01/30/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Education reform: government open to students for changes to legislation

by Francis Khoo Thwe
On Sunday, government officials, lawmakers, student representatives and members or an educational reform group will examine 11 demands made by students. The government is "in principle" open to some changes. Sources tell AsiaNews that students want to have "lawyers, donors, and prominent figures" in the discussion.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - A protest march by hundreds of students and teachers against the government's reform education has achieved one significant first result. Next Sunday, Myanmar authorities will meet a student delegation to discuss possible changes to the government's proposed legislation.

This is an important goal in a country like Myanmar where, until a few years ago, a public demonstration would have been suppressed by force and its leaders summarily arrested.

Government officials, parliamentarians and members of the National Network for Educational Reform (NNER) will take part in the meeting scheduled in the capital.

Students will present their 11 demands at the meeting on 1 February in order to change the proposed National Education Bill along democratic lines, respecting the rights of all young people of Myanmar.

Discussions will be based on an approach centred on finding solutions through patience with the possibility of further meetings and talks at a later date. When talks start, students will end their protest march, pending subsequent developments.

The goals presented by student leaders include the extension of compulsory, free middle-school education, the decentralisation of decision-making power, the teaching of ethnic minorities in their own mother tongues, an increase in the educational budget and the right for students and teachers to create their own (autonomous) unions.

Anonymous government officials said that the government agrees "in principle" with some of the requests, but does not intend change its approach to reform.

Sources in Myanmar told AsiaNews that student leaders are also trying to have "lawyers, donors, and prominent figures" contribute to the discussion.

Meanwhile, the students "continue the march", which began last week, until Sunday "when formal talks start."

Since 2011, when the military dictatorship ended and a semi-civilian government was formed under President Thein Sein, a former general in the junta, Myanmar has been engaged in a number of policy and institutional reforms along democratic lines.

However, this process of change - which also led to the partial lifting of Western sanctions - has suffered a sharp slowdown. Likewise, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from running for president.

Once, Myanmar's educational system was considered one of the best in Asia. However, decades of military dictatorship and strict control over high schools and universities have resulted in a decline that still weighs heavily on the quality and freedom of education.

The country's rulers are alarmed by students' threats to extend their protests to the entire nation. In fact, it was students who led pro-democracy protests in 1988 that ended in a bloodbath when the military cracked down on demonstrators.

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