Myanmar students skip school amid boycott, fear of bombings

Primary school children on the first day of the new school year on Tuesday, in Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine state. A Myanmar Teachers' Federation official said fewer students had turned out than had been enrolled in many schools because parents were c
Primary school children on the first day of the new school year on Tuesday, in Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine state. A Myanmar Teachers' Federation official said fewer students had turned out than had been enrolled in many schools because parents were concerned about security and were joining the boycott against military rule. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON • Only a quarter of Myanmar's more than 12 million students have enrolled for the new school year amid a protest boycott against military rule and in the wake of a series of bombings, said a teachers' group official.

There were noticeably fewer students at many schools in the main city of Yangon as the new academic year began on Tuesday for the first time since the Feb 1 coup and easing of curbs imposed last year to halt the spread of Covid-19.

Security forces stood guard at some schools and accompanied students under armed escort from their homes.

A Myanmar Teachers' Federation official, who sought anonymity for fear of retribution, said even fewer students had turned out than had been enrolled because parents were concerned about security and were joining the boycott.

Teachers were also afraid, he said, adding: "Some teachers go to school in normal clothing and change into their uniforms only inside the school."

Schools have become another battleground for protests against the generals who seized power on Feb 1, arresting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and cutting short a decade of tentative democratic reforms.

The junta-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted Ms Win Win Nwe, the headmistress of a school in Yangon's Kamayut township, as saying that about 30 per cent of students were enrolled there.

"The teachers, security members and town elders will provide security for the students," she said.

Teachers and students have been on the front line of anti-junta protests and the teachers' federation said more than 125,000 teachers - out of over 430,000 - had been suspended for joining a civil disobedience movement.

The phrase "We're not sending our children to school" has been trending on social media since the middle of last month.

One mother, Ms Thinn Thinn Hlaing, posted that her children would not be going to school, to show sympathy for parents whose children were killed in the protests and respect for teachers on strike, as well as to resist the system, out of fear of a new wave of coronavirus and bombings near schools.

"All mothers, please keep fighting," posted Ms Su Mon Han, another mother who plans to teach her seven-year-old son at home.

The junta complained that "politically extreme terrorist groups who wish to destroy national interests" had been threatening students and teachers to disrupt education.

Between May 1 and 26, there were 115 bombings or bombing attempts and 18 arson attacks at educational establishments, it said in a statement.

A National Unity Government set up underground by junta opponents has said it is working on a mobile education project, despite tough Internet restrictions since the coup.

REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2021, with the headline Myanmar students skip school amid boycott, fear of bombings. Subscribe