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Karenni language, alphabet to be taught in schools

The Karenni language kayak li and writing are to be taught in schools in the ethnic state, following a decision by the state assembly in Loikaw on 8 September.

According to State Social and Health Minister Poe Reh, the teaching of Karenni children in their mother tongue was supported by 80 percent of local people in a recent field survey.

The Union Karenni State Youth central executive committee member Kyaw Htin Aung said it “would not be a problem” to introduce a new curriculum in Karenni language to the children of the region.

He said the Union Karenni State Youth plans to host a conference in the near future including representatives of all the various sub-groups of the Karenni.

The Kayah, or Red Karen (ie, Karen Ni), is the majority ethnicity in Karenni State, however a sizeable population of Padaung (Kayan) also exists. The teaching of Padaung in schools was passed by state lawmakers last year.

Primary and secondary schools in Burma’s ethnic areas have traditionally taught only in Burmese language, but many have ethnic language classes once a day.

Both Mon and Karen authorities have approved the adoption of mother tongue languages in their respective regions after the Thein Sein government gave the green light last year to minority languages being introduced in ethnic state schools.


In July, more than 200 ethnic representatives met at a forum in Rangoon to brainstorm an ethnic language curriculum, based on a modern communicative approach rather than traditional teaching methods.

According to the 2014 census, Karenni State is the least populated region in the country with 286,738 people. It also has the fewest number of schools. Data from 2002-03 put the number of primary schools in Karenni at 338, with 33 middle schools and just 12 high schools. The state has three universities, all located in the state capital, Loikaw.

The Karenni is a Sino-Tibetan ethnic group closely related to the Karen, and its Kayah language is spoken by an estimated 590,000 people, many of whom live in Karen State.

The Kayah alphabet – kyal poe gyi or kayah li – was created in 1962, and has only ever been widely taught at refugee camps in Thailand. It appears to be modelled, linguists say, on Thai and Burmese scripts.

Kayah li has 24 consonants and nine vowels, each of which is controlled by one of three tones: high, mid and low.


*Note that this text has been changed since it was originally published to highlight the differences in Karenni sub-groups.


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