Network Rejects Burma’s Imminent National Education Bill

By Yen Saning 21 August 2014

RANGOON — A network of educational organizations has rejected a new bill approved by Parliament last month, saying it does not remove Burma’s education system from central government control.

The National Network for Education Reform (NNER)—which is formed of educational, political and religious organizations—issued a statement Tuesday saying the current draft of the National Education Bill did not include many of its key recommendations. NNER has held discussions nationwide over the past two years on education reform in Burma, and said it strongly disagreed with nine key parts of the current draft.

The bill—passed by the Union Parliament on July 30, but not yet approved by the president—is meant to overhaul Burma’s education system, which has suffered from underfunding and overbearing control under previous governments.

The bill calls for the formation of a National Education Commission (NEC) and a Higher Education Coordination Committee, two powerful bodies that NNER said were “not necessary” and would only preserve central government control of education.

“Universities and colleges must be autonomous and, by necessity, they may cooperate on democratic principles. For academic quality to be assured, assessments must be done by a team of independent specialists,” the statement said.

Arkar Moe Thu, secretary of Myanmar Teachers’ Federation, told The Irrawaddy that the NEC, which will be headed by a Union-level government official, was simply a reincarnation of previous government bodies that centrally controlled—and stifled—Burma’s education system during military rule.

“They have put the NEC in the bill just to change the name,” he said.

Measures in the bill guaranteeing autonomy to higher education institutions were undermined by the creation of the coordination committee, which will have ultimate control over establishing and closing universities, Arkar Moe Thu said.

“They say they will give autonomy to universities, and they want to claim that the Higher Education Department will not exist,” he said.

“Then, they substitute it with Higher Education Coordination Committee, which will control the finances.”

NNER said the current bill ignores calls for mother-tongue languages to be used in instruction in ethnic states, and is discriminatory in its articles dealing with children with special educational needs.

The bill also contains a definition of education that is reminiscent of Burma’s authoritarian history.

“National Education is to cherish, protect and promote the essence of all ethnicities’ languages, literature, culture, arts, traditional customs and historical heritage, and to nurture human resources who have good moral and character and who are able to think correctly, and education that helps state development according to the needs of the age,” the bill reads.

ThuThu Mar, education policy coordinator at NNER, said the bill’s definition “belittled” education and raised concerns about education serving the political system.

Thein Lwin, spokesman of the National League for Democracy’s education network, said that since Basic Education schools would remain under the direct management of the Ministry of Education, central control would persist.

“It’s limiting our teachers’ rights and creativity like in past years,” he said.

“We object to this. We want our schools to be free and democratic. We want the schools to be freely managed, in accepting students, the appointment of new teachers and in drawing up the curriculum.”

The statement by NNER recommends that “the ministry rather should play the role of facilitator; the school management should be done by the respective school boards which constitute the school principal, the teachers, parents and respectable citizens.”

President Thein Sein has sent the current draft of the National Education Bill back to the Union Parliament with 25 points of for further discussion. According to the Constitution, the president may send a bill back to Parliament within 14 days of its passing, but if it is approved again by lawmakers it will pass into law automatically within seven days, with or without presidential approval.