The Irrawaddy

State Counselor Tells Education Minister to Improve Library Access

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the education minister to ensure that students always have access to libraries during a literature talk with 22 university students in Yangon on Tuesday afternoon.

This is the second literature talk she has held with university students this month. The first was in Mandalay on Aug. 11.

“Dr. Myo Thein Gyi,” she said, addressing the education minister, “please make sure the libraries are not locked.” She made the comment after students told her about how difficult it was for them to use libraries when they needed to, as the important books are often locked away.

The state counselor said the culture of using libraries for reading and research has been slowly fading in Myanmar’s education system and in society. She said that people in Myanmar are full of enthusiasm about reading, but lack sufficient books to read. She cited her experience with the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, established in her mother’s name. Since 2012, the foundation has created libraries and distributed books.

“Books are getting rare for the public to read, it is not that they have less appetite to read,” she said, adding that everyone must participate to create an environment in which books for both children and adults are available. She said children should be nurtured to love reading from early childhood.

Since the National League for Democracy came to power, it has organized a number of literature discussions for adults and kids in most towns. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi added that the government had also opened mobile libraries in 11 townships so far.

The university students, whose majors included education, medicine, information technology, architecture, foreign languages and international relations, shared their thoughts on literature and how it had influenced their lives.

The state counselor encouraged the participants to develop their analytical and critical thinking skills.

Earlier this month she urged youth to read more literature and spend less time playing games on mobile phones.

Tuesday’s talk was an active one, with the participants having arrived well prepared to discuss certain talking points.

Comparing the event with previous public talks held since 2017, a commenter wrote under a live stream of Tuesday’s discussion that, “This discussion has been the best.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been holding talks with different groups in various locations on a range of topics including peace, youth affairs, business and literature since January 2017. She held a business talk with various economic stakeholders in Naypyitaw on Aug. 27.

As this discussion concerned literature, thoughts on poetry, novels and the role of literature in Myanmar’s education system dominated.

In her introductory remarks, the state counselor said the aim of holding such literary discussions is to develop “soft power” as a tool for changing minds and attitudes. She cited the influence of Korean dramas around the world — including in Myanmar — as an example of this type of soft power. She added that it was a discussion about soft power with the information minister that led her to organize the literature talk.