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Staff at private schools in Burma who include in their teaching material discussions of topics deemed subversive by the government could face up to three years in prison, according to new rules enacted last week.
A line in the law allowing the opening of private schools, which was signed by President Thein Sein on Friday, warns that the curriculum must abide by the “three national causes” promulgated under the former junta, which include the “perpetuation of sovereignty” and national solidarity.
These demands had once littered state-run newspapers and magazines and acted as a veiled threat to Burma’s pro-democracy movement, but were removed last month amid a slew of media reforms.
Still, however, despite signs of progress in some areas of Burma’s political arena, these somewhat medieval regulations continue to underlie much of the legal system. A breach of this law by private school teachers could entail a fine of 300,000 kyat ($US375), or a sentence of between one and three years.
Thailand-based Burmese education expert, Dr Thein Lwin, said that while dropping the ban on private schools opening in Burma was promising, such tight controls on the curriculum boded ill.
“Private schools actually have to deviate a bit from the [teaching] system at government [schools] because they are meant to provide the kind of education the government is not providing,” he told DVB.
“When a country transforms to democracy, it is necessary for students to get involved with national affairs because they have now become the people responsible for the nation, and they shouldn’t only take what is provided to them by the nation.
So there shouldn’t be a restriction [on discussing national affairs] on political grounds – every school should have the right to allow their students to express their political views.”
He continued that there may be a ruse behind the government’s decision to allow private schools whilst limiting their freedom to teach. “In a sense it’s like the government is allowing private schools because it doesn’t want to use its own budget.
“You cannot define it as ‘private schooling’ when the government is telling them what to teach – that’s defined as the government telling others to open schools with their own spending budget.”