The following accounts were given in interviews in early May 1996 with a schoolteacher from Karen State and a student from Mon State. Their names have been changed and some personal details omitted to protect them. For other information on the school situation, see also "The Situation of Children in Burma" (KHRG 1/5/96), "Abuses in Tee Sah Ra Area" (KHRG #96-15, 1/4/96), "Field Reports: Mergui-Tavoy District" (KHRG #95-25, 29/7/95), and others.
Extortion for school-building (Interview #1), school fees (#1,2), textbooks (#1,2), school corruption (#2), threats against teachers/parents if students get involved in politics (#2), Burman-only curriculum (#2), dropout rate (#1,2), child conscription into the Army (#1), Ye Nyunt Youth (#1), USDA (#1), human rights in Thaton (#2).
[The following is excerpted from an independent interview with a former schoolteacher conducted on 2 May 1996. She also discussed the general human rights situation, and her comments can be found in "The Situation in Pa’an District", KHRG #96-17, 15/5/96.]
NAME: "Naw Paw Wah" SEX: F AGE: 36
DISCRIPTION: Karen Buddhist schoolteacher
I served as a teacher in Kawkareik. I resigned last year and moved to Pa’an, and after that to Irrawaddy Division. What I have seen is that the whole people have to work all the time doing "voluntary labour".
Q: What about SLORC and the rights of children?
A: No, SLORC cares nothing about children or their education. I will explain how people have to set up a school. First the villagers have to collect money, two-thirds of the school construction cost, and then SLORC provides one-third [note: even this one-third has usually been extorted by the Army from nearby villages]. Then at the opening ceremony of the new school, the whole group of Ma Wa Ta [Township LORC, SLORC’s local administration] comes and gives many speeches. This is usual in our country. Years ago people were happy to get a new school, but now because of the bad economy and no income, people worry about getting a new school. Also, parents’ goals for their children have changed. The parents know that their children will not get jobs if they finish school. I have seen many parents withdraw their children at primary school level. Children have to help their family, and some go to Thailand [to make money].
There are no primary school fees, but students’ textbooks are not distributed so students have to buy a set of textbooks on the black market by paying 2,000 Kyats. Middle school and high school textbooks cost much more. So teachers try to arrange to re-use the old used books. Students also have to pay school maintenance fees of 500 Kyats, "table and bench fees" of 1,000 Kyats per year, broom, waterpot and drinking-cup fees, and fees for many funds such as sports, religious ceremonies and concerts. [The teacher must collect all these fees and hand them over to the SLORC Township Education department.] Middle school students are required to pay 15 Kyats per month for school fees. Every school in Karen State collects 15 Kyats per month, including summer holiday months.
One day each month, primary school students receive food such as boiled rice and boiled milk, but parents have to pay money for that, and each student also has to bring 3 pieces of wood for fuel. [The reason for this activity is so that SLORC can show it in the media.] In big towns, high school students can learn computers. State High School No. 2 in Pa’an received 4 computers early this year, 1996 [this was also shown in the media]. Then each high school student had to pay 1,000 Kyats towards the computers, and middle school students had to pay 500 Kyats each. There are about 700 high school students in State High School No. 2 [about 50 students per class and 7 classes in each of 9th standard and 10th standard]. Rich merchants were also ordered to donate 3,000 Kyats each toward the 4 new computers. [The 700,000 Kyats from the high school students alone is worth US$6,000 at market exchange rate; SLORC authorities have obviously made a lot of money by providing these computers.] I don’t know how they will teach computer lessons, but for this year they are just collecting money and no computer lessons are being provided for the students.
There are some rehabilitation centres ["training schools"] at Hnat-Au-San and at Thayet town, which the Army uses for recruits. The Army also trains young children known as "Ye Nyunt" organization and recruits them [Ye Nyunt means "Brave Youthful Potential"; there are also reports from northern Burma that SLORC tells parents to enroll their children in Ye Nyunt to get free education, then drafts them into the Army]. Orphans and poor children are also collected and kept in camps, then later they go in the Army.
As for USDA [Union Solidarity and Development Association], students and others join to get opportunities. For example, in TV quiz shows and contests, only USDA members win prizes. I saw the Jubilee quiz show on TV Myanmar’s Myawaddy channel, and a girl gave a lot of wrong answers but she won the prize because she is a USDA member.
[The following account was given by a student who just finished high school in Thaton Town, Mon State.]
NAME: "Kyaw Hla" SEX: M AGE: 20
FAMILY: Single, parents still alive INTERVIEWED: 6/5/96
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist student
I grew up in Moulmein. I went to primary school in Moulmein, then to middle school and high school in Thaton. I am in 10th Standard. I am waiting for the results from my exams. Then I’ll attend university in Moulmein. But first I have to wait for my exam results, and then I have to wait one year because there are so many students. I can’t get the money myself, so my parents will have to support me to go to university. In Thaton I stay with my grandparents and go to school by bicycle.
Q: Can you describe the situation at your high school?
A: The situation varies. Some of the teachers are good and some are bad. The bad teachers don’t care about the students. They don’t prepare and when they give a lesson, whether the students understand or not they explain in only a few words, and as soon as the time is up they leave the class. There are two kinds of students in Burma: students who just go to school in the daytime, and students who go to school in the daytime and then go to tuition [hire a tutor] in the evening. The teachers at school don’t like the students who go to tuition in the evenings, they don’t want to teach us.
Some of the teachers are always looking for money. The teachers are very biased toward people who have money. If you know that you failed your exam, you give bribe money to the teacher and you’ll definitely pass the exam. People who have money can easily pass 10th Standard because of money, but people who are good students and try hard can fail the exam because of a bad teacher. If we know ourselves that we have failed, we try to give the money to one of the teachers who knows us. To pass all the exams for one student, you give them about 10,000 Kyats. The 10th Standard exam comes from the SLORC [it is not set and marked locally like most other Standards], so the teacher must use their contacts to the people who correct the exams. If you give 30,000 Kyats to the one teacher who’s going to help you, you’ll know for sure that you pass. The students who come from hill village schools, they don’t know the situation about how you pass - they only think that if they try hard they will pass. So they don’t give bribes to the teachers and then the teachers don’t help them to pass and cruelly give them low marks. The students who live in towns, they know how to pass, how to be friendly with the teachers and give them plenty of money.
Being clever is not enough to pass the exams, because there are so many kinds of teachers. Some people who try very hard, before the results they already know that they did well and passed, so they stay happily and enjoy their lives. But the teacher sees that and thinks they are proud, so on the exam they mark even the correct answers as incorrect, and give them a mark like 35%. A pass is 40%. The others who try hard, act respectfully and friendly to the teacher and pay the bribes are in good shape to pass. About 80% of the students pay the bribe money. They are mostly from rich families in the towns. I had to pay. Money is everything these days, and strange things are happening among students.
Most of the students are the children of rich families and leaders, so they are able to pay this much money. If you go to special school in Rangoon like the children of doctors and Generals, you have to pay 3,000 Kyats per month school fees. For us, we are in a State school so we pay less, 300 Kyats for the year, 6 Kyats per month for fees as well as other fees. Primary and middle school students also have to pay fees, starting at KGC level [the first year of primary school; first their is KGC, then KGB, then KGA, then 1st Standard and so on]. Their fees are 20 Kyats per year for each student, but they don’t have to pay the monthly fee. They also have to buy their textbooks. The government price for one primary textbook is up to 10 Kyats, but not all the students get their books from the government because there aren’t enough. If the government price is 10 Kyats, it will be 75 or 80 Kyats on the black market. In Thaton most children go to school, and most of them finish primary school at least - that means up to 4th Standard. The children from hill villages only go to school until 4th Standard.
There are 3 high schools in Thaton Township - I go to xxxx high school. High school is 9th and 10th Standards. There are six classes in each Standard, and about 45 students in each class. Our high school has 9 teachers. They teach Burmese, English, Math, Science, Physics, History ... they teach only in Burmese, but some subjects like Science they teach in English. About 45% of the students are Karen, 35% Pa’O, 25% Burmans, and only about 10% are Mon. There is no chance to study our own language and culture. The teachers are Burman, Karen, Pa’O and Mon, so we can speak our own language to each other.
Students do not learn politics, though at 9 a.m. we have to sing the Union song and then we have to salute. Our parents have to sign a paper that once the student arrives in the school they have to obey the school rules and not talk back to the teachers. It also says that the students must not be involved in or talk about politics. Teachers and parents have to sign this paper. If you betray your promise, the headmaster has to resign his position and another headmaster must come to control the school. If the students do anything serious politically against SLORC, then as they say, "if the children are bad, it betrays the parents’ name", so the police will come to the parents and they could be arrested and sent to prison. This never happens in my school, because they do their best to control us as much as possible. Every week at the assembly, the headmaster gives a speech to the students telling us not to do this, not to get involved in politics. Still, we talk about politics. Some of our friends are the children of soldiers or officers, and we make them angry by saying bad things about their fathers. We are not angry, only joking, but sometimes we get into fistfights about it. These political rules are for middle school and high school. There are no politics in primary school.
Q: What is the general situation in Thaton?
A: For porter fees, etc. we have to pay 100 Kyats per month. In Thaton Township, supposing if they want to build a canal, then they call the villagers and we must go. If we don’t go we have to hire someone to go in our place. You must go, you can’t avoid it. There are 2 canals in Thaton, and everyone has to dig 10 feet each. They are canals for farm irrigation. They have rainy season crops and summer crops. The farmers have to plant these crops - they have to pay a fine if they don’t. They also have to pay part of the crop if they do. And they can’t plant whatever they like - if SLORC says they must plant paddy, then they can’t plant beans. They must give at least a third of their crop, and for this the SLORC only gives them a very low price. In the market, if you sell 100 tins of rice you can get 40,000 Kyats.
Everyone also has to go for forced labour cleaning the military camp and clearing trees and bushes. If they have road construction people must go for that too. Students don’t have to go, but their parents have to go. My grandparents are both about 60, and my grandfather is still going for forced labour making roads and military camps.
People are struggling for their living, and many people from our [Mon] State are going to Thailand. I would like to get a [University] degree. I don’t know what subject, because it depends on my marks. After getting a degree, all we can do is become teachers. You can’t have high ambition or aim very high if you study in Burma.