National schools resumed on 1st November 2021 after suspending for almost two years because of Covid-19 pandemic and 1st February coup. However, not all schools in Shan State reopened – schools in 26 out of the total 55 townships remain close. Due to the circumstances, it would be interesting to know the perspective of parents, students, and teachers, and what could be the consequences to the students in the long run.
After rainy reason and the start of winter, a scenery of children playing in a chilly and foggy Monday morning while the adults are preparing their bullock carts to harvest their seasonal crops is seen in a small village, Langkhur District, Southern Shan State.
Sai Aik Lian is living in an extended family compound consists of three houses and eight children.
“I am very excited and happy when I heard that schools will resume soon. I really wanted to go to school. However, I am very sad to hear that our school is not included because of Covid-19 infection in our village. My parents and grandparents said it is good that our school remains closed because of Covid-19,” an eight grade student, Sai Aik Lian’s eldest daughter, Ying Long, who has been waiting to attend school conveyed the messages from her heart.
Ying Long could not return to school yet since it has been deferred in March 2020.
National schools have been suspended since the spread of Covid-19 in 2019. Five months after the coup in June 2021, although military government tried to resume the schooling, few students showed up for classes due to the civil disobedience movement. After that, because of the third wave of Covid-19 in July 2021, military junta ordered to shut the national schools again.
“I did not have a chance to go to school in June 2021. I am now turning to grade nine, and I need to move to the city school. My father did not allow me to go because of the current political situation,” Ying Long sadly opened up her feeling.
The school at Ying Long village has up to grade four only. She had to join another rural school which accommodates up to grade eight, and now she must move to the city school to attend grade eight to ten.
“She did not get to go to school in June. I did not allow her to go. As you know, it was speculated that the new system would let a student pass a grade every year or let students jump two grades and so on. So, what would students learn? It would just be a waste of time and money.” Ying Long’s father who is taking care of eight children told SHAN.
Among the eight children, three is attending grade eight, four, and three respectively, another three is in grade five, and the rest are in their primary grades.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Ying Long and her siblings were joining a monastic school where they studied English, Mathematics and other general knowledge courses. The monastery abbot brought volunteer teachers from the city to teach the children. Nonetheless, this monastic school had also been temporarily suspended because of the pandemic.
The village where Ying Long lives has about eighty households, and it is estimated that more than a hundred children need schooling. Because of the situations, these children have to work in the farms and help the household works.
The military junta government announced on 28 October 2021 that except schools in 46 townships nationwide, all schools including private and monastic schools must reopen starting from 1 November 2021.
The mentioned 46 townships are from 9 states and divisions – 26 are from Shan State, 6 from Kachin State, 4 from Magway Division, 3 from Kayah State, and the rest are from Karen, Chin, Sagaing, Mandalay, Meiktila, and Rakhine.
The 26 townships in Shan State are –
Northern Shan State – Naung Khio, Kudkai, Namkham, Mabein, Kunlong, Lashio, Hsenwi,
Eastern Shan State – Keng Tung, Mong Phyat, Mong Yaung, Mong Set, Mong Ton,
Southern Shan State – Hsi Hseng, Pindaya, Panglaung, Lawksauk, Ho Pone, Mong Nai, Mong Pan, Mawk Mai, Lang Khur, Kun Hein, Nam San, Mong Hsu, Lai Kha, Loi Lem
Military junta government announced that the schools in those townships in Shan State must remain close due to Covid-19 pandemic. However, one Shan political party member said the schools closure in Shan State is due to the risks of armed conflicts and political chaos.
The move could be intentionally damaging the education of people living in Shan State. One high school CDM teacher based in Loi Lem anonymously said, “This is one kind of oppression. The right to education is abused. I see this as a systematic oppression.”
Another CDM university lecturer also expressed her concerns over more than half of the 46 townships whose schools are closed are from Shan States, “Shan State is really behind others for education. The first year closure was due to Covid-19 pandemic. Another year was wasted because of the coup on 1st February 2021. The civil society organizations and volunteers must put more efforts once the political and Covid-19 situation are settled in Shan State.”
This 40 years old university lecturer participated in the civil disobedience movement, and returned to her native town and helped her parents’ farming.
The lecturer added, “I have seen and grown up with the education system controlled by the military junta – the students did not have critical thinking and self-innovation while teachers were told to teach according to the military policies and curriculums. This system would never be standardized to the international education level.”
On one hand, Covid-19 is still an issue because of inadequate vaccines for everyone – people can get infected anytime. On the other hand, armed conflicts and explosions are occurring both in the city and rural areas. Also, military personnel are raiding houses, arresting people, and shooting at anyone they want. So, the security of the children are now in the hands of their parents.
The lecturer continued her conversation about the current risk for the students, “If we are sending our children to school, we need to consider their security. That is why I think we should not send our students to school yet. Right now the civilian government, NUG, is organizing a home school program via online. This is an opportunity for those who live in the city with stable internet connection. But those who live in the villages will have to make self-study to keep up with their studies.”
According to Shan educational organizations, only those living in the communities of military junta send their children to school. They rest are hesitant because of the security concerns.
“Without a proper preparation, the national schools reopening instructed by the military junta government was just for show. They did not consider the health concerns, security risks, and readiness of the teachers. Without such considerations, it would just be a demonstration, and students would not have suitable settings for their education,” Nang Haeo Hseng, a teacher at Shan Community College, Kaw Dai Organization, told SHAN. Military government only pushed for the schools reopening, but omitted the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The partial schools reopening affected students and their guardians nationally because of the uncertainties and ambiguous situations – concrete and critical decisions cannot be made for their children education.
Some parents think that education under this military government will have no values, while others think that some education is better than nothing at all.
Some students participated in street demonstrations and fled into the jungles – devoting themselves for the revolution and determining to eradicate this military junta. Some civil servants joined the civil disobedience movement and ended up in the farms. Because of those devotees to democratic Myanmar, some parents are decisive that they will not send their children to school until democracy is restored.
One CDM teacher based in Loi Lem said that the concept “education for all” has different meaning now in reality, “During previous NLD government, all schools and students have accessed to equal opportunities nationwide. During 10 months of the military coup government, schools reopen partially and it is for show only. Some school headmasters pointed out that in times like this, personal security is more important than education. That is why not all students go to school as usual– some are afraid of explosions and Covid-19 pandemic.”
Schools in Mong Kung township, Southern Shan State, where so many people are displaced because of the conflicts between armed groups and Covid-19 is still a pressing issue, are ordered to resume teachings.
During three weeks, it is reported that students have been infected with Covid-19 virus in the townships where schools started running including Mong Kung township, Southern Shan State.
“I am worried when I see the news of explosions at schools, teachers are shot, and those related to the military junta are killed in the city. Regardless of the challenges, I decided to send my son to school for two reasons. One is that he has been away from school for two years already, and I am afraid that would affect his future education. The other is that he would get access to vaccination at school even though he is under 18 – he would not get this privilege if he is not going to school,” a 45 years old shopkeeper narrated his reasons sending his son to school. However, less students are sent to school.
A lot of efforts from all sides will be needed when the situation is settled in order to realize the federal union nation and rebuild Shan State education quoted by a CDM university lecturer as follows –
“If this political unrest is over, all ethnicities in the future federal union of Myanmar will have the privilege to learn their own language at national schools. It is being implemented in India. Ethnocentrism will no longer exist under the federal union, and all ethnicities will be treated equally, thus promotes each ethnic language and culture.”
According to Ministry of Education, primary school students are about 800,000 in Shan State. It is estimated that about 370,000 students from the mentioned 26 townships have lost their privilege to education.
According to Basic Education General Strikes Committee – BEGSC , approximately over 100,000 out of 400,000 teachers nationwide have participated in the civil disobedience movement (CDM), and they have been dismissed.
To commensurate with the loss of our children education under this coup government, collaboration of individuals and organizations are the most important told by Nang Haeo Hseng, a teacher at Shan Community College, with a quote –
“In order to fill the education gap in Shan State, I am striving to the best of my ability to collaborate and network with other educational organizations. We will have to try whatever we can. In times like this, everyone is responsible for restoring Shan State education.”