Sep 14, 2003

Junta lies on education

Even though the ceremony for Literacy Day was held in the capital, the junta pays not a single Kyat for public education for Burmas ethnic nationalities
Even though the ceremony for Literacy Day was held in the capital, the junta pays not a single Kyat for public education for Burma’s ethnic nationalities, while their community based literacy classes are frequently intimidated by the Military Intelligence officers.

At the Diamond Jubilee Hall on Pyay Road in Yangon, the newly appointed Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt declared that the 30-year plan to raise adult literacy rate up to 95.5% was achieved on the International Literacy Day in line with the United Nations Literacy Decade.

In the celebration at the capital city on September 8, General Khin Nyunt who holds one of many positions including as Chairman of Myanmar Education Committee said, “the Union of Myanmar is making efforts to uplift education for its citizens systematically through an education plan in which literacy and continuing education programmes have been included as a crucial sector. Decisions were made to draw up plans by respective nations for basic literacy and better life programmes. Keeping all school-age children in schools, completing primary school education, attending schools regularly, preventing drop-outs as well as providing basic education to those above the school-going age, and going on with providing life skills education and creating continuous learning opportunities have been accomplished.”

In front of the ruling State Peace and Development Council’s Ministers, ambassadors, representative of UN Agencies and education workers, the Prime Minister announced that in the 2003-2004 academic year, the enrolment rate in the 144 project townships is 98.93 percent and that throughout the country is 95.05 percent.

Playing the same old tune, he confirmed that Myanmar now stands firmly on a high literacy rate. He notified that over 480 Community Learning Centres where people can get together any time of the day has been established. The adult literacy rate for Myanmar has increased to 92.2 percent in 2003. Under the 30-year long-term plan, Non-formal Education programme, with the goal to increase the adult literacy rate up to 95.5 percent, is now fully implemented.

However, on the other side of the fence, higher tuition fees are introduced in Mon State for the new enrollment of the 2003-4-education year at the government run schools according to local sources.

In Moulmein, capital city of Mon State, fees for school enrollment, text books and sports cost over 1,000 Kyat; fees for school repairs and new buildings cost from 7,000 to 20,000 Kyat; and besides entrance fees, the parents also have to pay for computer maintenance at schools in both the urban and rural areas. In response, the State schoolteachers say to the parents that they have not received enough of a budget from the government for school repairs and new buildings. The people need to pay for this.

In the rural areas, Mon children are learning their literature in self-supported schools surrounded by broken down bamboo walls on the International Literacy Day. These children in southern Burma are learning one of the oldest literatures in South East Asia to preserve their endangered heritage.

Unfortunately, these Mon national schools are regarded as illegal institutions, and are closed often following threats from the Burmese authorities. The current State Peace and Development Council has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the regime blatantly violates these rights and denies Mon ethnic children their own culture and the enjoyment of practicing their own native language.

In July, Moulmein based Military Intelligence No. 5 took the list of Mon teachers, students and their parents in Thanbyu Zayat township. Even though education workers were not being arrested at this time, many believed that the act was to intimidate the Mon national education which is well founded and organized by the grass roots Mon community and has been for hundred years since losing their sovereignty in 1757.

Before the cease-fire agreement with the regime in 1995, many Mon teachers were arrested and accused by the junta as being rebel supporters even though these teachers have not been involved in the armed movement, but instead are committed in supporting their national education established by the Mon National Education Committee of the New Mon State Party.

While being marginalized and discriminated against by the Rangoon central government, the Mons and Karen took up arms soon after Burma gained independence in 1948. Both Mon and Karen govern some territories in the stronghold areas and settle their own national education.

At present, the MNEC administer 912 teachers for 37,135 students under the Mon National Schools system. The NMSP and the grassroots population fund these national schools since it has been founded but later on some aid was given by international aid agencies via NHEC (National Health and Education Committee).

The NHEC, a health and education committee formed by Burmese umbrella opposition groups to help refugees and internally displaced persons along the borders, provides educational assistances for a total of 140,000 students, 5,000 teachers and facilitating over 1,500 schools all over Burma in the strong hold areas. The NHEC education projects had been launched in Mon, Karen, Karenni, Shan, Lahu, Wa, Palaung, Pa-O, Kachin, Chin, Arakan and Naga areas.

With its own High Schools, Secondary Schools and Elementary Schools in the stronghold areas, the Mons are challenging the growing shortage of funds and difficulty in recruiting new teachers. With their strong spirit, Mon education workers continue their campaigns. These teachers are appointed on a voluntary basis and the MNEC provides basic stipends to them.

These number of Mon education workers do not account for volunteer teachers (Buddhist monks, university students, and community workers) for summer Mon literacy class in Mon state and other Mon community in Rangoon, Pegu, Tenasserim Divisions and Karen State. Even though the accurate number of students is difficult to verify due to government restrictions, it is estimated that about 50,000 Mons join the summer literacy program yearly in Mon State. In Moulmein about 500 attended classes during the 2003 summer term.

Despite not supporting educational programme in the ethnic areas, the junta closely monitors these activities and controls as much as they can. Like other dictators on this planet, the Burmese ruling authorities see these classes as a base for anti government activities and Mon teachers are accused as rebel supporters and intimidated, sometimes being harassed, arrested, tortured and imprisoned indefinitely.

In May 2003, Major Aye Thein of the Burmese Army, Infantry Battalion No 31 ordered the closure of Mon summer literacy classes at Kalargote Island in Mon State.

The overall situation in Burma, Human Rights Documentation Unit of the NCGUB reported education in Burma has been severely impacted by more than four decades of military rule. Because the military regime views the potentially politically active university and high school students as one of the biggest threats to their grip on power, all-non military education is treated as expendable. All civilian schools and universities throughout Burma suffer from a lack of resources and qualified educators, a problem found in many developing countries, however, unique to Burma is the fact that the ruling government actively tries to thwart universal and advanced higher education.

Despite the fact that only 0.5% of GNP is spent on education in Burma, compared to 2.7% in other Southeast Asian countries, the military government went to the extra expense of building university facilities on the outskirts of major cities near military barracks in order to keep an eye on students and stop them from gathering and protesting. The main campuses of Rangoon University and Rangoon Institute of Technology, which have been centers of student protests in the past, were moved 20 kilometers outside of Rangoon. Students from the provinces were spread out among the new universities in order to prevent a concentration of students.

While Gen. Khin Nyunt declared that Myanmar proudly stands on equal ground with other nations, civilians have to pay their children’s education expenses. Despite having no money for education from the military government, ethnic nationalities are longing for their rights to promote their own literature.