Photo Jai Jai Lao Mong – an evening Shan language school in Mong Ngaw County, northern Shan State.
This was not the first scandal related to mother tongue teaching in the region. A few years ago, a high school principal in a small town in southern Shan State was caught embezzling funds for the 2014-2015 school year. After one of the city’s political parties pointed it out, the principal promised to return the money.
The corruption has been fueled by the fact that teachers of ethnic languages do not receive monthly salaries like other teachers, and schools must apply for funds to pay them retroactively at the end of the year. This discriminatory practice is just one of many problems with the current system of ethnic language education in Burma that needs to be addressed urgently.
The teaching of ethnic languages was banned in public schools for four decades after the army seized power in 1962. To accelerate a policy of “Burma”, the military regime adopted Burmese as the official national language and forced schools across the country to use it as a language. instruction. Guardians and activists who taught ethnic languages were threatened or jailed.
The changes began after the 2010 elections and Burma opened up to the world. From 2012, ethnic languages were allowed to be taught in public schools, but only outside of school hours and without a budget from the Ministry of Education.
But ethnic schools lacked textbooks. The government had arranged for Burmese textbooks to be translated directly into ethnic languages, but no one used them because the translated texts did not follow the natural alphabet of the respective languages. A Burmese kindergarten textbook was translated into Shan by the Shan Literature and Culture Association, but has never been used. Ethnic literature and culture associations had to try to develop their own textbooks and then request that they be authorized by the government.
Finally, after being banned for more than four decades, the teaching of ethnic languages was officially recognized under Article 44 of a new education law, adopted in September 2014, which declared that “in divisions or states, the teaching of ethnic languages and ethnic literature can be implemented by state governments, starting in grade 1 and gradually expanding [to higher grades]. “
Schools were still only allowed to teach ethnic languages outside of normal school hours, and only up to level 2. However, for the first time, a budget was allocated for this subject. From the 2014 academic year, the Ministry of Education started printing ethnic language textbooks which were mainly developed by groups supporting ethnic literature and culture. Initially the texts were printed in color, but for the 2016-2017 academic year they returned to black and white and were printed in a smaller format.
In recent years, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in cooperation with the government, has organized training programs for ethnic language associations so that they have the capacity to develop textbooks. However, the government took no responsibility for the training of teachers of ethnic languages, which the respective associations of ethnic literature and culture had to organize themselves, and many ethnic teachers were not given the opportunity to attend. ‘register there.
A recent study by ethnic researchers, “The Impact of Centralized Education in Rural Ethnic Schools in Burma,” focused on eight public schools in rural Shan, Pa-O, Kayan and Kachin, found that ‘in 2015, only four of these schools taught their own ethnic languages. The main challenges included the lack of teachers, negative perceptions of parents and educators towards the benefits of ethnic education, and the inability of students to attend classes outside of regular school hours.
In two post-primary schools in the Pa-O areas of southern Shan State, the Pa-O language was not taught. There were no native Pa-O teachers in schools, and parents did not actively help their children learn their language, according to the report, noting that parents and school committees were waiting for government support. to provide teachers, while principals, who were not from the region, did not prioritize the teaching of ethnic languages.
Likewise, two post-primary schools in Kachin State have not been able to organize the teaching of the local language. Although local teachers were available, students were exhausted after their long official lessons and only a few could join ethnic language lessons after school. When the teachers tried to teach in the morning before school, the students couldn’t come early because they lived too far away.
The two post-primary schools in the Shan areas covered by the study were able to teach the Shan language, as there were local teachers available, and school committees, including parents, were in favor of teaching their mother tongue. . Local villagers also contributed to the salaries of ethnic language teachers, with government salaries not paid until the end of the year.
The Karenni language was taught in the two schools in the Karenni towns covered by the report, mainly by government-employed teachers, some of whom were not local and did not speak the local language well. This followed a directive from the Ministry of Education asking schools to provide opportunities for teachers employed by the government.
This policy had encouraged some Burmese teachers to join the Karenni language teacher training organized by the Karenni New Generation Youth group and the Karenni Literature and Culture Association. While it was a positive step that these teachers were trying to learn the Karenni language, it was not clear whether they were motivated by commitment to the community or the possibility of earning extra money. A more effective policy, it was concluded, would be for ethnic languages to be taught by those who naturally master the language and understand the local culture.
The designated salary for ethnic language teachers is significantly lower than that for regular teachers. Ethnic language teachers are only entitled to 30,000 kyat (approximately US $ 23) per month for eight months, even though classes are offered nine months per year. Regular teachers receive a monthly salary of 180,000 kyat ($ 138) throughout the year.
Obviously, the teaching of ethnic languages is not sufficiently funded by the central government of the Union. Even though section 44 of the Education Act authorizes the teaching of ethnic languages, state governments are not empowered to collect taxes to finance the proper implementation of this policy. State governments must be entirely dependent on the union government for spending, while the allocation of resources from the union level to the state level has no transparency or accountability.
It seems that the central government does not have a sustainable long-term vision to promote the teaching of ethnic languages. Rather than teaching ethnic languages outside of school hours, mother tongue-based multilingual education should be practiced, giving every student the chance to learn their own language at school. Schools should also have the power to decide the number of languages they teach, based on the ethnicity of their students, and to recruit teachers according to their needs.
The current top-down approach is ineffective and ignores the interests of local populations. Only a decentralized and bottom-up approach to the teaching of ethnic languages will promote peace and the sustainable development of education in Burma.