(The following is a translation of an article about the amendment of the National Education Bill. Opinions
expressed here are those of the author. Ed)
Under the reign of President U Thein Sein, “Three Waves” of reform have been introduced to transform the nation. The attempt won some support at home and abroad but work remains to fulfill the requirements of the majority of people. As an old adage goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, it is crystal clear that damage and loopholes cannot be repaired within just five years. In January 2015, the student demonstration based on the National Education Law intensified and it has been posing a barrier to the government. The education system of the country has been subjected to various attempts and tests for its betterment but have been to no avail. In the time of President U Thein Sein, under the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law No. 41 on 30th September 2014, the National Education Law was enacted.
Students demanded to amend the law as it is not to their liking. Later they staged protests. They gave a 60-day ultimatum to amend the law but the government showed no response. This resulted in marching protests by students from Mandalay to Yangon on 20 January 2015.
Student protesters started their march from Mandalay, passing through towns and villages while the government blocked and warned them. Nevertheless the students continued their marching. Some people showed their support to the students but some closed to the government circle warned them by trying to block the march at various towns. Finally the government showed a compromise. The government of President U Thein Sein emerged from the elections held in 2010. Although observers at home and abroad criticized the election as controversial, no one can deny the fact that the government emerged through an electoral process. The government, sticking to the old way of thinking by neglecting the 60-day ultimatum, might thoroughly consider the consequences that may result from the marching protesters entering Yangon. Negotiations were made.
On 28 January, President Office’s Minister U Aung Min met with leaders of the student protesters and agreed to hold a meeting on the National Education Law among the government, the Hluttaw, the National Network for Education Reform and the Leading Committee for Democracy Education Movement on 1 February. Through the meeting of the four parties, the government finally ceded to the demands of the students with just one request: the student protesters do not enter Yangon. It seemed that the students had no trust in the government and thus they continued their march but hesitantly, and announced that they would stop their march till 28 February.
Opinion of the law
The students are demanding democracy education while the country is on her way to democracy. One of my friends asked me “Is the democracy education a separate education system?”. I replied to him that democracy education is based on independence according to the nature of democracy. Readers criticized the national education bill as it was published in the government-owned dailies. Some are pleased with the bill but others are not. Some said it is excellent but some said it is terrible. As the government’s papers invite opinion, some, with their mighty pens, show their skills from various points of views. As the country had to live under a tight grip for many years, the government including those from the education sector felt worried while the students showed their will independently. They dealt with the students with great care as the country is no longer under military rule. It is important for the government to leave its posts properly as its tenure will be ended in a year. So, the government let the people be exposed to the loopholes of the bill through the dailies.
Let the educational wave rage on! I think President U Thein Sein’s government prefers the word “WAVE”. I would like to express my opinion by stating that it is an educational wave in which attempts are made to amend the National Education Law through boycotts. The nature of a wave is strong and dangerous. It can get someone safely ashore but on the other hand it can drag someone into a trench ending in ruin. No matter what is going on, I would like to let the educational wave rage on for just one time.
University students and leaders of the student protesters want betterment of education. They don’t want central control, they don’t want conservative ways without reforming anything but instead want to march towards a free society. They want to ride a big educational wave for once. In the bill, they demand the independent pursuit of education (that is, choice of subject and university). It is not wrong but there will be a tough road ahead. The previous bill stipulated that free education shall be introduced at the primary level and then be expanded step by step. It would be good to say precisely that a free education system shall be introduced at the middle level.
It is found that views on the emergence of different faiths is clearly stipulated in Article 4 (m) which states that education shall be free from the influence of religious organizations, political beliefs, and shall pay respect to human dignity. There may be some loopholes although all out efforts are being made for the law to be perfected. The onus is on all to amend the law to be better. No matter who – the government, the Hluttaw, NNER or the students – amend the law, the goal shall be betterment of the law. It is encouraging to see that the law was amended by the four parties. It is certain that all people will welcome any activities that are done for the betterment of the country and its education.
Much work remains to be done by President U Thein Sein’s government during its remaining tenure. The peace process is ongoing, the amendment of the 2008 constitution is pending, the country’s economy is growing slowly. Activities being implemented are loaded with new problems day after day. Therefore, a breakthrough between the government and the students will bring a good result. The successive governments oppressed the students. The students at their young age are doing their best for the country and the future. There may be some faults as activities are carried out by very young people. If there is a fault there also is a truth. Something that should be amended should be amended for the prosperity of the nation and its people. The student protests are not coming to an end. They are watching the situation.
The worrying points in the bill are to be settled among the four parties or in the parliament. There will be no mistakes if all who are serving the nation’s good are upholding the interests of the nation and its people. Let the educational wave rage on! It is time to overcome all the difficulties through goodwill and wisdom for the betterment of the nation.
(Journalist Myo Tha Htet is a presenter of the DVB Debate TV programme with a 15-year career in news agencies at home and abroad.)