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Students amassed at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University on Wednesday in a second round of protest against Burma’s newly approved education reform package.
The National Education Bill awaits the president’s signature since being approved by both houses of parliament in late July. Controversial from the outset, the bill’s detractors claim that it was drafted unilaterally and without enough transparency.
On Wednesday, a crowd of about 100 students gathered to oppose several aspects of the bill, claiming that it creates excessive restrictions on the formation of student unions and centralises Burma’s education system.
The National Network for Education Reform (NNER) — a non-governmental group of education policy advocates comprising teachers, politicians and religious figures — has consistently hounded the drafting committee for changes. While some recommendations were conceded by the committee, the NNER said as recently as Thursday that they reject the legislation and demanded that key features be amended before it can be implemented.
The bill mandates the formation of a National Education Commission, which the NNER fears will grant the government too much control over the nation’s schools. They also claim that the new legislation doesn’t actually reform the education system, but rather re-brands the institutions that have crippled Burma’s schools for decades.
Many have also taken issue with a lack of transparency throughout drafting and parliamentary procedures. Students at the demonstration said that while they were told that the bill was reconsidered and amended to address complaints, the public was never made aware about this.
“We were informed that there were 71 amendments made to the law, but students were not informed clearly,” a spokesperson for the Yadanabon Students Union told DVB on Wednesday, adding that students ought to be involved in the drafting process.
“We don’t know enough about it. That’s why we are protesting,” he said.
Wednesday’s demonstration was organised by students of Yadanabon University and was joined by others from Sagaing, Monywa and Kyaukse. A smaller protest was also held at Yadanabon on 21 July, just days before the bill was passed. While the first demonstration drew a crowd of about 50 people, Wednesday saw that number doubled.
Participants vowed to maintain their opposition to the law and ramp up awareness through a poster campaign.
Burma’s education system was stymied under decades of military rule, a period which also saw the imposition of policies geared towards disenfranchisement of the nation’s minorities. The country is sorely short of highly-skilled instructors and the budget allocated for the school system is under six percent of national spending.