Education, Peace and Democracy in Myanmar

The National Network for Education Reform (NNER) is a coalition of educators working independent of the government education system. NNER works in monastery schools, ethnic minority village schools, migrant worker schools, and religious schools, and has been actively engaged in the national dialogue on education reform since 2012.

Along with other progressive education groups, they have been critical of the Education Law enacted in September 2014 that have been widely criticized. The law excludes input from students and prohibits ethnic minority languages from being taught at higher universities. Students opposing the law clashed with police during non-violent demonstrations in March 2015.

NNER, along with many other advocacy groups, is calling for a decentralization of the new education laws to better serve all people in the country. They are specifically asking for the recognition of student unions as legal entities, the allocation of a standard budget in line with UNESCO’s education principals and the removal of the clause that bars students from taking part in political activities.

Historic Education Conference in Yangon

As part of their push to create amendments incorporating these more democratic demands, NNER held their 2nd annual conference this summer in Yangon. The theme was “Education, Peace, and Democracy”, highlighting the foundational role education has in the present and future of Myanmar.

Approximately 1,000 people from around the country attended the conference, holding panels on six different topics with experts in their respective fields. This historic event was unthinkable even four years ago, and is a hopeful sign of a reform movement in Myanmar.

Partners Asia Myanmar Country Director Kaung Nyunt shared with us his experience as a panel chair for the Education and Sustainable Development session:

I was pleased to be a part of the conference, and recognize the importance of liberalization of education for the future development of my country. Partners Asia is proud to support progressive education through Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking teacher training in monastic schools, as well as supporting schools in ethnic minority areas and in Thailand.
I discussed with
[the panel] what sustainable development is, how education is related to sustainable development, and how inadequately the current National Education Policy addresses interrelated social, economic, environmental and cultural concerns, and future policy recommendations.

Daw Devi Thant Zin, Manager of Myanmar Green Network and great-great-Granddaughter of Burma’s last monarch, King Thibaw, shared her concerns that “Without good governance and proper policy, we cannot implement Sustainable Development.” She further explained that “Myanmar is an agricultural country and education policy should be considered based on agriculture which will be fundamental to Myanmar’s future development.”

Ko Maw Tun Aung, Myanmar Officer of the Natural Resource Governance Institute shared his expertise as well:

The international definition of Sustainable Development is the development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Myanmar Government needs to improve its capacity for natural resource management. Now we are using all our natural resources without considering the impact on the next generation. Without decentralization in the education system, we cannot implement education for sustainable development. Critical thinking should be encouraged. Academic freedom, autonomous Universities and research freedom are important for our country.