RANGOON — A network of educational organizations has criticized a proposed government overhaul of Burma’s long-neglected education system, saying that a new draft education policy fails to include the network’s recommendations.
Thein Lwin, of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), said the group put out a statement on Sunday calling on education officials and parliamentarians to engage in discussions with NNER about the planned review of Burma’s education.
“We released a statement today with our view of the national education policy drawn up by government, which lacks transparency, freedom of thought and limits the rights of universities,” he said. “Our main aim is to challenge the government to debate their national education policy and our [proposal].”
NNER was formed in October 2012 and includes the National League for Democracy’s educational block, the 88 Generation Students and the Democratic Society, the Thinking Classroom Foundation, teachers unions, Buddhists monks, ethnic education groups and Christian churches.
The NNER held 25 seminars across country and in June 2013 held a national conference attended by 1,200 participants, after which it sent a report with recommendations for creating an inclusive education system to Parliament and a government committee overseeing the Comprehensive Education Sector Review. NNER met with the Education Ministry three times last year and also discussed education policy reform with Aung San Suu Kyi.
The group said, however, that the Implementation of Practical Upgrade Education Committee had ignored the NNER’s recommendations, while the committee—formed by presidential decree in October—does not include any outside education experts.
“We were not invited to attend the education discussions, but they made the public think that we are participants and approve of their policy,” Thein Lwin said. “Our policy was drawn up with input from the public, but theirs is just propaganda of the government.”
“I would like to suggest that the government be more open and discuss their policy in public,” he said. “Or to take into account our education policy, which has been released for a long time and was discussed many times with parliamentarians and civil society.”
He added that NNER would longer engage in any talks with the government committee unless it agrees to debate new education system policies.
Arka Moe Thu, executive member of the University Lecturers Association, said the government had made little effort to seek opinions of university lecturers about the new education policy, inviting only one lecturer each from three universities to attend a discussion on the draft policy on Dec. 31.
He said the government-proposed policy would also see the Education Ministry set up a council that would control Burma’s universities and limit their independence.
“The government committee draft intends to form a Central Council for Universities, which means they want to centralize and handle all activities of universities. Actually, universities should operate independently,” he said.
The University Teachers Association and Burma Students Union (Ba Ka) on Dec. 24 rejected the proposal to form a Central Council of Universities.
Than Htike Aung, a lecturer from East University of Yangon, leveled further criticism at the draft government policy, saying that section two includes a description of education goals stating that “the students have to be taught to have the right idea based on Myanmar national characteristics.”
This goal raises questions about the policy’s concern for the educational needs of Burma’s ethnic minorities, he said, adding that such a goal could also be used to restrict academic freedom of thought. “Education needs freedom to foster good ideas,” Than Htike Aung said.