Students Seek Four-Party Dialogue on Education Law

By Nobel Zaw 18 November 2014

RANGOON — Student activists have requested that the government convene a quadripartite meeting to discuss the National Education Law, which has prompted street protests and an outcry from education groups in Burma.

The students’ 15-member Democracy Education Initiative Committee requested that its members, the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), the government and parliamentarians sit down to address their grievances.

“We requested the four-way meeting because the NNER held nationwide conferences to collect the desires of the public and ethnic representatives, and drew up an education policy. The government’s Education Promotion Implementation Committee (EPIC) produced the education bill, Parliament has the Education Upgrading Committee—the students should be involved,” Phyo Phyo Aung, a member of the students’ committee, told The Irrawaddy.

After students on Monday gave the government 60 days to respond to their demands, the Ministry of Education held a press conference on Tuesday and urged the students to come to the negotiating table with EPIC, which drafted the legislation.

“I want them to negotiate freely and transparently,” Minister of Education Khin San Yee said at the press conference. “Every parent cannot fulfil all of the demands of their children. So think of us like the parents and demand and negotiate with us and we will do. But if the parents can’t afford it, the children should understand it.”

Among other concerns, the student activists say the law will deprive universities of autonomy and fails to recognize the right of students to form unions. They also say the drafting of the bill lacked input from education stakeholders.

More than 300 representatives from students’ organizations across Burma began a four-day protest against the legislation starting on Friday.

On Monday, the protesting students announced that they would suspend their demonstration and would give the Burmese government 60 days to respond to their demands, with the student activists threatening to turn out in even greater numbers if they did not hear from education officials in that time.

The National Education Law was passed by Parliament in July and sent back to the floor by President Thein Sein, who suggested 25 amendments to the legislation. Despite strong criticism from education activists, Parliament passed the Education Law in September, approving 19 of the president’s amendments and rejecting six.

In the coming months, Parliament will discuss a number of so-called “sectoral laws” that will supplement the Education Law and outline further education reform details.

The NNER, also vocal in its criticism of the education legislation, 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 has held seminars across the country to discuss education reform. In June last year it organized a national conference attended by 1,200 participants. After that, it sent a report with recommendations to lawmakers and the government.