Ethnic Languages to be Taught in Burmese Schools

Ethnic Languages to be Taught in Burmese Schools

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Burma’s national education system will have to include ethnic languages from basic to high level teaching at government schools in the future, following discussions in Burma’s National Parliament yesterday, according to an ethnic Mon MP who proposed a draft measure for ethnic education.

The right of ethnic people who are academics must be respected by providing them with the chance to participate in leading the national education system committee in the country. This must also be extended to make teacher training in colleges and university inclusive of ethnic minorities.

School uniform who are ethnic Mon children from Duya, sub-township of Ye, Mon State attend the government school. (Photo:Kaowao)

The government also has a duty to teach ethnic languages in order that the education system benefits all in the country, according to Nai Bayar Oung Moe, who is a member of Burma’s National Parliament from the All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP).

“We have already talked about this at parliament and the bill committee (drafting committee at parliament) has agreed already. The committee will present it at parliament again soon before it passes it to the Union Parliament,” he said.

The issue of teaching ethnic language at government schools has become much easier to discuss in parliament according to the source as a lot of ethnic MPs and even some of the military representatives have supported it.

“The situation is unlike the past. They (Union Solidarity and Development Party  MPs) even proposed the idea to us,” said Nai Bayar Oung Moe.

The draft has already passed from Burma’s Peoples Parliament, and if the Upper House also approves the measure, the draft will move to the Union Parliament, according to the source.

The government has not mentioned yet how much of freedom will be allowed in the teaching of ethnic languages or even mentioned the date and time when teaching ethnics languages will be allowed. Regardless of this, some Mon and Shan ethnic leaders have prepared ethnic curriculums for teaching.

Mon, Shan and other ethnic groups in Burma have previously run their own education systems, which are under the management of their own civil organizations at the community level, despite the military regime's attempts to crackdown on language teachings of the ethnic groups in Burma.

Nai Hla Aung, the deputy chairman of AMDP told Burma’s President Thein Sein during a meeting in Naypyidaw that teaching ethnic languages at the government schools will not cause problems and that it will be easier for ethnic children to learn in their own language first and then to learn Burmese language second.

The UNESCO and other leading education experts have found that learning in the mother tongue is best for ethnic children as they have more confidence to study another study another language second.

Internationally, it is widely accepted that giving children a solid educational start in their mother tongue not only allows them to become bilingual later but also results in higher academic achievement at primary and secondary levels. In addition, children who attend a primary school that teaches in their mother tongue are less likely to drop out at secondary level. Consequently, a number of multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic countries have set up bi- and tri-lingual education formulas to enable children of ethnic minority origin to operate both in the national and their own language. Schooling in minority languages also encourages communities to take pride in their culture and promotes the reproduction and maintenance of minority languages.

The New Mon State Party (NMSP), which is the main Mon ethnic armed group in southern Burma, formed Mon national schools in 1972 with the intention of teaching local children Mon language and culture.

According to statistics from the Mon National Education Department, which is under control of the NMSP, there are currently 156 national schools in Mon State, while 116 schools offer a mixed curriculum of Burmese and Mon language lessons. There are currently around 17,000 Mon students and 800 teachers.

Mon national schools run a similar curriculum to government institutions. Students who progress though ten grades are able to have exams at the government schools, which provides the opportunity to carry on to higher education and university.

The NMSP signed a peace agreement on February 1, 2012 with the Burmese government. The party has also repeatedly asked the Burmese government to officially permit the teaching of the Mon language in government schools.


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