Upper House Approves Education Law Amendments

By Nobel Zaw 26 March 2015

RANGOON — The Upper House on Thursday voted to pass draft amendments to the National Education Law, just under six months after the contentious bill was enacted by the Union Parliament,

Upper House lawmaker Khin Wyne Kyi of the National Democratic Force confirmed that the bill secured passage with some modifications after four hours of debate, and will soon be submitted for consideration in the Lower House.

Among the changes negotiated on Thursday were a rewording of commitments to increase budget outlays to the education sector. Student unions and the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) had pushed for a commitment of 20 percent of all public spending by 2020, one of 11 specific reform demands.

“The increase to the education budget of 20 percent of national spending within five years has been amended to increase the budget year by year over five years, without the 20 percent limit,” said Khin Wyne Kyi.

The approved bill also qualified a demand for instruction in mother tongues to stipulate that languages of instruction must be ethnic languages native to Burma, thereby excluding instruction in Mandarin or Arabic. A student push for government authority over educational institutions operated by religious orders has been dropped, as has an attempt to legislate the construction of student and teacher union facilities.

Min Oo, a National League of Democracy MP in the Upper House, told The Irrawaddy that there was acceptance of the principle of free formation of student and teacher unions, but the building of union facilities was outside the purview of the Union Parliament.

The National Education Law was approved last September, prompting the ire of student leaders and education reformers, who said they were insufficiently consulted when the bill was drafted. After the escalation of student protests from late January, the government eventually agreed to discussions between lawmakers, the student-led Action Committee for Democratic Education and the NNER, sending a revised version of the law to parliament on Feb. 15.

While the bill was being considered in the Upper House Draft Law Committee, the government launched a crackdown on student protesters in Letpadan on Mar. 10, leading to numerous injuries. Some 69 protesters are still detained and facing an assortment of charges relating to unlawful assembly. The government had earlier requested that students cease protests, while demonstrators claimed they were left with no choice but to continue pushing for amendments to the law.