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Burma’s parliamentary lower house on Tuesday passed a bill amending the much-protested National Education Law, omitting several of the core demands of education activists.
The amendment bill was originally drawn up in negotiation between student groups and government officials following widespread student protests.
Clauses regarding education freedom, inclusion of students and teachers and decision-making bodies, and educational spending were reportedly passed after being significantly altered in Wednesday’s legislative session.
Activists have called for the education spending to increase to twenty percent of the national budget within five years. On Tuesday, the accepted wording of the amendment bill instead stipulated only that the spending was “projected to be increased to up to 20 percent of the national budget.”
The upper house approved a watered down version of this amendment bill last week, passing it to the lower house.
Ye Tun, an MP from Shan State’s Hsipaw Township said that while some clauses proposed by activists were kept, some significant demands had been dropped.
“There were about 131 clauses discussed. Fifty of them were passed as originally amended by the upper house without any modification. Lower house MPs stated no opinion on another 45, and suggested amendments to the other 36,” Ye Tun said, adding that lawmakers had assessed the bill paragraph by paragraph.
Thein Nyunt, a lower house MP representing the New National Democratic Party told DVB that he argued against dropping the clause that pertained to “democratic education freedom”, pointing out that the clause is essential to build a stable education system.
Thein Nyunt voiced his support for other demands of the students that were not passed on Tuesday, saying: “Regarding the clause on student unions, I disagreed with the terminology of other lawmakers in a sentence that said unions could ‘be formed in accordance with the respective university’s convention’. I also supported the clause to increase the education budget up to 20 percent of the national budget within five years.
“But the amendments I suggested did not pass,” he said.
Phyo Zayar Thaw, a National League for Democracy MP in the lower house, told DVB he suggested changing the wording in the clause from “representatives of teachers and student unions” to “representatives appointed by teachers and students” to be included in university councils.
“The amendment originally suggested by the National Network for Education Reform used the word ‘representatives of the teachers’ union and representatives of students’ union’ but I think that the representatives do not necessarily need to be a member of the union as long as they can represent the students and teachers, so I suggested a change,” said Phyo Zayar Thaw.
The lower house approved his suggestion after the Bill Committee voiced its support.
After being receiving final approval from the lower house inclusive of all amendments, the bill will be sent back to Burma’s upper house, before being finally signed off by presidential decree.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, 70 education activists who were arrested in the 10 March police crackdown on protestors in Letpadan, Pegu Division arrived in court on Tuesday for their third pre-trial hearing, during which government prosecutors proposed to move the trial to Tharwaddy, where the defendants are currently being detained in prison.
Prominent student activist Phyo Phyo Aung told reporters assembled outside of the courthouse in Letpadan that some of those detained are in need of medical assistance. She said that some still require treatment for injuries sustained in the police response to the protest last month, while others are suffering from illness such as stomach problems.