A delegation of student activists met with university professors at the Masoyein Monastery in Mandalay a day after the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) led a public demonstration in the city denouncing the National Education Law.
At a press conference after Friday’s closed-door meeting, the students said they had engaged only in informal talks and did not discuss the controversial bill, which was passed on 30 September by President Thein Sein despite widespread objections from student and teaching bodies.
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.
On Thursday morning, students and activists marched through the streets of downtown Mandalay from Eaindawyar Pagoda to City Hall carrying placards and shouting slogans.
Several of the chants harkened back to student protests held during the colonial era, such as “Victory to the revolution!” and “Thabeik Thabeik Hmauk Hmauk” (Alms bowl, Alms bowls, turn them over!),a slogan that has been generally used to call for strikes in Burma ever since.
The ABFSU issued a 60-day deadline for the government to negotiate with the students and revise the bill, and vowed to step up protests if their demands are not met.
“Student unions have objected to the National Education Law ever since it was at the drafting stage,” said Swe Linn Tun, the ABFSU’s Mandalay district chair. “This law centralises control with the government, offers no guarantee for freedom of education, and does not include provisions to allow for the forming of student unions.”
The protest was joined by members of student unions and youth groups from the city of Taungoo in Pegu Division; Monywa and Kanbalu in Sagaing Region; Mandalay Division’s Kyaukse and Myingyan; and eastern Rangoon.
Similar protests took place in Monywa and Myingyan earlier this week.
Local police in Mandalay attempted to stop the protest on Thursday as students began marching out of Eaindawyar Pagoda on grounds that the organisers did not have official permission to stage a public protest under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.