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Four hundred students held a march through Rangoon on Friday, begining at the central railway station and culminating in a sit-in demonstration outside the town hall. The protest continued until evening and coincided with US President Obama’s visit to the former capital.
The protest was staged in opposition to the National Education Law, signed into effect by President Thein Sein on 30 September.
Students did not have permission to demonstrate as required by Burma’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law. Student activist Phyo Phyo Aung told DVB that the protest had continued despite pressure from police.
“Along the way security officials attempted to stop us, and they are still near the town hall monitoring the protest in civilian clothing,” she said.
Phyo Phyo Aung said she was invited to attend an interactive forum at Rangoon University held by President Obama, but had skipped the event to join the demonstration.
The protest comes after a two-day workshop organised by the All Burma Federation of Student’s Unions (ABFSU), which examined the National Education Law.
At the conclusion of their two-day meeting, students announced they would organise the demonstration and form a 15-member group called the “Committee for Democratic Education Movement,” a leadership team responsible for organising future campaigns against the law.
The ABFSU maintains that students were frozen out of the drafting of divisive bill.
The bill provides for the creation of a National Education Commission, which civil society organisations such as the National Network for Education Reform believe will keep the education sector under tight government control.
Burma’s education system was stymied under decades of military rule, a period which also saw the imposition of policies geared towards disenfranchisement of the nation’s minorities. The country is sorely short of highly-skilled instructors and the budget allocated for the school system is under six percent of national spending.