RANGOON — A network of Burmese students’ unions staged a protest against the National Education Bill on Tuesday, saying the legislation does not guarantee freedom for the country’s universities.
The Confederation of University Student Unions, a collection of several unions across Burma, led the demonstration at the campus of Dagon University in Rangoon, which was attended by about 100 students from that university, Rangoon’s Economic University, the Computer University and the University of Foreign Languages.
The bill, which was approved by Burma’s Parliament in July but has not been signed by President Thein Sein, does not guarantee students the right to form unions.
“We have found out that the formation of a National Education Commission [in the bill] will centralize and control educational freedom,” said Sithu Maung, founder of Confederation of University Student Unions.
“We want universities that can be managed freely—free from the control of ministries. The education law does not guarantee this,” he added.
The confederation issued a statement last month outlining its opposition to the bill.
“The National Education Commission as stated in Section 4 of National Education bill has been found to grant opportunities to centrally control the whole educational system,” the Aug. 26 statement said.
“The Higher Education Coordinating Committee also gives the authorities central control of the whole higher education sector.”
The demonstrators on Tuesday called for the two new bodies outlined in the bill to be scrapped.
“We are not asking to abolish the law. We are rejecting this law because proper stakeholders have not been included and educational freedom is not granted,” Sithu Maung said, adding that similar protests were also planned in Dawei and Myeik in Tenasserim Division.
“This [demonstration] is a way of pressing for reform. We have to use this last method as we have attended education meetings held in Rangoon, but we were left out of education discussions at the national level. We can’t accept such a law coming out of dishonesty.”
The bill has also been rejected by the National Network for Education Reform, a civil society umbrella group of which the Confederation of University Student Unions is a member. Protests have also been staged by students’ unions at universities and colleges around the country, including in Sagaing, Mandalay, Monywa, Kyaukse and Shwebo in central Burma last month.