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Propping up a non-education system

Subject: Propping up a non-education system (Burma Issues)

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October, 1995


by N. Chan

Burma's educational institutions, once the best in Asia, have
sunk to such a low that many students feel it is not worth it
to try to complete their degrees.  Since 1962, the education
system has been almost totally under the direction of the
military which has little or no training in the science of
learning.  The decline in educational standards and options
contributed, at least some, to the 1988 student uprising
which nearly brought the military totally to its knees.

Since 1988, schools at all levels have operated sporadically. 
Closed for nearly three years, institutions of higher learning
did finally open with a dearth of trained lecturers, many of
whom had already left the country out of total frustration. 
To move students as quickly as possible through the ma-
chinery that once served as university institutions, the
military regime implemented school years which lasted from
three to four months rather than the normal nine months.

Now, with an increasing demand for skilled and
knowledgable graduates to work in the growing number of
foreign companies investing in Burma, the military is
seeking ways to rebuild their shattered educational system. 
To do so, they are looking abroad, and finding a few
friends.  Not strangely, some of those friends also have con-
nections to industries which stand to make large profits
from the exploitation of some of Burma's resources.

One such friend is Northwestern University's Kellogg
Graduate School of Management in the USA.  The Dean of
this institution is Donald P. Jacobs who also serves on the
board of directors of Unocal Corporation.  On November 9
of last year, the Rangoon Mirror reported that the director
of communications and a professor from Kellogg met with
officials of Burma's military junta to discuss educational and
economic development policy,

In an open letter to the Northwestern University
Community, the Chicago Coalition for a Democratic
Burma, and Synapses - Project Burma expressed their
concern over this visit.

"As one of the leading graduate business schools in the US,
Northwestern University's Kellogg School plays a critical
role in influencing corporate development and business
ethics.  It is outrageous that a school of such stature and
influence would demonstrate support for an illegal regime
which ranks among the world's worst violators of human
rights including the widespread use of slave labor."

Many people are seriously concerned about efforts such as
Kellogg's to prop up an education system which has shown
itself to be both extremely fearful of the student community
and even anti - education.  The open letter mentioned above
outlines some of the practices of the Burmese military over
the past years which raise serious questions about their
intent in cooperating with institutions such as Kellogg. 
Following the 1988 uprising which was crushed violently by
the military, "anti-Slorc protests broke out on campuses
again in December, 1991 when opposition leaders Aung San
Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Universities
were closed down and educators were shipped off to
military - run  re - education boot camps which included
daily drills in military uniforms.  The curriculum consisted of
courses in patriotism, national unity, and management of
student affairs and enforcement of rules and regulations."

Teachers and professors, many of them with many years of
teaching experience, were humiliated by being forced to
attend lectures by military men with little knowledge of the
intricacies of the teaching profession.  In the first year of
these re - education boot camps, 7,000 teachers and several
hundred university lecturers were  dismissed, including 200
from Rangoon University.

Now that the schools are again open, university department
heads command security divisions in which professors
monitor students' movements in stairways, halls and
washrooms.  Parents must sign a form guaranteeing the
"obedience" of their children, and classroom lecturers are
held accountable for their students' behaviour.  One foreign
diplomat says, "The govemment is trying to keep a lid on
the students by making their teachers responsible for them,
so whatever they do, the teachers take the rap.  It's very

In such an atmosphere, can the roots of democracy and
popular participation grow?  Perhaps Kellogg and com-
panies like Unocal believe so.  They continue to claim that
their presence (and the open market economy) in Burma
will help bring democracy.  Yet good education requires
open institutions where students are encouraged to learn
and debate.  While the military remains in power in Burma,
this may be impossible.  A student from Rangoon recently
lamented, "We can get our university degrees again, but we
learn nothing.  Even if we can learn a little, of what good
will it be if the military continues to manipulate everything
we learn and do?".


Chicago Coalition for a Democratic Burma
Synapses - Project Burma