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A new education bill submitted to Parliament on 20 March has come under fire by the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), an independent oversight body. The committee says that the bill would effectively bring the entire education sector under strict government control.
Burma is preparing to upgrade its deeply neglected educational system by advancing two parliamentary proposals, one drafted by the NNER and the other written by the government’s Education Promotion Implementation Committee (EPIC). The latter bill is currently under review, while the status of the NNER proposal is unverified at time of writing.
Dr Thein Lwin, a key member of the NNER, said that though the EPIC version did include a few recommendations from NNER’s education reform agenda, it is still largely exclusionary and contains provisions that are unacceptable to many education professionals.
Among contested elements are government control over curriculum, which the NNER believes could result in the marginalisation and eventual disappearance of ethnic languages, which have long been under threat by the central government’s educational approach.
Section five, article five of the draft explicitly institutionalises the Burmese language in primary schools, said Dr Thein Lwin.
Another NNER member, Ye Win, took issue with the bill’s treatment of disabled students, which he claims will be greatly marginalised by the new policy.
“Section five only mentions that disabled people and those with low IQ will be supported by the special education section. The disabled should be included in both special ed programmes and universal education programmes. That’s how they can become integrated into society. Now, it seems they are being isolated,” he said.
Despite Burma’s astoundingly high literacy rate, many of the country’s estimated 60 million people live in crippling poverty, which poses additional challenges to children who wish to continue primary studies. While the government offers free education for all children of primary school age, many in rural areas leave their direly under-resourced schools to work and support their families.
Education reform has become a major priority of the Thein Sein government, but new policies remain opaque.