One of the many touted reforms of the Thein Sein administration was the recognition of the right to teach ethnic language and literature. Commitments were made to incorporate literature lessons into the syllabus with a monthly stipend for the teachers, commitments that were endorsed by the successor NLD government.
But as this article by the Karen Information Centre explains, promises are easy to break. Ethnic literature is still only taught between regular lessons, in lunch breaks and after-school classes. Many of the teachers have yet to receive their monthly stipend (of one dollar a day). Where the government has failed in its promises, ethnic organisations are stepping up.
The education department of the Karen National Union, which provides books, teaching, aids, equipment and training to schools in areas under its control, has donated 185,000 Kyat to each of the 473 ethnic literature teachers in Kyarinn Seikkyi township, providing at least some financial relief for the 2017 to 2018 academic year.
Unfortunately, The KNU are not the only organisation obligated to take on the role effectively vacated by the state and central government. The Shan Culture and Literature Association in Shan State have been fundraising for the development of ethnic literature materials when it became clear the promised government funding would not appear. The Kayah Nationalities Literary and Culture Committee have taken on the state responsibilities of verifying the ethnic make-up of primary schools in order for the teachers to qualify for the stipend.
It shouldn’t be this hard. With the dire religious and geo-political issues that are still raging across the country, despite the positive moves made since the transition, accelerating the means for ethnic literature to be taught in state schools should be an easy win for the NLD government.