Peace First, Education Second, Say Upper House NLD Parliamentarians

By Lawi Weng 15 September 2016

RANGOON — The National League for Democracy (NLD)-dominated Upper House of Parliament voted down a proposal to expand ethnic minority language education on Monday, citing a need to first “prioritize nationwide peace.”

U Khin Aung Myint, a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker and former House Speaker, put forward a plan to improve education in isolated areas of ethnic states.

His proposal requested that the Union government provide continual support to ethnic education.

Some ethnic minority lawmakers backed the move, pointing out how their constituencies could benefit from an investment in education and also emphasized a need for their mother tongues to be taught in government schools.

Saying that the current parliamentary priority should be the attainment of nationwide peace, NLD lawmakers voted down the proposal 107 to 82. They did, however, suggest that the proposal be documented in the parliamentary record.

“I decided to propose this issue as I thought that the government would not have many challenges in implementing it,” said Khin Aung Myint. “My proposal was intended to help the ethnic people who stay in isolated, mountainous areas. They have a really bad situation. They do not have education, and they have poor health care. Their lives are short, and then they die. They become human beings, but they are treated as having no value as human beings.”

The proposal was timed, he explained, to be carried out in preparation for a future federal system.

Sheila Nang Tawng, an ethnic Kachin lawmaker from the NLD, said that Khin Aung Myint’s proposal could have helped to foster unity among Burma’s many ethnic nationality groups.

“If we have good education, then we could build permanent peace,” she said.

In the Upper House session, she requested a program teaching about Kachin culture in government schools.

Nyi Sein from the Ta’ang National Party in Muse, Shan State, said he owed Khin Aung Myint “a thank you” for his proposal, even if it did not pass.

“There is a very low percent of people who can read and write,” Nyi Sein said of marginalized ethnic communities in his area. “There is not one school teaching our ethnic language in my constituency, but there are many Chinese language schools, which look like they came from paradise—that’s how brilliant and luxurious they are,” he added.

Yet parliamentarians like U Aung Myo Latt from Mandalay Division’s Constituency No. 5 and the NLD, said that now was not the time to pursue changes in education.

“The main problem is our country is political conflict. Our government has to work hard to have peace and national reconciliation, and a federal union,” Aung Myo Latt said. “When we have democracy and a federal union, then we can improve our education system. States could develop their education systems.”

From Karen State’s Constituency No. 7, the NLD’s Dr. Ah Khar Moe described her constituency as home to over 100,000 people but only 200 schools.

“There were 15,000 students in primary schools, but only 100 graduate from high school,” Ah Khar Moe said. “First, we need peace in order to improve education. But we cannot build a better country in one day. The government had better learn what is needed on the ground, and help.”

The proposal from U Khin Aung Myint should kept on the record, she added.