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Challenging issues in Burma's ability to teach ethnical languages
More than 5,000 individuals took to the roads of Namkham in North Shan State in October 2016 when the townships educational officers did not provide scholarships to ethnical schoolteachers. Jai Jai Jai Lao Mong- an evenings Shan Spanish course in the Mong Ngaw Voivodeship of the North Shan State. It was not the first time that this was a disgrace in connection with mother-tongue instruction in the area.
Some years ago, a headmaster was arrested in a small city in the south of Shan State for embezzlement of money for the 2014-2015 year. Bribery has been fuelled by the fact that ethnical linguistic instructors are not remunerated every month like other instructors, and they have to request funding to repay them at the end of the year.
The discrimination is just one of many issues within Burma's present system of ethnical education that need to be tackled now. After the seizure of government by the army in 1962, ethnical education in local government colleges was forbidden for four years. In order to speed up a politics of "Burmeseization," the army regimes adopted Myanmar as their native tongue and compelled local colleges to use it as a classroom programming tool.
Tutor and activist teachers of ethnical tongues have been endangered or imprisoned. From 2012, the teaching of ethnical tongues in state colleges was permitted, but only outside normal class times and without a Ministry of Education funding. However, there was a lack of textbook material in ethnical schooling. Although the Chinese authorities had ensured that Burma' s textbook was directly converted into local dialects, no one used it, as the translations did not correspond to the native alphabets of the local people.
The Shan Literacy and Cultures Association translates a children's book into the Shan, but never uses it. Institutions of cultural and literary organisations had to try to create their own text books and have them approved by the state. They were only permitted to speak ethnical language outside normal class times and only until the 2nd year.
From 2014 onwards, the Department of Higher Learning began to print text books in ethnical languages, mostly produced by groups that support ethnical literacy and cultur. In recent years, the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF), in collaboration with the United Nations Federal Administration, has conducted curricula development courses for schoolbooks.
Nonetheless, the goverment has not taken on any responsibilities for the ethno-linguistic teaching, which had to be organised by the relevant ethno-linguistic and cultural organisations themselves, and many ethno-linguistic instructors have not had the chance to participate. In a recent survey by ethnical scholars, "The effect of centralised upbringing in rural ethnic schools in Burma ", which focuses on eight state secondary school in the Shan, Pa-O, Kayan and Kachin countryside, only four of these primary and secondary school children were teaching their own ethnical tongues in 2015.
Among the biggest hurdles were the shortage of schoolteachers, the poor perception of the advantages of ethnical training among adults and nursery nurses, and the pupils' incapacity to take lessons outside normal time. The Pa-O grammar has not been used in two post-graduate elementary colleges in Pa-O areas in Shwan State. With no indigenous Pa-O instructors in our colleges, and no active help from our families in helping their kids learn their languages, the story goes, finding that our parent and committee were awaiting help from the state to provide instructors, while the non-resident headmasters did not give priority to ethnical schooling.
Even two elementary grammar and secondary modern grammar and secondary modern grammar colleges in the state of Kachin were not able to organise the lessons on site. Even though it was possible to have access to locally available instructors, the pupils were tired after the long formal lessons and only a few were able to attend ethnical courses after their schooling. In the mornings, when the teacher tried to give lessons in front of the classroom, the pupils could not come sooner because they were living too far away.
Both of the post-secondary elementary colleges in the Shan areas addressed in the survey were able to instruct Shan because there were domestic instructors, and the education committee, which included the parent, supported the instruction of their mothertongue. In addition, locals helped to provide scholarships for ethnical linguistic instructors, as the wages of the administration were not paid until the end of the year.
The Karenni used to be spoken in both Karenni cities, mainly by state staff instructors, some of whom were not natives and did not really know the area. It followed an instruction from the Ministry of Education that the school should offer possibilities for state-employed schoolteachers.
These policies had prompted some Myanmar professors to participate in the Karenni Linguistic Instructor Education organized by the Karenni New Generation Youth Group and the Karenni Literature and Culture Association. Whilst it was a good thing that these professors tried to study Karenni, it was not clear whether they were driven by their dedication to the fellowship or by the opportunity to make additional moneys.
It concludes that a more efficient approach would be for those who are inherently proficient in the foreign tongue and understand it and the country's cultural heritage to teach it. Instructor salaries for ethnical instructors are significantly lower than for ordinary instructors. The right of ethnical instructors is only 30.000 kyats (about 23 US$) per week for eight consecutive monthly years.
Periodic instructors receive a 180,000 kyats ($138) per month throughout the year. Obviously, the Union's federal administration does not fund ethnical education sufficiently. Although Art. 44 of the Education Act allows the learning of ethnical tongues, the national authorities are not empowered to levy tax to fund the correct application of this policies.
Seems that the federal administration has no long-term, lasting view of promoting ethnical linguistic learning. Instead of off-holidays lessons of ethnical tongues, multi-lingual mother-tongue lessons should be practised, giving each pupil the opportunity to study his or her own particular schooling. They should also have the power to choose how many foreign countries to speak, according to the ethnicities of their pupils, and to select the right teacher for their needs.
This top-down strategy is not effective and disregards the interests of the population. The only way to foster peacemaking and sustained education in Burma is through a bottom-up, decentralised ethno-linguistic education policy.