With the junta taking control of schools, education in Myanmar is one sector that suffers greatly, particularly in rural areas where the military crackdown is the most violent. However, teachers and parents in these areas have found ways to keep their kids educated while still standing against military rule.
In February 2021, Myanmar’s Tatmadaw staged a coup and declared military rule, and claimed that the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) win in the November 2020 general election was illegitimate. The civil war and rife with humanitarian crises are still a part of everyday life in Myanmar. As of September 2022, over 2,000 civilians have been killed and more than 15,000 have been arrested. Adding on to the crisis, the kyat is also at an all-time low. Numerous workers and public servants have opposed junta rule through strikes and boycotts under the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). This has taken a toll on the availability of resources and public services across the country, but much of Myanmar’s population perseveres through this toilsome protest for the sake of democracy.
Threats to Education
In 2020, the government canceled schools and universities for a year due to the pandemic. Upon reopening last June, only 10% of students enrolled again, as many took part in the movement against a “military slave education.” The education ministry of the exiled National Unity Government supported the movement. On April 26, the group encouraged education staff not to return to university or school until the junta has been ousted.
In March 2022, the Myanmar Teacher’s Federation estimated that three-quarters of education ministry staff were participating in the CDM. Many have gone into hiding for fear of arrest – the junta has killed at least three teachers and five students. Direct danger has also deterred parents from sending their children to school, with Save the Children stating that there have been at least 260 attacks on schools between May 2021 and April 2022.
More recently, a junta attack on a Township school in the Sagaing Region left 11 children dead and many others injured. The U.N. Secretary-General condemned this attack, stating: “even in times of armed conflict, schools must remain areas in which children are granted protection and a safe place to learn.”
COVID-19 closures followed by CDM strikes have effectively taken two years off children’s school lives. Although the military regime persists, communities are persistent in not canceling a third year of education in Myanmar by establishing new school systems outside the Tatdmadaw administration.
Efforts to Keep Kids in School
Myanmar’s eastern Karenni State has seen 170,000 people internally displaced, with the military combating resistance forces through airstrikes and artillery fire, according to The New Humanitarian. Amidst the violence, the Karenni Education Department is running 129 schools under an ethnic revolutionary organization and is currently educating more than 12,000 students. Despite a lack of funding and resources, the schools continue to persist in former government schools and churches. Volunteer teachers typically run the schools and and furnish them with tables and chairs made of bamboo. In areas without buildings, some schools even make do outdoors.
Similar scenes are unfolding in the northwestern Sagaing region, where the junta burned villages and killed civilians, but these schools stay open under the National Unity Government. A teacher at one of the 148 schools running in the Kani township claims that military attacks lead to teachers and students often having to hide in forests for days at a time. He says, “While we are fleeing, we cannot teach formally; we can only teach stories and poems to younger children,” The New Humanitarian reports.
With the Tatmadaw holding its power tight, Myanmar’s journey back to democracy will be arduous and bloody. However, citizens refuse to give up their fight and refuse to sacrifice children’s school lives along the way. This is exemplified by the actions of rural communities that are finding ways to protect education in Myanmar amidst mass boycotts and civil war.
– Imogen Scott