By 22 DEC 2017
This year has been eventful for the education sector in Myanmar and here is a look at our pick of all major events.
The most remarkable event of 2017 for the education sector took place on the first week of August, as seven inmates who passed the matriculation exams with distinction from Ohbo prison and Insein central prison were released on presidential amnesty. The former inmates having passed the matriculation exams can attend university, following the Ministry of Education’s guideline, as part of a social rehabilitation initiative. Such reinsertion of inmates through education marks a first Myanmar.
Other honourable mentions go to the rebuilding of a landmark student union building, the colourful ribbon campaigns and demonstrations.
In February talks about the rebuilding of a student union building led enthusiasts to reflect upon the importance of student’s union and strikes in Myanmar’s modern history. Yangon Region government and National League for Democracy (NLD) party members led discussions about the refurbishing of the landmark edifice, bombed in 1962.
The officials met with generations of unionised students and formed a student union building committee tasked with providing advice on the project. However, some of the meetings did not include all generations of students and disagreements remained as to the re-construction.
The meeting focusing on the formation of the committee was held on the last week of February but was interrupted due to opposition from All Burma Federation of Student Union (ABFSU). ABFSU members stated they would only consider forming the committee if students are freely allowed to unionise. A day before the forming of the committee, authorities built a small building in lieu of the original edifice, prompting peaceful protest with candle light on February from various student union’s generations.
The rebuilding of the landmark student union building is still debated by the various student generations with regard to budget, design and location.
The same month, the Department of Medical Services announced that unlicensed nurses who do not complete the required three years’ service in government hospitals would not be allowed to work at private hospitals.
The news sparked protests staged by the Nursing University Student Union (NUSU), which rallied around magenta ribbon as a symbol of their campaign. NUSU called on the government to address their grievances but the latter failed to reply within the given deadline. As a result, on March 15, 500 hospital staff, nursing university students and trainees demonstrated in Yangon.
It was the first time nurse students partook in a student movement since 1988. The demonstration was the biggest one staged under the current government’s term. The medical service department later met with NUSU representative to find solutions.
Zaw Ye Htut, a student from Sagaing Education College involved in a protest regarding educational colleges’ strict rules, which took place in front of the Department of Higher Education (Upper Branch), was expelled from college as a consequence.
The involved students claimed that the administration of Sagaing Education Colleges was oppressive and banned cell-phones two days a week in the school compound. The Chan Aye Tharzan township court sentenced them to four months in jail. Following the ruling, 30 students from basic education union protested in Yangon for the release of their convicted friends.
They were eventually granted amnesty as part of the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference on May 24. In line with the demonstrators’ demand, the Department of Higher Education amended educational colleges’ outdated disciplinary rules. The Education Ministry cancelled all rules curtailing student participation in political activities from the University Entrance Guide Book. Previously, political activities carried criminal penalties, the highest of which allowed for expulsion.
The expelled student went back to his college.
Building up on protest for the Education sector, the Green Ribbon and Blue Ribbon campaigns spread throughout universities and colleges, and technological universities and computer universities in end of July to oppose unbalanced promotion policy and transfer position.
For the Green Ribbon campaign, authorities refused to meet with campaign leaders as requested. Nearly 400 students from Sagaing University of Education, Yangon University of Education and educational colleges took the streets of Sagaing and Yangon. The campaign came to a halt following a fruitful meeting with the Education Ministry’s officials concerning appointment of teachers in Basic Education.
Disasters, conflict hamper education
Not immune to nationwide crisis, schools had to close due to disasters, disease outbreak and the Rakhine attacks. Two hundred schools from Sagaing Region closed due to flood in July.
At the end of July, H5N1 outbreak in Tanintharyi Region led to the closing of over 100 basic schools from Dawei for nearly two weeks.
A total of 426 schools from northern Rakhine State was shut down following the terrorist attack on August 25. Schools are reopening throughout the country.
“If teacher’s performance increases, dropout rates decrease,” U Myo Thein Gyi, Minister for Education remarked about the 2017 changes in the education sector.
However, basic education’s assessment system hasn’t been updated for this academic year, as initially planned.
A new system was introduced where students work in groups of four – they answer a standardised test, and they are graded from A to D, including the performance of the group as a whole.
“The school enrollment rate was high in basic education and so were transfer rates. Also, university enrollment rated high,” the Ministry of Education’s spokesperson, U Khine Mye to The Myanmar Times.
Further reviewing Education’s standards, the Department of Alternative Education designed a policy framework, currently under review by the National Education Policy Commission, aimed to benefit children from migrant families, child labourers, street children, children from conflict areas, illiterate seniors and children with disabilities. Non-formal middle education camps were extended in Hintada town and Mae Sot, on the Thai-Myanmar border region.
The third National Monastic Education Conference, held end May, discussed a draft law on the managing of monastic schools and was supported by over 1,500 religious officers.
Last but not least, although the education ministry has been pushing for years to ban lessons after school time with identical content, which teachers often impose on their students to receive extra income, is still an ongoing practice throughout the country.
“The tuition system is not changed. Although officials ordered not to take extra tuition or fees, teachers still push to charge money for extra teaching. I worry for my children who will be set aside if they don’t pay the extra cost asked by the teachers,” said Daw Pyone, who has two children.