Myanmar’s education system goes underground

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Many teachers and students in Myanmar have moved the educational process underground since the military took over more than a year ago. Unorthodox methods of schooling are emerging as people take part in the civil disobedience movement, or CDM, as a means of protest.

Only about half of the country’s teachers and students are said to have returned to school this year, where the junta-led curriculum is said to discourage free thought.

The others work outside the system.

Teacher Shar Myar is one of 230,000 teachers on strike.

It is a risk to participate in the MDP and she has followed reports of increasing numbers of her colleagues being detained.

Fearing for her safety – and that of her family – Shar Myar fled Yangon. The 23-year-old is now in a camp for displaced people in Kayah, along with more than 3,000 others.

Children aged 12 or younger make up about a quarter of the camp’s population. For a long time they couldn’t go to school.

Shar Myar has decided to continue teaching at the camp, joining others who are leading classes.

Shar Myar teaches in a camp for displaced people in Kayah State, one of the areas most affected by the conflict.

“I noticed that these kids had been away from school for so long,” she says. Now that the schools are open, “at least they will have friends, which helps their overall education and mental well-being.”

Shar Myar says life in the camp is hard. Food and drinking water are scarce and classrooms have been erected amid the wind and dust on the mountainous terrain.

“When military planes fly overhead at night, we worry about whether they will bomb and kill us. Some children hide as soon as they hear the sound of a plane. They live in a constant state of fear,” she says.

Shar Myar and her children
UNHCR says the number of internally displaced people in Myanmar was over 800,000 in February. Shar Myar says many children haven’t been able to go to school for months.

In-line shifting

In Yangon, high school student Yan Aung, whose name is not real, has been taking an online course since November as part of a program run by democracy activists.

The 17-year-old wants to follow a program without an army in line with democratic principles.

“Under the previous government, our education improved slightly, but now it’s worse,” he says.

Yan Aung’s preference for online learning is influenced by his fear of the military. Walking to school poses a risk of being kidnapped and held hostage.

“Every student who is part of the CDM is at high risk of being detained. We can be arrested if they come to our house and ask our age, and wonder why we are not in school,” he says. “Because my house is near the school, I close all the doors and windows when the soldiers pass.”

Yan Aung at online course
High school student Yan Aung is taking online classes hosted by activists.

Besides these daily concerns, Yan Aung worries about what lies ahead.

“If the putsch continues, there is no way of knowing when I will be able to go to university,” he laments.

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