RANGOON — Students of Dagon University in Rangoon’s outer northeast have staged a sit-in protest outside the office of the rector, after being unwittingly drafted into a campus event held to denounce nationwide demonstrations against the National Education Law.
On Monday, senior members of the student body were called into the university’s Khaung Nyunt Hall for an unannounced presentation, during which a group of students went onstage to express their concerns that the protest marches headed to Rangoon would lead to the closure of universities. The state-owned Mirror newspaper reported the next day that Dagon University students had organized the event with 400 people in attendance.
Angered by the suggestion that the campus was united in opposition of the demonstrators, around 30 students blocked the entrance to the rector’s office between 10:30am and noon on Friday, before the rector agreed to meet with the group and listen to their concerns.
“The teachers called masters and final year students into the hall without explaining why,” Nan Lin, president of the Dagon University student union, told The Irrawaddy. “When the students arrived and realized what was happening they tried to leave, but the teachers didn’t allow it. It violated the rights of students.”
In a press conference, Prof. Hla Htay, the rector, stated that the campus administration had not deceived students, and it was the university regularly called students into the hall for campus events.
“I take responsibility for the event,” he said. “I did it to talk about the need for peaceful learning and success in examinations. It was not a counter-protest.”
The rector told reporters at a press conference that he had intended to warn the students to study for upcoming assessment.
“Now the exams are near and there are many students in my university,” said Hla Htay. “Some are more focused on sports, music and dance so my aim was to remind students that the exams will come soon and they should study.”
Dagon University will hold first semester examinations in the middle of March. After being questioned, the rector admitted that in previous years there had not been any campus-wide entreaties to students similar to the one made on Monday.
Other educational institutions have been eager to distance themselves from the latest round on student protests, which began in Mandalay on Jan. 20 when student leaders vowed to march to Rangoon in the pursuit of reforms to the National Education Law. The University of Forestry, near the capital Naypyidaw, issued a statement on Tuesday claiming that teachers and students at the campus “believed the National Education Law is suitable to the current situation” in Burma and did not want protests to disrupt public order.
A draft revision of the National Education Law was submitted to Parliament on Monday after the government agreed to talks with student leaders and education activists, and most student demonstrations heading for Rangoon have halted.
The government has given in-principle agreement to 11 amendments, including expanding access to education, raising government outlays toward the education sector, native language instruction in ethnic minority regions and loosening central control of the curriculum.