Though the patrols are ostensibly to provide security, they have also prompted concerns on the part of parents that their children might be subject to arrest or worse.
“Even for us, we are anxious about potential violence when we go outside as the regime forces continue brutal actions against civilians. How could we send our child to a place where we couldn’t see if anything happened to them?” the mother said.
A number of teachers have also boycotted the regime’s plan to reopen public schools by refusing to return to work despite threats of arrest, detention and dismissal from their jobs.
According to an initial announcement by the Ministry of Education, more than 100, 000 teachers and education staff out of a total of 450, 000 [that is around 27 percent] in public schools joined the civil disobedience movement.
Starting on May 7, the junta issued suspension orders to striking teachers and education staff at public schools nationwide. Among those who have been suspended are custodial staff, security officers at schools, lab technicians, teachers, principals and officials under the basic education department of the Ministry of Education.
“The junta insisted on opening the schools just to show the country is well under the control of the military rather than [out of any] concern for disrupted education,” an official from the teachers’ federation, who asked to be anonymous, told The Irrawaddy.
A teacher from Yangon Region who was recently suspended from her job said she is proud to stand against injustice even though it meant she had to give up of a job she adored.
“I will only return to work under our elected civilian government,” she added.
Kaung, the high-school student also said he and his friends have decided to return to school only after revolution prevail.
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