Burma’s Civil War Denies More Children an Education

Burmese rights groups say thousands of children in conflict areas are missing out school as physical survival and food security takes priority.

Rights groups say nationally 60 percent of Burmese children don’t finish primary school and in conflict areas the situation is worse.

Fighting that broke out in early June between the government troops and armed groups ethnic groups has displaced thousands of people including many children.  

Banyar Kong Janoi reports from a make-shift school in a refugee camp, in provincial capital of the Kachin state, Laiza.

Sitting on bamboo benches and writing on flat bamboo tables, children read sentences written in chalk on the blackboard; they are paying close attention to their teacher.

 

These students have been recently displaced from their homes by the fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army or KIA.

Dressed in the school uniform- a white Shirt and a green skirt- 17-year-old Kha Lan says she has dreamt of going to university since she was a little girl.

“My plan is after I finish grade 9th this year, I will attend high school either in Myitkyina or in our town then I will go to a university in Burma.”

But in early June she was forced to leave her village due to fierce fighting.

“On that day, KIA soldiers told us to leave so we came to Laiza with our classmates. I want to be educated. I believe educated people can achieve things in life. I would like to be an actress I want to entertain people to keep them happy.”

Kha Lan is one of thousands of children, who have had their education disturbed by civil war in Burma.

Roi San is the headmaster of a refugee high school in Laiza.

She says children like Kha Lan are the lucky ones as they can continue their education at the refugee camps.

“There are lots of children who cannot attend school at all during the year because they have to run from one place to another. But it’s even hard for the children in the camp who are getting some education to focus on their studies when their lives are so uncertain. Children who get behind in school lessons often just drop out.”

She says they don’t have enough teachers to teach all the displaced children; her staff are already working overtime.

“Some students can catch up the lesson they missed when on the run but some cannot. Besides they are living in a very crowd camp so it’s hard for them to focus. There are a lot of difficulties for them. They don’t have stationery such as books and pens with them. They left them at home when ran from the war. We hand out equipment as much as we can.”

Anna Lena Till is doing research about Burmese refugee education in shelters along Thai-Burmese border for her post-graduate academic paper.

“Education in Burma is not stable; as soon as Burmese army comes to village, comes to schools everybody has to flee and hide in the jungle, for example. So a five days school week is not possible because the education disturbed so often.”

Till said students at shelters in Thai-Burmese border can get a high school education in the camp but there is still no hope of them being able to go to university.

“There was a pilot project in some years ago, whereas were ten students from the shelters were selected to take part entrance exam to a Thai University, an English program. Actually, they passed the test so the Thai university were ready to accept them. But the issue is the [Thai] ministry of interior policy which does not allow them to leave the shelters. So in the end, they could not go [to the university] because the ministry of interior did not give them permission.”

Less than five percent of Burma’s state budget will be spent on education this year. While nearly quarter will go into military expenditure.

According to the United Nations, 60 percent of Burmese children do not finish fourth grade; 19 percent drop out after first grade.

U Myint Wai is the duty director of the Thai Action Network for Democracy in Burma.

He runs a Sunday school for Burmese migrant workers in Bangkok.  He says an uneducated generation is dangerous for both Thailand and Burma.

“Only a few students finish high school. So without higher education, these migrant workers struggle to understand the Thai legal process and their rights. If they don’t know their rights, they are not able to take opportunities. They also don’t know if they bringing diseases with them when they go back to Burma. We are very concerned about how our country can progress without educated people.”

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