I am a student so long as there is authoritarian government

Writer: 
Than Htut Aung

(1)

I am 52. The country has fallen under authoritarian regime after a military coup staged before my birth. It still is, more or less. Everyone except a handful group of elites knows why is the country lagging behind, why are the people poor and oppressed, that the people are impoverished and the country is second poorest in Asia. Any true nationals know the facts.

It has always been the students who fully understand the legacy of 53 year totalitarian regime. Students are what they are most afraid of. The juntas and their acquaintances fear students achieving political awareness. The sacrifices of the students in different ages are haunting them. The use of extensive force against student protestors and propagandas point out that they are still haunted. The juntas and their people still see the students as their main enemy.

(2)

After the military regime under Ne Win bombed down the student union building on July 7, 1962, the Statesman Tha Chin Ko Taw Mhine said a historic quote: “The union (building) might be destroyed but the union attitude in your (students’) heart is indestructible”. It is right. Over the ages, the military regimes shot, imprisoned, and crushed the students. Knowledge and thinking were also curb through poor education system. However, the students’ brave sentiments of admiring the truth and wishing the good of the people always live on.

Most of the students and leaders of 1962 July student movement are gone. Even if some live, they are 70-80 years old. The ones involved in 1974 U Thant demonstration and Mhine 100 anniversary will be 60-65 years old while students from 1988 general uprising will be 45-50. Still, the ‘Union Attitude’ thrives.

(3)

To tell the truth, I do not know the newly-imposed National Education Law very well. But I firmly believe that Myanmar’s education system needs significant changes. After 88 uprising, the military regime imprisoned students, closed the universities and cut educational expenditures.

In an effort to rob thinking and knowledge from the students, schools and university are put under tight security and fashioned into prison-like classrooms. There were even university courses made up of three seminars and one seminar lasted only six months. Students were drove out of university dorms, universities were moved to outskirts and quantity was prioritized over quality. Not just the students but the quality of teachers have also deteriorated and became questionable.

The leaders of the past two decades U Saw Maung, U Than Shwe, and heads of educational committee U Khin Nyunt, U Thein Sein, and U Tin Aung Myint Oo will know their outlook on the students and the education system. They understand the result of using less than 1% of GDP for education. They know the problems of graduates from such an education system.

Their aim to remove students from politics almost succeeded. The historic student movements disappeared in the last 20 years. However, the price Myanmar paid was the lives of a little bit more than slaves in Southeast Asia (graduated migrant workers and housemaids).

The statistics from 2013-2014 fiscal year showed about 892 billion kyats (892M USD) used for 10 million students. In 2011-2012 fiscal year, the budget was one third of that. The numbers show annual educational expenditure per student was less than 100 USD. Compare it to that of neighboring countries.

While the government used less than 100 USD for each student, their children were being educated at international private schools in abroad. The monthly fee alone would be between 5,000 to 15,000 USD. Moreover, the children of the generals, cronies and other elites also attends foreign universities where the monthly tuition fee costs from 20,000 to 100,000 USD. That means the annual educational expenditure for about 50,000 students is between 500 million and 700 million USD. That is about the same amount the government uses to educate 10 million students.

Questions arise for the oligarchs: is the poor education system a gift to the children? What kind of education are their children getting? If I send my sons to an excellent international school, or a famous university in the U.S., I will feel guilty to see the high school that I attended 30 years ago is still poor.

(4)

We need a law that would stop corruption, guarantee academic freedom and allow forming prestigious students’ unions. The details must be discussed in the parliament.

I believe the ugly crackdown on the student protest is the act of pro-totalitarianism groups close to the president. The president should take actions against the sect, which is using propagandas against the students and fearing the students’ political awareness. The students should be released without any conditions. The government must take responsibility for the mistake. There will be more pain and misery if the violence oppressions continue.

(5)

If the oppressions continue, the constitution is not amended, the election is cheated or the transition of power is disrupted, or a coup is staged, the future will be uncertain. Please do not follow the old path to dictatorship.

Students are a historic and prestigious force against dictators. If there is an authoritarian government, I, 52-year-old, will still be a student. Everyone has been a student. Every family has had student. In countries under dictatorship, it is the students who truly love the country and want development. We are all students.

The student union building is no more. The leaders of student union are gone. But the ‘Union Attitude’ is being passed down from generations to generations.