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Burmas student protesters follow in

predecessors footsteps
University students marched to protest against Burmas National Education Law in Yangon
earlier this month. Pic: AP.

By Mark Inkey Nov 28, 2014

Student protesters in Burma paid tribute to previous generations of student
activists during recent protests against the National Education Law presently going
through parliament.
Todays student protesters acknowledged their predecessors when on the second day
of their protests, Saturday 15, November, they scaled the fence at Rangoon University
to pay their respects at the site of the Rangoon University Student Union building.
One of the protest leaders, Ko Phone Myat Noe, director of the Mon State Students
Unionsaid: Rangoon University was once a place where students from different ethnic
groups came to study. The Student Union Building is also a place where all ethnic
leaders were formed, so we came to pay respect.
The fear of the power of student protests and organisations was so great that shortly

after General Ne Win seized power in the 1962 coup he ordered that the Rangoon
University Students Union building be razed to the ground.
The authorities still clearly fear student organisations as they have been forbidden
from rebuilding the student union building since it was destroyed.
After visiting the site of the student union building the protesters went to pay their
respects to fallen student martyrs at Bo Aung Kyaw Memorial Column and vowed to
fight until their demands are met.
Bo Aung Kyaw was the first student leader to be killed in Burma. He was killed
on December 20, 1938 by mounted police while protesting against British colonial
The timing of the protest also evoked memories of even earlier protests. The next day
of the student protest (November 16) was Burma National Day. This celebrates the
first student strike at Rangoon University in 1920 when students protested the new
University Act, which changed the administration and curriculum at the university. At
the time it was seen as elitist and designed to exclude the Burmese population.
Speaking on November 16, Ma Phyo Phyo Aung, one of the student leaders said: We
honour the veteran students who took part in the first student protest in 1920. The
struggle for democratic education has not been completed.
Nearly 95 years later Burmese students are still protesting against the imposition of an
unjust Education law.
The present National Education Bill was drafted by the governments Education
Promotion Implementation Committee and announced in March 2014. Despite being
widely criticised the Bill was passed by Parliament on July 30 and sent to President
Thein Sein for ratification.
He sent it back to the floor with a suggestion for 25 amendments. Parliament then
approved 19 of the presidents amendments and passed the Education Law in
September. In the next few months parliament will discuss a number of supplementary
parts to the Education Law and outline further education reform details.
The bill seems to prioritise compliance over education with its exhortations to nurture
human resources who have good moral character and who are able to think correctly
and education that helps state development according to the needs of the age.
The law has also been criticised for being a throwback to more authoritarian days
because it centralises decisions about policy and curriculum to the National Education
Commission (NEC), a body mainly made up of government ministers.
Student organisations worry that this will prevent local autonomy in enrollments,
curriculum and the hiring of teachers.
The Bill also does not allow the formation of student unions.
Sithu Maung, the founder of the Confederation of University Student Unions, told The
Irrawaddy: We have found out that the formation of a National Education
Commission will centralize and control educational freedom. We want universities that
can be managed freely free from the control of ministries. The Education Law does

not guarantee this.

The students have been supported by many other groups in their criticisms of the Bill.
The Myanmar Teachers Federation (MTF) said it supports the students action and
will join their protests if the Bill is not modified. It has also called on the authorities to
stop their criminal investigations into unauthorised student protests against the Bill,
which have taken place across the country.
Arkar Moe Thu, the MTF secretary told The Irrawaddy that the NEC was just a
reincarnation of previous government bodies that centrally controlled and stifled
Burmas education during military rule.
The Bill has also been rejected by the National Network for Educational Reform
(NNER), a network formed in 2012 that includes members of teachers unions, ethnic
education groups, 88 Generation Peace and Open Society members, and monks.
Over the past two years the group has been holding nationwide seminars about the Bill
and in June 2013 it organised a seminar which was attended by 1,200 people. It then
sent its recommendations to the government.
Among other things it recommended that, the ministry rather should play the role of
facilitator; the school management should be done by the respective school boards
which constitute the school principal, the teachers, parents and respectable citizens.
Unfortunately the Bill did not include many of the NNERs key recommendations.
The NNER also criticised the bill for ignoring widespread calls from ethnic groups and
students to have the option of being instructed in their mother tongue in ethnic states.
Over the past few months at various universities across the country students held
protests against the bill.
Then on November 12 and 13 the All Burma Federation of Students Unions (ABFSU)
held a Nationwide Students Emergency Conference to discuss the Bill in Rangoon that
was attended by about 500 students from across the country. At the meeting it was
decided to hold protests.
From Friday, November 14 until Monday, November 17 about 300 students held
protests, marches and sit-ins across Yangon, including the protests at the university on
November 15.
Because no permission had been sought for the demonstrations they were technically
illegal, but despite being closely monitored by intelligence and special branch officers
the students were not blocked from protesting.
The students announced that they would suspend their protests on November 17 and
give the government 60 days to respond to their demands. If they do not respond the
students have threatened to return in greater numbers.
Ma Phyo Phyo Aung said: During these 60 days, we will go to the rural areas and
persuade the public and students to join the boycott.
If the government doesnt negotiate and respond to us, we will hold a nationwide

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