| 26 May 2024, Sunday |

Thousands suspended at Myanmar universities as junta targets education

A teachers’ organization told Reuters that more than 11,000 academics and other university workers opposed to Myanmar’s governing junta have been suspended after going on strike in protest of military rule.

The suspensions come as universities reopen after a year closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, setting off a fresh clash between the army and workers and students calling for boycotts in protest of the Feb. 1 coup.

“I’m sad to leave a job I loved, but I’m proud to stand up against injustice,” said one 37-year-old university rector, who asked only to be identified as Thandar for fear of retaliation.

“My department summoned me today. I’m not going. We shouldn’t follow the orders of the military council.”

A professor on a fellowship in the United States said she was told she would have to declare opposition to the strikes or lose her job. Her university authorities had told her every scholar would be tracked down and forced to choose, she told Reuters.

As of Monday, more than 11,100 academic and other staff had been suspended from colleges and universities offering degrees, an official of the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation told Reuters, declining to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Reuters was unable to determine what percentage of the total workforce the number reflects. According to the most recent World Bank numbers, Myanmar had over 26,000 teachers in universities and other tertiary education institutions in 2018.

Over nearly half a century of military rule, students and teachers were at the forefront of resistance, and they have been influential in demonstrations after the army detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, halting a decade of tentative democratic reforms.

As part of a civil disobedience campaign that has crippled Myanmar, many teachers, as well as doctors and other government employees, have stopped working. Security forces occupied campuses in Yangon, the country’s largest city, and elsewhere as protests erupted following the coup.

The junta’s spokesperson did not return phone calls requesting comment on the suspensions.

According to the junta-controlled Myanmar newspaper Global New Light, teachers and students should work together to restart the education system.

“Political opportunists do not wish to see such development by committing sabotage acts,” it said.


It was not clear to what extent the 11,000 staff suspensions would hamper efforts to reopen colleges but many students are also boycotting classes.

At the public West Yangon Technological University, the student’s union published a list of 180 staff who had been suspended to hail them as heroes.

“I don’t feel sad to miss school,” said 22-year-old Hnin, a student of the Yangon University of Education. “There’s nothing to lose from missing the junta’s education.”

Zaw Wai Soe, education minister in a rival National Unity Government set up underground by opponents of the junta, said he was touched that students had told him they would only return “when the revolution prevails”.

Doubts have also been raised over the return to school of younger students, with institutions now taking registrations for the start of a new year. There are nearly 10 million school students in the country of 53 million.

Protesters daubed “We don’t want to be educated in military slavery” at the entrance of a school in the southern town of Mawlamyine last week, a phrase that has been echoed at demonstrations across Myanmar by students.

“We’ll go to school only when Grandmother Suu is released,” read a banner of students in the northern town of Hpakant at the weekend, referring to detained leader Suu Kyi. “Free all students at once,” said another sign.

Many students are among at least 780 people killed by security forces and the 3,800 in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

At least 47 teachers are also among the detainees while arrest warrants have been issued for some 150 teachers on charges of incitement.

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 promoted education, spending on education was less than 2% of GDP. According to World Bank statistics, that was one of the lowest rates in the world.

According to Saw Kapi, a founding director of the Salween Institute for Public Policy think tank, students should expect little change in Myanmar this year.

“In terms of school, I would recommend that you attend the University of Life with a major in revolution instead of pursuing a bachelor’s degree,” he wrote on social media. “You can pursue a master’s or doctoral degree later.”

  • Reuters