RANGOON — The Mon State Parliament has passed a bill to allow the teaching of ethnic languages in government schools for the first time in more than half a century, state lawmakers say.
The state legislature voted on Wednesday to allow primary school students to take classes in Mon language and literature. Students can also elect to study ethnic Pa-O or Karen languages. All other classes will be conducted in Burmese language, according to national policy.
The law will be effective during the upcoming academic year, which begins in July. Mon State will be the first state in the country to allow the teaching of ethnic languages at government schools. Elsewhere, students must study ethnic languages on their own time, outside of school hours.
“Our parliament passed the bill already. Nobody was against it. Teaching Mon will happen once daily at the government schools,” Nai San Tin, a state lawmaker for the All Mon Region Democracy Party, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
Students will start Mon language classes when they begin primary school and will continue until fourth grade. The classes will focus on grammar, writing and literature, as well as Mon culture.
Lawmakers said they would wait for the results of national education reform efforts before extending Mon language classes to secondary schools in the state. Ethnic education departments around the country are continuing to push the central government for greater freedom to teach ethnic languages.
Nai Banyar Aung Moe, an MP in the Upper House of Parliament in Naypyidaw, said he would submit a proposal to allow university-level classes focused on Mon language. He praised the state legislature’s decision to pass the new education bill.
“We are worried our Mon children cannot read their language. This is great news for our Mon because we have struggled for this for a long time,” he said.
The Mon State Education Department will be responsible for hiring Mon-speaking teachers. These teachers will be paid a lower salary than other government teachers, earning only as much as Mon-language teachers at non-state schools, according to Aung Naing Oo, a state lawmaker representing the All Mon Region Democracy Party.
Under the democratically elected U Nu government of the 1950s, all schools in Burma’s ethnic areas were permitted to teach ethnic languages, but the military regimes that ruled the country from 1962 enforced monolingual education in all state schools. As a result, in Mon State, as in other parts of the country, only schools run by ethnic rebel administrations have taught local languages.
Amid political reforms initiated after President Thein Sein came to power in 2011, ethnic lawmakers have made requests for mother-tongue teaching to be reinstated. Since 2012, teaching ethnic languages has been permitted, but only outside of school hours, and without any state funding.
The New Mon State Party (NMSP), an armed group that has a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government, has since 1972 run its own schools under its Mon National Education Department. It runs 156 schools, employing 800 teachers and serving 17,000 students. At these schools, students learn in the Mon language at the primary level. A mix of the Mon language and Burmese is used during middle school.