01/28/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR

Thousands of students march to Yangon, against education reform

Francis Khoo Thwe
Young people, from different cities, are heading to the commercial capital of Myanmar. They plan to hold a major demonstration to demand amendments to the government text. Organizations and activists alongside the students. Among the most controversial issues, free association and the teaching of local dialects.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Burmese high school and university students are on a long march to demand changes to the controversial law to reform the education sector, which violates academic freedom and does not respect the rights of all citizens.

Student leaders have been waiting - in vain - to be summoned by the government to discuss the critical points of the norm. The two-month moratorium passed without result and as a result the students have launched a new campaign of protest, leaving several cities around Myanmar on foot to converge later this month on Yangon with a massive street demonstration.

Thousands of young people have joined the march, after a first series of protests last November failed to obtain any result. Government and Parliament pushed ahead with the study and approval of the education reform - acknowledging some indications made by Burmese President Thein Sein - without consultating those affected, the students. Among the points in the center of the dispute, the possibility (so far denied) to use languages and dialects in States where ethnic minorities live, coupled with the ability to form student unions.

Ko Kyaw Ye Yint, spokesman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), reports that the government has not received any group to speak about the reform.  This has led groups to set out from Monywa, Mandalay, Mawlamyaing bound for Yangon, where a massive demonstration will be held.

Student representatives have drawn up a list of 11 key points, to be implemented for a real education reform in key plural and democratic. Most important among these include:  include a guarantee for the establishment of student and teacher unions independent of the government, changes to exam and entrance requirements at universities, the introduction of ethnic languages, and a modernization of the national syllabus. Finally, to devote at least 20% of the national budget for education and raise the age of compulsory study to at least junior high school.

Dozens of organizations and personalities from the world of culture and civil society have come out in support of the students, who "strongly" back the young people's battle for a real reform in education. The 11 points drawn up by the Burmese students are "fundamental" to guarantee a "democratic" future to schools of the country. Even the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeals to students, so that they are ready to "dialogue" with the government to reach a final compromise on the law, which "must be approved as soon as possible."

Since 2011 - when the military dictatorship ended with the formation of a semi-civilian government, and the appointment of a President (Thein Sein, a former junta general) - Myanmar has engaged in a series of political and institutional reforms toward greater democracy. However, this process of change - which has also led to the partial cancellation of Western sanctions - has suffered a sharp slowdown and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still barred from running for president.

At one time the education system in Myanmar was considered among the best in Asia. However, decades of military dictatorship and the strict control of colleges and universities have resulted in a decline that still weighs on the quality and freedom of teaching. And the threat, which was launched by students, to extend protests nationwide can only alarm the Burmese authorities: 1988's pro-democracy protests were galvanized by students in 1988, but as with the monks, also forcibly repressed by the military.

 

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