Teachers Federation Calls for Release of Students, Education Law Reform

By Nobel Zaw 4 May 2015

RANGOON — Teachers’ organizations over the weekend condemned the government clampdown on Burma’s student movement and called on Parliament to amend the Education Law so that it ensures independent universities, provides more resources for academic research and gives unions a greater role in universities’ administration.

The Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF), which comprises 10 teachers’ organizations from across the country, convened in Mandalay for this first time since its formation last year. Some 300 MTF members discussed the implications of the brutal March 10 crackdown on a student protest and recent parliamentary discussions of amendments to the controversial Education Law.

On Sunday, the conference concluded with a six-point statement of demands to the government and the Union Parliament.

The MTF called for the unconditional release of some 70 student activists who are being detained at Pegu Division’s Tharawaddy Prison and are facing a range of criminal charges that could result in lengthy prison sentences.

MTF said the government had violated the terms of the agreement on Education Law reform that was reached between the Education Ministry, lawmakers, students’ and teachers’ organizations on Feb. 16. A key condition of the agreement was that none of the students, who were demonstrating at the time, would be detained or prosecuted for their activism.

Student organizations have been up in arms against the Education Law since the government and Parliament approved it in September without properly consulting students, teachers and independent education experts.

Following the crackdown, the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament have made different amendments to the law in an apparent attempt to assuage the concerns, but the amendments have not been to the satisfaction of students’ and teachers’ organizations.

Next week, Parliament recess will end and the Upper House is due consider Education Law amendments made by the Lower House in early April. One of the amendments made by the Lower House was to reduce the role of teachers’ and students’ unions in administration of universities.

MTF said the Education Law should allow for greater academic freedom by lessening the direct government control over universities and academics, while more resources should be allocated for independent, critical research.

“We agreed that if the Education Law is approved without benefits for students and teachers we will be strongly against it because we, teachers and students, will be the direct victims of that law,” said Arkar Moe Thu, MTF general secretary,

“There is no financial support for doing research, we have to do it with our own money even though our teachers’ salaries are very small,” said Thuta, MTF vice president.

The federation also demands that the number of tasks required from government teachers is reduced so that they can focus on teaching and research.

Previous military governments in Burma relied on teachers for a range of non-teaching tasks such as providing security at schools or to perform duties during elections, a practice that still continues.

The federation further asked that the government and Parliament involve the students’ and teachers’ organizations in the law-making process for the Basic Education Bill, the Advance Education Bill and university charters, which are due to be drawn up this year.