Students to Protest Education Law in Mandalay

By Nobel Zaw 26 November 2014

RANGOON — Student activists plan to again take to the streets to protest the National Education Law on Thursday in Mandalay, where they will reiterate a request that the government convene a quadripartite meeting to discuss the controversial legislation.

The proposed four-party talks would involve a 15-member committee formed by the students, the government, parliamentarians and the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), a coalition of education stakeholders.

One of the student organizers told The Irrawaddy that the protest will start at 10am and will last all day.

“We will protest in Mandalay but we are still negotiation the manner in which to protest,” said Min Thwe Thit.

He added that the event would allow protestors to raise awareness about a demand made by students on Nov. 17, when they announced that they would give the Burmese government 60 days to respond to their criticisms of the law.

The planned protest is just the latest in a series of recent demonstrations against the National Education Law, which was passed by Parliament in September.

Opponents of the law say Parliament did not take input from education stakeholders in drafting it, and complain that it does not allow sufficient autonomy for the nation’s universities.

More than 300 representatives from students’ organizations across Burma staged a four-day protest against the legislation starting Nov. 14 in Rangoon. They halted the protest after announcing the 60-day ultimatum, with the student activists threatening to take the protest nationwide if they did not hear from education officials in that time.

“We have given the government 60 days to respond to the students and this protest is one form of pressure on the government,” Than Htike, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann last week said lawmakers would consider the students’ concerns if they submit them to the legislature.

“They still haven’t reported to the Parliament, but if they report to the Parliament, we will focus on analyzing their report,” he said at a press conference on Nov. 18, in response to a question from The Irrawaddy.

“Currently we have no plan to do that, at the moment we are asking for the quadripartite meeting,” said the student leader Min Thwe Thit.

The students’ 15-member Democracy Education Initiative Committee will hold a seminar in mid-December on the National Education Law and will invite education professionals not affiliated with the government or protesting students.

The students also plan two other protests in different towns in Burma over the coming week, after holding three demonstrations in the past week.

The NNER, which has also voiced criticism of the education law, is a network that includes the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, members of teachers’ unions, Buddhists monks and ethnic education groups. The network formed in 2012 and despite it having held seminars across the country to discuss education reform, many of its key recommendations were not included in the National Education Law.

Additional reporting by Kyaw Myo Tun.