Timeline of Student Protests Against Education Law

By The Irrawaddy 10 March 2015

In 2014, student organizations and independent education experts prepared detailed suggestions for the much-anticipated Education Law, which would herald a new era of education reform in Burma.

But the government and Parliament, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD, pushed through an Education Law on Sept. 30 that students and experts believe grants the government tight control over higher education institutions, undermining their independence.

Since then, students have repeatedly called for an overhaul of the law and they began organizing demonstrations nationwide. In recent weeks, the government’s unwillingness to consider their demands and a heavy-handed approach by authorities to the students’ persistent attempts to march to Rangoon raised tensions. Finally, on Tuesday, a confrontation at Letpadan, Pegu Division, saw police round on students in order to disperse, arrest and beat them.

March 10, 2015 — After a week-long blockade by hundreds of police, a confrontation erupt as some 100 students at Letpadan, Pegu Division, demand passage in order to march to Rangoon.

Tensions boil over and a confrontation ensues, with police—who outnumber the students by about 5 to 1—wildly beating and arresting students in order to disperse the protest. Dozens are injured an arrested by riot police. Members of the media are reportedly also targeted.

Students in Rangoon launch a protest in support of the Letpadan group, but their protest is quickly quashed by authorities.

March 8 — Students at Letpadan issue an ultimatum to authorities, asking for free passage to Rangoon by March 10, at 10 am. Authorities ignore their demands.

March 5 — Students and activists gather at Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda to urge authorities not to launch a violent crackdown on the Letpadan protest.

Local authorities in Burma’s biggest city respond by letting riot police and dozens of plainclothes thugs loose on the predominantly young protestors; five men and three women are arrested. They are later released and charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law.

Students direct some of their anger over the police treatment at the European Union, which has been funding police training that was supposed to improve crowd control measures in Burma.

On the same day, Aung San Suu Kyi calls on the both sides to be cautious and resolve the situation.

A meeting between 20 students from Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE) and Upper House lawmakers fails to produce results.

March 4 — Student protestors camped at Letpadan hold talks with Pegu Division Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Thet Tun and Thein Lwin and Kyaw Thu from National Network for Educational Reform (NNER), but no resolution is found.

March 3 — Students at Letpadan announce that they will resume their protests and attempt to march to Rangoon. Authorities respond by increasing police deployment to more than 300 officers, greatly outnumbering the roughly 100 students, who start a sit-in protest.

March 1 — The Home Affairs Ministry releases a notification dated Feb. 28, calling for the end to protests as the parliamentary discussions on amending the Education Law are in progress. The notification also warns that actions shall be taken against continued protests.

Feb. 27 — Nine student leaders from the main column of protestors at Letpadan visit Parliament to observe discussions on amending the Education Law.

Feb. 24 — The Upper House announces that it will discuss amending the Education Law on March 5.

Feb. 23 — The nationalist Buddhist Ma Ba Ta movement tries to weigh in and issues a statement saying it backs the ministry’s draft and opposes the students’ proposal. The organization says it opposes granting all schools run by organizations of ethnic and religious minorities in Burma the right to teach primary school children in their mother tongue.

Feb. 22 — Student leaders and NNER accuse the government of violating the conditions of the Feb. 14 four-party agreement on drafting a new education bill and say the Education Ministry circulated its own alternative draft to undermine the agreement.

Feb. 19 — Student protestors from Mandalay—who halted their march at Letpadan, Pegu Division, when an agreement was reached on Feb. 14 —issue a statement underlining their demands that the agreed upon bill should replace the Education Law.

Feb. 17 — State-run media published the Education Ministry’s own bill, alongside the agreed-upon bill with a title suggesting that the latter was only being proposed by NNER and student organizations.

Feb. 16 — The bill that was agreed upon by the four parties is sent to Parliament for discussion.

Feb. 14 — After extensive talks between the government, lawmakers and students organizations and independent civil society experts of NNER, an apparent breakthrough agreement is reached over a new bill that will replace the Education Law.

Student groups agree to suspend their demonstrations and most, including those from Dawei, Pathein and Monywa, decide to break off their march and return home.

The draft incorporates the 11 principal concerns of student protesters, broadly seeking to loosen government control over educational institutions and expand access to education. Specific provisions include a decentralized curriculum and allowing for native language instruction in classrooms in ethnic minority regions.

Feb. 12 — Aung San Suu Kyi meets student protestors in Naypyidaw to discuss their demands.

Feb. 9 — A second preliminary discussion is held in Rangoon as part of four-party talks on the 11-point demands by students.

Feb. 8 — Students from various universities in Rangoon stage a protest to show their support for their peers in other parts of the country who are marching towards the city calling for reform.

Feb. 4 — 257 civil society organizations call for soonest resumption of four-party talks on amendment of National Education Law.

Feb. 3 — The four-party talks in Naypyidaw are postponed to Feb. 12 as agreement cannot be reached as regards to students’ attendance.

Students from Pathein in Irrawaddy Division set out on their protest march against the Education Law.

Feb. 1 — Four-party discussions are held at Rangoon University. Students table an 11-point framework for discussion and both sides reached agreement over eight points.

Jan. 28 —Minister Aung Min holds preliminary talks with leaders of student protestors. He agrees to hold four-party talks involving the government, Parliament, the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) and the students’ Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE).

Dec. 27, 2014 — ABSFU organizes a protest against the Education Law in front of Rangoon City Hall.

Dec. 20 — Some students of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABSFU) from Mandalay’s Yatanarpon University stage a protest march.

Dec. 5 — ACDE reads out statements on education reform and demands changes to the Education Law in Rangoon.

Nov. 17 — Students call for amendment of the Education Law within 60 days.

Nov. 14-17 — Students stage a protest around Sule Pagoda, Shwe Dagon Pagoda and in Hledan Township in Rangoon that lasts four days.

Nov. 12-13 — An emergency meeting of students across the country is held in Rangoon, where the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE) is formed to stage student protests against the Education Law.

Sept. 30, 2014 —The National Education Bill is passed into law by Parliament. The opposition lawmakers from the NLD support the bill. Student organizations and independent experts, who have asked for more independence from the government for higher education institutions, are disappointed and vow to fight for an overhaul of the law.

(Research by Thet Ko Ko, Wei Yan Aung and Paul Vrieze)