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Radio Free Asia

Myanmar's Students Stay Home Despite Junta Orders to Enroll Ahead of New School Year

2021-05-25 -- Myanmar's students are largely ignoring orders from the military junta to enroll for the new school year, with only about 10 percent signing up in some places and just a week remaining before classes begin, sources in Myanmar told RFA.

The junta has called for schools to reopen as they do every year on June 1, but the students are staying home in protest over the military coup that ousted the country's democratically elected government almost four months ago.

A member of the Basic Education Workers' Union in Yangon, the commercial center and largest city, said there were few takers when the enrollment period began on Monday.

"Only one or two students came for enrollment at some schools. A few dozen came to some of the other schools," the teacher told RFA's Myanmar Service.

"The military is trying hard to force the schools to reopen, but a large number of teachers have been dismissed and it would be very difficult to reopen with just the teachers they have left," said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

"It would be worse especially in Hlaingthaya township, where the teacher-student ratio is very low. I think the schools will reopen in name only," the source said.

A teacher from South Okkalapa township told RFA she did not join the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) -- broad walkout of teachers, doctors, civil servants and other professionals -- because of financial difficulties.

"I saw only three or four students come to the school to enroll. We've been watching and that's all we saw. The security of the school is provided by ward administrators and soldiers are patrolling the surrounding areas," said the teacher, who declined to be named.

She said the school normally has 200 students, and the three who showed up were not wearing their white-and-green school uniforms.

Parents are reluctant to send their kids to school because they are unsure of the education their children will receive with the junta in control.

A resident from Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, told RFA she could not send her two brothers to school during a military dictatorship.

"I did not enroll them. I have a younger brother who is in the 10th grade and another younger brother in the 6th grade. I have decided not to enroll them. I heard that parents are being pressured," she said.

"To avoid being pressured, I sent my parents, brothers and sisters to the village. Doctors and teachers have even been violently arrested and imprisoned. At a time when teachers are being violently assaulted and arrested, their education brings nothing good."

The Mandalay resident said almost no students had enrolled in schools in Chanmya Tharzi township where she resides.

In the south-central Bago region's Bago township, only 10 percent of students had enrolled in the township's 300 schools.

"So far, only the children from the military families have enrolled. As of 11 a.m. today, there were only two or three students enrolled in some of the high schools," a member of the Bago Teachers' Union told RFA Tuesday.

Because so many of the township's teachers have joined the CDM, around 10 of its schools cannot open at all.

Sources told RFA that schools in several townships in the Sagaing region are in a similar situation.

RFA contacted the Ministry of Education in Naypyidaw to find out more about the admissions process but an official directed calls to the Basic Education Department, which did not reply.

Teachers have been under constant pressure since March and this month, more than 120,000 teachers who had joined the CDM movement were laid off across the country.

A high school teacher involved in the CDM movement said schools would not be able to reopen if the teachers are still not working, as many schools were already understaffed before the coup.

"This is all talk about school reopening. How are they going to do it?" the high school teacher said.

"Even when the children want to go, their parents have to allow them. And even if their parents let them go, there must be teachers at the schools. Right now, there are very few parents who will even let their children go to school, so there's no way they can reopen," said the teacher.

UN agencies like UNESCO and UNICEF and Save the Children in a joint statement on May 20 said the junta had fired over 120,000 experienced schoolteachers and this had exacerbated the situation caused by school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They warned that more than 12 million children across the country could lose their access to education.

Zaw Wai Soe, Education Minister for the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) made up of lawmakers deposed by the coup, told RFA that they are preparing a federal education system.

"I don't think education under the junta will succeed. There will be no education under the military council," said Zaw Wai Soe.

"They took power in 1962 and ruled the country. It is so obvious where our education is now. Everyone knows how low our education levels have gone down compared to the rest of the world," he said.

"We are now working on an immediate education plan…and will announce it in about a fortnight," he said, adding that the emergency education plan would include an Ethnic Education Organization to serve the multi-ethnic society.

Earlier this month, RFA published an interview with Deputy Education Minister Sai Khaing Myo Tun, who said that the NUG had been in contact with many of the teachers in the CDM to formulate an education plan so that none of Myanmar's students would miss school during military rule. The NUG also planned to find a way to pay salaries of teachers who were fired by the junta for their CDM involvement.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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