Protests Continue as Lawmakers Urged to Amend Education Law

By Nobel Zaw 22 January 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s President Thein Sein urged Parliament to reconsider a new National Education Law after student protests resumed in Mandalay earlier this week, a move that was greeted with cautious acceptance by advocates.

Education advocate Nan Lin welcomed the President’s remarks as a positive step, but emphasized that stakeholders would like to see four-party talks between a student-led committee, advocates, lawmakers and government administrators before any amendments are made to the legislation.

“Our committee is afraid that [lawmakers] will not hold a four-party dialogue, so we will continue the protests until we get a guarantee for four-party talks,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Nan Lin joined scores of students and education professionals earlier this week as they set of from Mandalay to Rangoon on a 638 kilometer (400 miles) march in a revamped campaign against the legislation, which was passed by the Union Parliament on Sept. 30, 2014.

The law has been controversial from the outset, its detractors claiming that it centralizes control over education and restricts the formation of student bodies. Students and professionals claimed that the draft was rushed through Parliament without adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Passage of the law prompted widespread student and teacher demonstrations in Burma’s largest cities. A 15-member coalition called the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE) was formed and demonstrations were suspended in November 2014, as members issued an ultimatum that the legislation be amended to reflect the will of students and educators within 60 days. The deadline passed without resolve, and protests resumed on Tuesday to demand a response from lawmakers.

The President’s recent statement to Parliament urged lawmakers to address key issues as they review the law, acknowledging that stakeholders have made clear demands to decentralize schooling and allow for the formation of student unions. The statement recommended that Parliament “form an independent organization comprising suitable persons for quality assessment.”

Ye Zarni Tun, a member of the ACDE, told The Irrawaddy that the President’s statement indicated that the government is acknowledging the seriousness of their concerns, albeit not swiftly.

“Some points in the law are really weak,” said Ye Zarni Tun, “and now the President knows about it. We had to try for 66 days for the President to know.”

Others remarked, however, that the statement alone will not resolve key issues and lawmakers will need to make concerted efforts to include students and teachers in any further discussions of the law because the current text does not represent any of their demands.

Arkar Moe Thu, a university teacher and member of the National Network for Education Reform, said the President is being duped by lawmakers into believing that the legislation is progressive.

“If President Thein Sein’s government really wants to change, they can’t let lawmakers cheat them,” he said. “If they look only at the [current] document, they won’t see the wishes of the people.”