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Myanmar junta suspends more than 125,000 teachers for opposing coup

Police arrested pro-democracy protesters in Yangon (Myanmar). Photo: Reuters. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

YANGON, May 23, 2021, Reuters. More than 125,000 schoolteachers in Myanmar have been suspended by the military authorities for joining a civil disobedience movement to oppose the military coup in February, an official of the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation said, South China Morning Post reported.

The suspensions have come days before the start of a new school year, which some teachers and parents are boycotting as part of the campaign that has paralysed the country since the coup cut short a decade of democratic reforms.

A total of 125,900 schoolteachers had been suspended as of Saturday, said the official of the teachers’ federation, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals. He is already on the junta’s wanted list on charges of inciting disaffection.

Myanmar had 430,000 schoolteachers according to the most recent data, from two years ago.

“These are just statements to threaten people to come back to work. If they actually fire this many people, the whole system will stop,” said the official, who is also a teacher. He said he had been told that the charges he faces would be dropped if he returns.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper has called on teachers and students to return to schools to get the education system started again.

The disruption at schools echoes that in the health sector and across government and private business since the Southeast Asian country was plunged into chaos by the coup and the arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Around 19,500 university staff have also been suspended, according to the teachers’ group.

Registrations begin next week for the school term that starts in June, but some parents said they also plan to keep their children out of school.

“I am not going to enrol my daughter because I don’t want to give her education from military dictatorship. I also worry about her safety,” said 42-year-old Myint, whose daughter is 14.

Students, who have been at the forefront of daily protests at which hundreds of people have been killed by security forces, also said they planned to boycott classes.

“I will only go back to school if we get back democracy,” said Lwin, 18.

Myanmar’s education system was already one of the poorest in the region – and ranked 92 of 93 countries in a global survey last year.

Even under the leadership of Suu Kyi, who had championed education, spending was below 2 per cent of gross domestic product. That was one of the lowest rates in the world, according to World Bank figures.
A National Unity Government, set up underground by opponents of the junta, said it would do all it could to support the teachers and students itself – calling on foreign donors to stop funding the junta-controlled education ministry.

“We will work with Myanmar’s educators who are refusing to support the cruel military,” said Sasa, who goes by one name and is a spokesman for the national unity government. “These great teachers and brave teachers will never be left behind.”

Meanwhile, a gun battle erupted on Sunday between Myanmar security forces and an alliance of armed ethnic groups opposed to February’s coup, at a town on the border with China, Myanmar media said.

The fighting at Muse, one of the main crossing points to China, was the latest to hit Myanmar since the coup led to an upsurge of conflict with insurgent groups in border regions, as well as bombings, shootings and arson across the country.

Gunfire broke out in Muse around dawn, broadcaster DVB and Khit Thit Media said. Khit Thit Media published pictures of what it said were civilian vehicles that were peppered with bullet holes.

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