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Open Schools Campaign

Campaign Committee for Open School Statement 2000

Students have always been deeply involved in Burma’s politics. The students of Burma also initiated the pro-democracy movement of Burma. Due to the outspoken and rebellious nature of the students, the military regime has viewed students as an obstruction to their totalitarian rule. Oppressing students’ movements have been a top priority for the regime and they have been using every tactic possible to silence the students’ movements. The schools closure in Burma is an example of the junta trying to abolish students from assembling. The Education system of Burma has rapidly deteriorated after the junta came into power. Since 1988 until now, the major universities of Burma have only been opened for thirty months. The major universities have been exclusively closed since December of 1996 until now.

It is a frightening ordeal for Burma when considering its future. Schools have been virtually closed so often that the number of educated people within Burma is decreasing. The curriculum has been changed so often to fit the government’s needs that the students’ standards of education have declined. The Burmese Education system has deteriorated so much it is no longer recognized by the world’s standards. It is essential that in order to ensure a bright future for Burma; the Education system must be improved. In order to improve Burma’s Education system, the schools of Burma need to be re-opened and its standards raised to meet the international level.

We the Campaign Committee for Open School have vowed to work on behalf of Burma’s future generations and for oppressed students everywhere to open the schools of Burma and improve the future Education system. The Campaign Committee for Open School consists representatives of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), Burmese Women’s Union (BWU), Democratic Party for New Society (DPNS), National League for Democracy-Youth (Liberated Area) [NLD-Youth (LA)], and the Students and Youth Congress of Burma (SYCB).

The Committee for Open Schools believes that because of the oppressive SPDC regime, the future of Burma has become very bleak. The future of a country is its youth, and education is a way of ensuring the youth’s future. However, in Burma the youth have been denied their universal right to Education, merely because they are viewed as a threat to the military’s totalitarian rule. Abuses of Human Rights have gone on too long in Burma; everyday people live in fear of being crushed merely for their beliefs. The Committee believes that the world needs to know about Burma and the Junta’s inhumane treatment of its people. We want to shed the light on Burma’s bleak future and its youth. The only way to ensure the youth of Burma’s future would be if the schools were re-opened and the educational system improved. This is the reason why we are calling upon colleagues and friends around the world, to join hands with us in this cause for educational freedom.

Campaign Committee for Open School
Date: 28 April, 2000.
For Further information please contact:

  • P.O. Box 132
  • Mae Ping Post Office
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand 50301
  • e-mail: oschool1@chmai2.loxinfo.co.th
  • Phone: +66 53 233-043/ +66 1 950-9533/ +66 1 961-6566
  • Open Our Schools, Enlighten Our Future

    Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.” (Nadia Boulanger)

    90 per cent of the universities and colleges in Burma have been closed since 1988. Some of them were opened on and off in last twelve years. Students, a country’s future leaders are yearning for education under the military junta known as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in Burma. From 1988 until now, the schools and universities of Burma have been opened for only thirty months.

    Since the bloody military coup in 1988, the junta has been systematically ruining the education system of Burma. Students are the most effected class in the country because not only have they been denied of their education, but they also have been denied of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression.

    The military main objective has been to prolong its power. Militarization has been top priority for the SPDC instead of providing education for the population. Students have always been viewed as a threat to the military regime and are considered the most vocal group of opposition. Therefore, the military is sacrificing the youth’s future in order to prolong its tyrannical reign. Since the closure of universities, colleges and schools, the regime has opened several military institutes in order to produce well-qualified and loyal personnel. By opening these facilities, the military has admitted the poor state of the educational situation. These institutes were prioritized, well equipped and despite the closure of other schools, they have remained opened. Due to these circumstances, there have been only two options for Burma’s youth: either join the army and receive education or stay idle with no future. Although small numbers of colleges were reopened in 1998-99, students are forced to attend the classes under the closed surveillance by the Military Intelligence. All students had to sign the agreement in which they promised that they would not involve in any political activities or would be expelled.

    Educational rights of students are as crucial to the young’s existence as air is to the breathing lung. In Burma, the educational system has been deteriorating beyond comprehension that several generations have been lost. From 1988 until now, the schools of Burma have been opened for only a mere thirty months. The closures of schools have been a systematical objective of the military to deprive the youth of knowledge thereby sealing the fate of the students’ future.

    It is obvious that the Burmese Education System has been deteriorating over the years. However, there is no room in the military’s agenda to improve the educational situation because all the universities are closed. If we were to implement any improvements or change whatsoever, the first step essentially needed would be to open our schools. Several generations have been lost under this brutal military regime, please don’t let another generation suffer the atrocities anymore. Join us in taking back our educational rights because we need to enlighten our future by opening our schools.

    Why Do Students of Burma Need Your Help

    “Any existence deprived of freedom is a kind of death.” (General Michel Aoun)

    Students have no freedom of speech and expression. like other oppressed people of Burma. There is also no room for criticism of the brutal regime.

  • SPDC is closing universities as a mean of silencing the voice of youth and preventing any activities calling for a democratic change.
  • The junta’s main objective has been to maintain its power no matter what the consequences are. Youth and Education of Burma are not viewed as crucial to the country but instead as a potential threat. The SPDC’s lack of concern can be demonstrated in the way they allot their National Budget. 41.1% of the 1999 budget has been dispersed towards Ministry of Defense while a mere 7.7% is dedicated towards the Ministry of Education. The substantial amount of funds towards the fuelling of Burma’s arm forces is ludicrous for a country with no external threats.
  • Even out of the trivial 7.7%, majority of the funds is dedicated towards construction of new facilities and renovating buildings rather than supporting teachers and providing proper school equipment. The military’s motive for the construction have mainly been a political one, for it was effort to break up student solidarity by keeping students geographically dispersed throughout the country. Schools are never adequate to the needs of the students and are poorly equipped. There are never enough textbooks for the students let alone laboratory equipment and reference materials.
  • Lack of education results in lack of knowledge. The regime has purposely not promoted education in order to put people in the darkness deprived of knowledge. The SPDC has implemented changes to the curriculum several times. After the 1988 uprising, the SPDC shorten the one year school term to a mere four months in order to graduate as many delayed students as possible. Shortening the academic terms and curriculums seriously compromise the standards of education.
  • The military regime has admitted themselves as to the poor state of the Burmese Education system. In order for them to produce well-qualified and loyal personnel, the SPDC opened several military institutes. The current students of Burma have only two choices; its either they join the army and receive education or remain idle while the schools remain closed. The military institutes have been prioritized and are well equipped. These schools have remained open even though the general universities have remained closed.
  • Consequences

    “Common sense and education are highly compatible; in fact, neither is worth much without the other.” (Donald G. Smith)

  • Due to the current system, education is no longer viewed as a necessity by today’s youth in Burma. It is a dangerous sign for the future of Burma where today’s youth is no longer value education. In a civil society, education is given the first priority as an investment for the future generation. The current situation of Burma is leading the country to be unable to build up the civil society.
  • Some students, who can afford to study abroad, attend school but the majority of the youth aren’t as fortunate. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1,000,000 migrant workers from Burma are working illegally in Thailand. Among them 60% is below the age of 25 according the research conducted by the Burmese Women’s Union. The country is facing brain-drain due to the young people leaving the country to pursue other options such as work.
  • Academics, scholars and professors who are unable to withstand the suppressive circumstances in Burma have left to go abroad. Those who are remaining in Burma are facing extreme restrictive rule by the authorities. Rather than teaching the students, the SPDC assigns them to monitor and report the political activities of the students.
  • The current education system is no longer promoting knowledge and wisdom but a medium to promote propaganda and the regime’s objectives. Students are not encourage to use their knowledge instead must comply with the regime’s educational guidelines.
  • Cost of education has also been increased severely. However, a university education no longer guarantees a better work opportunity after graduation. This is very discouraging for people to spend a substantial amount of money only to attend school where there is no promise of a potential career. Many instead decides to work than go to school.
  • Background

    “The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.” (William Hazlitt)

    In the history of modern Burma, students are symbolized as patriots who are righteous and pure with love for their country surpasses all including life itself. Since the time of British colonization, Burmese students have always been the vanguards of the country’s freedom and liberty. The first student protest began in 1920 opposing the Rangoon University Act that the British government enforced, in order to discriminate against the students and to prolong their colonial rule. This University Boycott received overwhelming support from people all across Burma.

    Following this event, students represented the voice and hope of the people and it led them to play an instrumental role in the struggle for Independence from British colonialism as well as from the Japanese Imperialism. Burma gained her independence from British in 1948 and parliamentary democracy system was introduced. Soon after the independence, civil war broke out. Parliamentary democracy did not last long as General Ne Win staged a military coup in 1962. Burma’s parliamentary system was replaced with absolute military rule. Once again the students of Burma bravely opposed this military take-over. The military brutally cracked down on the students’ demonstrations and tried to eliminate student activism by jailing many as well as outlawing student unions. The one and only historical student union building of the Rangoon University campus was blown up with explosives by the military on July 7, 1962 while student leaders were having a meeting inside.

    After this incident, the student movement went underground under the military’s totalitarian rule. However, as time progressed new generations of students grew and experienced the injustice as those before them. No matter how oppressive it had been, students took every opportunity to stand up against the military rule and fight for justice and for their rights. Following the protest of 1962, series of student protests took place in 1964, 1969, 1974, 1975, and 1976. These student protests rose in conjunction with other people’s movement such as labor movement and peace movement. All these civil protests were suppressed abruptly by the military resulting in the student movement going further underground in 1976. Since then, Burma remained silent under the rule of military dictatorship.

    Since General Ne Win’s regime introduced Burma to the Burmese Way to Socialism, the educational system together with economic and political systems began to deteriorate. The educational policy was frequently changed and the standard of education declined as a result of the regime’s mismanagement, lack of perception and its close-door policy of the country to the outside world. The situation eventually led to frustration primarily on the part of students and youth.

    In 1987, the government’s depreciation of several well-circulated bank notes led to a tremendous economic hardship for people from all walks of life. Students, already frustrated by the system, were outraged by this action and stood up again for the people by staging demonstrations. In March of 1988, a dispute took place between a group of students from the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) and some local youths nearby the campus that was resolved unjustly by the authorities. Students from RIT were outraged with the authorities came together on the campus to protest. Instead of resolving the conflict, the riot police surrounded the campus without any just cause and opened fire into the student crowd. Several students including Ko Phone Maw and Ko Soe Naing were killed as a result. This incident eventually led the students all across the country to join hands and call for the end of military dictatorship and for democracy and human rights. Sooner people from all walks of life also joined the students’ call for a General Strike on 8.8.88 (known as the four eights) and peaceful demonstrations spread all over the country.

    However, another generation of military came into power in September 1988 and brutally crushed down the demonstrations by killing more than three thousand peaceful protesters including young children. Thousands of students were detained, imprisoned or vanished without a trace. Thousands went into exile crossing the border of neighboring countries, in order to keep up with their fight for democracy and human rights. The military regime currently known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) called for a multiparty democracy and held general elections in 1990. However, to this day the SPDC refuses to honor the election results in which the National League for Democracy won the majority with 82% of the seats.

    Closure of Universities

    Universities were closed in June of 1988. They were reopened in September 1991, so the high school graduates of 1987-88 were allowed to attend classes. However, a strike on December 11, 1991 in support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi receiving Nobel Peace Award again led to the closure of universities. In June of 1992, students from the class of ’91 were allowed to take their exams, but as soon as the exams were over, the schools were closed again. Towards the end of 1992, universities were opened again but only for four months. In order to get through as many delayed students to graduate; the school term of one year was shortened to a mere four-month period. The educational standard was seriously comprised as a result.

    After the water festival of April 1993, universities were reopened in order to allow the high school graduates of 1991 to attend the university but as before, after four months, the school term was over for the whole year. Like its predecessor, the 1994/1995 school year lasted only for four months and then the Institutions were closed again. When the military opened the universities in September of 1996, students protested against the unstable education system as well as to request for students rights to be safeguarded by the students unions. This time the students’ activism went on until December 12, 1996 when the military regime crushed the protests and again closed the universities. From 18th to 25th August 1998, the junta ordered the students to take an exam in the townships, but not at the school. Several hundreds of students staged strikes on August 14, but the exams were carried out.

    Fearing protest from students, the military has closed the universities, which remains shut to this day.

    How You Can Support Us

  • 1. Join this campaign and spread this information through educational secessions as well as to the media.
  • 2. Organize your local community at grassroots level including Student Unions, local organizations such as Women’s groups, Church groups, along with local activists to stage mass campaign aimed at opening the schools of Burma all across the country.
  • 3. Perform speaking tours at your local schools, colleges, and universities to participate in the ‘Open School’ campaign.
  • 4. Set a campaign date in your region to carry out awareness raising activities.
  • 5. Conduct letter campaigns and petitions to your local and central government officials to pressure the military junta to open our schools.
  • 6. Write to the United Nations, special investigator in charge of Education, requesting mediation on Educational changes inside Burma.
  • 7. If corporations such as TOTAL and UNOCAL are collaborating and trading with the junta, they are prolonging the military’s legitimize rule. Exercise your right to protest these trade investments by launching boycott campaigns.
  • 8. Join us and participate in the activities of Global Action Day.
  • There is a list on Burma Education and it can be subscribed to at: Burma-education@egroups.com www.egroups.com/burma-education

    We urge everyone to subscribe so that you will better understand the education system of Burma and this campaign.

    Excerpts regarding Education and closure of the School in Burma:

    “5. Expresses its grave concern: (b) That, despite the partial reopening of some courses, most institutions of higher education have remained closed for political reasons for over three years; [……..]”

    UNCHR: Text of 2000 Human Rights Resolution on Myanmar (12.4.2000)

    ” We are going to get poorer in terms of human resources. This is mainly because this regime pays so very little attention to the education of our people. For the military regime, the most important thing is to keep their hold on power, not to lose their grip on power. In order to keep their grip on power they are prepared to sacrifice the future of our young people. Universities in Burma have been shut over the last few years. Some universities, some faculties were opened, reopened for a short period. Some are opened at the moment. But in general the universities of Burma remain shut. There is also the dangerous development that members of the armed forces are educated separately. Medical colleges and engineering colleges are kept opened for members of the armed forces while the civilian population is deprived of higher education. This does not augur well for the future of our country. We will become a house divided. We will become a nation made up of two classes, the military elite and the rest. This does not augur well either for the military.”

    Aung San Suu Kyi: Message to the UN Commission on Human Rights (56th Session)

    “As politics and education are inseparable, so are democracy and student affairs. The closure of universities and colleges since 1996 was an immense national loss. The government should resolve the students’ affairs through dialogue and negotiations,”

    Excerpt from the NLD statement on National Day (2.12.1999) ********************

    “The current student unrest proves the regime is not sincere in its desire to effectively solve the country’s social crisis, particularly in education. Whenever they deal with international pressure, the regime is clearly fishing for quid pro quo benefits of an up front financial nature. Finally these superficial quick fixes turn out to be failures and in some cases damage the situation.”

    U Maung Maung Aye General Secretary, National Council of Union of Burma (7.2.2000: Excerpt from the statement regarding student demonstration after opening of the Government Technological College)

    “The ABSDF strongly condemns the university closures in Burma. These closures constitute the regime’s desperate attempts to put down student demonstrations, instead of responding to underlying problems. The ABSDF therefore demands that all universities be reopened, and that basic student rights, including the right to assembly and the right to free expression, be respected. The ABSDF supports the students’ calls for better education. ” We believe that education is a vital investment in Burma’s future, especially given the effects of globalization”,

    Aung Thu Nyein, General Secretary of ABSDF. Excerpt from the statement of All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. (6.2.2000)

    “Presently, the military regime has complete control of the education within Burma, and has been actively implementing a military education in support of their military machine, with its overwhelming bureaucracy. They are successfully cultivating a military society by opening only military universities, while the civilian universities must remain closed indefinitely.”

    Excerpt from the statement of All Burma Federation of Student Unions. (2.12.99)

    [……] Education is also a major concern. Official statistics indicate that a quarter of school age children never even enroll in primary school, and that drop out rates are very high. Of those who begin the primary education program, only a third complete the full 5 years.


    Published budget figures show that per capita spending on the military is 9 times that of health services and twice that of education services, and the trends have been worsening.

    Education.. As I mentioned earlier, low enrolment in primary education is a serious concern. It is impossible to provide good quality education services with the substantial erosion in education spending over the past decade, Current government spending in education as a share of national income is among the lowest in the world. Official data shows that real public spending per child has fallen from about 1200 Kyats per child (5-9 years) in 1990/91 to a dismal 100 Kyats in 1999/2000. Education financing is further confounded by the lack of affordability at the household level. The cost barrier is compounded by the poor quality of infrastructure and little adaptability of schooling (including schedules and curricula) to local conditions.

    * A number of long-standing, and well-known, basic issues need to be addressed to improve education outcomes in Myanmar:

  • i) reversing the trend of declining public resource allocations for primary education;
  • ii) exempting the poorest children from school fees and other substantial contributions while providing additional support to help cover such direct costs of schooling, as textbooks and uniforms;
  • iii) developing flexible school hours to enable participation by children who need to contribute to family incomes;
  • iv) increasing teacher salaries in real terms, and
  • v) reviewing transfer and departmental policies that encourage teachers to move out of rural areas.

  • [……]”

    Excerpt from the World Bank Report printed in December 18, 1999 edition of International Herald Tribune


    1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

    2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

    3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

    The right to education: Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 26.

    The situation in Burma is getting worse, and I would like to point out only one thing, because in Burma today everything is in a war situation, Economy, Human Rights violation, political repression. But what I would like to say is very important, in the sense it is the future of Burma. The young people in Burma have now no chance to take part in educational activities. The schools have been closed since 1996 December. And we still don’t know how or when they will be open again. So this we would like the international community to know about, the real situation in Burma. The Burmese young people and we would like to support our efforts for opening the universities and schools in Burma.”

    Dr. Sein Win, Prime Minister of Exile Government of Burma. Transcript from Open School Campaign Video Message.


    Frankly I find it extraordinary that the rulers of a country should close down the institutions that are the guarantee of the future of the country, The Universities, the school system. It is extraordinary that the army in Burma close down the universities, deny their own country, deny a future for their own country, only for political reasons, in trying to suppress the students, the voice of the generations to come. Even in the worse dictatorships around the world that we can think of, such as in Iraq, or in North Korea, I have never heard of a regime closing down completely a university. This is a crime, A crime against the country, A crime against the future of the country.”

    Jose Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Laureate Transcript from Open School Campaign Video Message.

    Sample for Petition letter

    Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt,
    Secretary 1, State Peace and Development Council
    Chairman, National Education Committee
    c/o Director of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI)
    Ministry of Defense, Signal Pagoda Road
    Dagon Post Office
    Union of Myanmar
    Telegrams: General Khin Nyunt, Yangon, Myanmar
    Telexes: 21316
    Faxes: +95 1 229 50

    Your Excellency,

    We have an honor to address you on the subject of the long-term closure of the universities and colleges in your country.

    In view of the information available to us concerning this long-term closure, youth and students are deprived of their right to education, in violation of the Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says “Everyone has the right to education” Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It is extraordinary that in your country, institutions that are the guarantee of the future of the country are being closed down and youth are being denied a future for their own. A whole generation, and the country itself, is being deprived of the knowledge, intellectual development and expertise which a country badly requires for its own development and human welfare.

    Educational rights of youth are as crucial to the young’s existence as air is to the breathing lung. The closures of schools will lead to country’s youth of knowledge thereby sealing the fate of the students’ future.

    We call upon the Government of Myanmar to take urgent and meaningful measures to open all universities and colleges in accordance with the desire of youth and students in your country. We therefore request you look into this situation urgently with a view to opening all universities and colleges unconditionally.

    Your sincerely, [an error occurred while processing this directive]