Here’s why students in Burma are taking to the streets

Annie Gowen
The Washington Post
Publication Year:
March 10, 2015
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education

The article highlights that according to some, in 2015, many students actually protested against the Burmese education reforms because the latest laws were too strict.

A days-long standoff between security forces and students protesting a new education law in Burma dissolved into bloody chaos Tuesday about 90 miles from the country’s commercial capital of Rangoon, with police beating protesters with lathe sticks and herding them into military vehicles. More than 100 people were arrested, including journalists, and around three dozen were injured, according to state-run media.

Students in Burma, also known as Myanmar, have been protesting in Rangoon and elsewhere in the country for weeks over the country’s new education law, passed in September, which they say is too strict.

A group of student associations called the Action Committee for Democratic Education issued a manifesto earlier this year with 11 demands, asking for the right to establish student unions at their schools, freedom to study the country’s ethnic languages and greater funding for education.

"At this time the government tightly controls every university.Even the professors can't work freely,"  said Ko James,  27,  a former political prisoner and member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. "We want the universities to have more freedom and decentralization."

The country’s quasi-civilian government, which came to power in 2011, had been in talks with the students, but the discussions were at an impasse. Students had massed near the town of Letpadan, about 90 miles north of Rangoon, on March 2 and had been in a tense standoff since then with riot police until violence erupted Tuesday.

Burma's Ministry of Information had no formal comment on the day’s events, but posted photos on its Facebook page of students wearing the movement’s red head scarves, tugging down barbed-wire barricades and being herded onto military vehicles.

On Wednesday, Burma's opposition party,  the National League for Democracy, demanded an investigation in the violence.

Post by MOI Webportal Myanmar.

The chaos evoked earlier incidents of repression by Burma's brutal military regime, which ruled the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation for nearly 50 years.

In 1988, a student uprising was quashed by the government, with hundreds killed and imprisoned. The crisis riveted international attention on Burma’s struggle for democracy and its central figure, Aung San Suu Kyi. She is now a member of parliament, and her NLD party may participate in national elections later this year.

Burma’s generals stepped down, and the government began a process of reforms, with the support of the United States, more than four years ago. Although the economy is fast evolving, the country’s road to democracy has been rocky. Most recently, fighting between ethnic Kokang rebels and the Burmese army in northeastern Shan state has sent thousands of refugees fleeing across the border into China.

Human rights activists are watching the student protests closely to see if they will become a rallying point for the population’s general concerns about the pace of reforms and democracy.

“There's a long history of excessive force by police in Myanmar, so there's very good reason to be concerned,”  said Matthew F. Smith,  the founder and executive director of Fortify Rights,  a human rights group that has long worked in the country. “The authorities need to get comfortable with criticism and the right to peaceful assembly, and not respond against protesters with violence or abuse.”


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