Students, NGO Experts Outline Education Reform Demands at Upper House

By Nobel Zaw 17 March 2015

RANGOON — The Upper House Bill Committee held a hearing in Naypyidaw on Monday to listen to student organizations’ demands for Education Law reform, while on Tuesday civil society education experts offered their views to the lawmakers.

Min Lwin Oo, a representative of the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE), one of the main student organizations involved in the recent education protest, said student representatives explained their 11-point reform demands during the hearing.

Representatives of ACDE, the Confederation of University Student Unions (CUSU) and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABSFU) were invited to present their views, but ABSFU members were absent out of fear for arrests by authorities in the wake of the Letpadan crackdown.

At the hearing, student representatives held up the fighting peacock flag—an old symbol of Burma’s student movement— and they wore black armbands and held a minute of silence for those who suffered from the violent crackdown on a protest on March 10.

Dozens of students were severely beaten and 127 were detained by police; many are now facing criminal charges.

The students told the committee that the detained students should be released and all charges should be dropped.

In September, Parliament and the government adopted the Education Law, but student organizations and education NGOs of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) fiercely oppose the legislation and have demanded changes.

The groups seek to loosen government control over educational institutions, expand access to education and increase education spending.

Specific demands include a decentralized curriculum, allowing for native language instruction in classrooms in ethnic minority regions and abolishing the national education commission, which students fear will give the government too much control over higher education institutions.

During a Feb. 14 meeting between lawmakers, the Ministry of Education, students and NNER an agreement was reached on forwarding the 11 point demands to Parliament. In the weeks that followed, however, the government appeared to distance itself from the agreement, leading to a resumption of student protests.

Min Lwin Oo said the students had reiterated their demands during the hearing. Committee members had countered the students’ demands for the removal of any mention of a national education committee and had suggested that an organization that coordinates among the universities is a necessity.

The students said they would only accept such a government body if its members are democratically elected and if it is a decentralized organization, he said.

Students also stressed their demands for allowing all schools run by religious organizations the right to teach ethnic minority children in their mother language—and not only Buddhist monastic schools, as the Education Law currently stipulates.

The committee members had suggested that the law be amended in such a way that it says that religious schools will have the right to teach only recognized ethnic minorities in their mother tongue, according to Min Lwin Oo, who added that the students accepted this suggestion.

“Roughly speaking, the meeting went well,” said Min Lwin Oo, before adding that the students could only judge the results of the meeting after seeing the committee’s report with suggested amendments.

The committee is expected to present its report to the Upper House soon and lawmakers will review the suggestions and vote on the proposed amendments, or send it back to the committee for further changes.

Aung Kyi Nyunt, a National League for Democracy lawmaker in the Upper House, said interest in Education Law reform is high among lawmakers and many wanted to see the issue resolved soonest. He declined to comment further on the amendments, saying he wanted to first see the committee’s report.