11/18/2014, 00.00
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Yangon, students march for reform and freedom in schools. Authority "on alert"

After four days of protests, the youth threaten to widen protests to a national scale. They are demanding the removal of restrictions on academic freedom and the possibility of union membership. Government given two months to meet their demands. The student protests, "a sensitive issue" in Myanmar.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Burmese students have threatened a nationwide protest if the government does not promote reforms in the education sector. In particular, they demand amendments to the Framework Law on Education, which prohibits young people in college and universities from promoting political activities and de facto restriction on academic freedom.

After four consecutive days of marches and demonstrations in the streets of Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, in defiance of the prohibitions student leaders have given the government two months to respond to their demands. During the demonstrations, boys and girls held banners with the image of a peacock ready to fight, a symbol of the "resistance" for activists in the Asian nation.

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.

Burmese policy experts confirm that the education and school system is still tied to the old domain of the military dictatorship; materials and curricula are under the strict control of the authorities and all forms of political activity is prohibited. One of the points at the center of the dispute, is the possibility - so far denied - to use local languages and dialects in states where ethnic minorities live, coupled with the ability to form student unions.

In recent days, the young people's protest reached the eastern gate of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, a symbolic place for Myanmar, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi held her first public speech in 1988; the place of worship was also the starting point of monks Saffron march in September 2007, bloodily suppressed by the military junta.

In response, the Ministry of Education issued a statement stating that the law "guarantees academic freedom" and that the demands of the students, including the formation of unions, may be subject to regulatory review. An attempt to greater openings, but not enough to hide the nervousness of heads of government and the upper echelons of the military.

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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