RANGOON — More than 350 students protested against the National Education Law in downtown Rangoon on Friday, continuing their months-long campaign against the controversial law, which they say is undemocratic and fails to guarantee independence for educational institutions. A product of cooperation between Burmese student organizations from across the country, the demonstrators gathered in front of Maha Bandoola Park to demand a radical overhaul of the law, which was passed in September. s Nan Lin, a representative of the Confederation of University Student Unions (CUSU) and one of the protest organizers, told The Irrawaddy that the protest aimed “to improve the education system for the next generation and to improve the country.” The demonstrations were led by the CUSU, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and the Middle Myanmar Students Union, with support from the Ethnic Students Union. A Nationwide Students Emergency Conference with the student representatives was held on Nov. 12 and 13, which culminated in the organization of a 15-member body to plan Friday’s protest. Protestors said that the current law would be ineffective at raising education standards in Burma, restrict local autonomy in favor of centralized government control of education institutions and prevent the official recognition of student unions. [irrawaddy_gallery] Student organizations believe that the formation of a National Education Commission will prevent local autonomy over teacher hires, student enrolments and curriculum formation, contrary to principles of democratic management. The National Network for Education Reform (NNER), an alliance of civil society groups and education experts, is outraged by the Education Law, after the government ignored a comprehensive study by NNER outlining recommendations for education reform. Teachers’ unions are also up in arms over the law and have vowed to cooperate with the students in their campaign. Kyaw Ko Ko, the chairman of the ABFSU, told The Irrawaddy that Friday’s protest marked the start of a continuous fight to reform the National Education Law . “The ABFSU and CUSU will work together to speak out in the same voice, under the same flag—we will continue to fight until we win the war [against the law ],”he said. Kyaw Ko Ko said that a primary concern raised against the legislation is the formation of a National Education Commission, which would be comprised of ministers and government officials but would leave no space for student input and would fortify centralized government control of higher education. He added that organizers did not intentionally plan the protest to coincide with US President Barack Obama’s official visit to Rangoon, but student leaders would always be ready to raise awareness around education issues and the plight of students. The National Education Bill was passed by Burma’s Parliament during a legislative session in July and sent back to the floor by President Thein Sein, who suggested 25 amendments to the legislation including a postponement of full implementation to 2027. Despite strong criticism, Parliament passed the Education Law in September, approving 19 of the president’s amendments and rejecting six, including postponement of the law’s implementation. In the coming months, Parliament will discuss a number of so-called “sectoral laws” that will supplement the Education Law and outline further details of education reform. Under previous decades of military rule, Burma’s education suffered due to a lack of funding and strict junta controls, leading to a demise of the education system, once considered among the best in Asia.
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