Student Leaders to Meet President, Lawmakers

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 28 January 2015

RANGOON — In a big win for student demonstrators, the Burmese government agreed on Wednesday to host quadripartite discussions on education reform.

Following months of escalating protest against a new National Education Law, high-level government representatives met with student leaders in Naypyidaw, where they committed to bring together President Thein Sein, students, advocates, and lawmakers as the legislation comes under review, according to a student leader present at the meeting.

“We agreed to discuss and find solutions for the 11-points we have demanded,” student activist Nanda Sint Aung told The Irrawaddy shortly after the meeting, referring to a list of weaknesses in education reform agreed upon by the movement.

After hundreds of demonstrators set out on a march from Mandalay to Rangoon on Jan. 20, the president urged lawmakers to acknowledge their grievances and amend the law. Students responded that they would not end the protests until the government guaranteed an inclusive review process beginning with quadripartite talks.

Wednesday’s five-hour discussion followed a tense stand-off between protesters and police in Taung Tha, Mandalay Division, where authorities attempted to prevent the crowd from entering the town. Police later stood down and the procession continued.

President’s Office Minister Aung Min and representatives of Parliament and the Ministry of Education attended Wednesday’s meeting, where Nanda Sint Aung said they signed a formal assurance that the requested quadripartite talks will be held on Feb. 1 in Rangoon.

A number of notable activists—including Min Ko Naing, Mya Aye and Phone Cho of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society—also witnessed and served as signatories to the agreement.

Nanda Sint Aung said on behalf of the student movement that activists were “satisfied” with the agreement, but stressed that they were “worried about the talks because we have no history of getting positive results.”

He said the demonstrations will be paused temporarily on the day of the Rangoon talks. Hundreds of students, teachers and supporters are currently marching from Taung Tha to Popa, Mandalay Division, while other “columns” are mobilizing in Irrawaddy Division and elsewhere with plans to converge in the commercial capital.

Massive student demonstrations gained traction soon after passage of the National Education Law in September 2014. Its critics claim the legislation centralizes authority, restricts the formation of independent student unions and curbs curricular freedoms.

Zarni Mann contributed reporting from Taung Tha, Mandalay Division.