It’s 5 a.m in the morning.
As the eastern side of the world is starting to be under the sunlight again, a university teacher named Shar (Pseudonym) from Shwebo township, Myanmar, is preparing meals at her home for sale even though many people in the country cannot undertake their business as usual anymore.
Why is she - who is supposed to be preparing lesson plans or doing some other educational things - cooking food at her home to sell in the early morning?
Less than two weeks after the military seized power overthrowing the elected civilian government, civil servants across the country began participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) to show their desire that they don't want to work under an oppressive government. Together with civil servants from other sectors, teachers and staff from higher education have actively taken part in this movement. According to the representative committee of the University Teachers’ Association, 13,000 academics and staff at various universities in Myanmar have been suspended due to their participation in the CDM against the junta.
Knowing that education is very crucial for the happening revolution and for the better future of Myanmar, the National Unity Government, teachers’ and students’ unions, the education departments of ethnic nationalities, non-profit organisations and other groups are offering excellent educational opportunities, as alternatives to the junta’s ‘slave education’, for both teachers and students to improve their skills and knowledge, or to contribute to the community. However, university teachers from rural central Myanmar areas cannot afford to grasp these opportunities either for teaching or learning because of their struggles with financial and security issues.
Shar has been taking part in the CDM against the junta right from the beginning of the coup selling meals in her hometown to provide for her family. “What I'm doing is a food delivery service. I take orders for my meals online, and then, I deliver them to customers by myself even though I know I could be affected by Covid”, she explained about her current job.
She also explained why she cannot continue her learning and teaching online. “I have no choice other than this as I have to foot the bills for my family. I know about organizations that are helping civil servants on strike with financial issues. But, I have decided to not receive any help from anyone as long as I can work. This will help financial aid organizations for CDM-affiliated civil servants as they can prioritize those with harder conditions compared to mine. So, you can see I am busy with my job and can't join any of those online courses or teaching programs you mentioned. Of course, I want to contribute my knowledge to this society, especially in education”.
Because of harrowing financial issues, striking university teachers from rural areas have to spend most of their time for non-academic jobs to be able to pay for living costs and thus, they have no time for continuing teaching or learning.
Daw Thiri (Pseudonym), a university teacher from Zigone village, is also one of them. She is helping with her family’s business and unable to continue her online teaching. “I had been teaching English for free to some high school students online until April. But, after I got dismissed from my job and was deprived of my salary by the illegitimate junta for my participation in the CDM, I have to pause my teaching as yet. I need to help run my family’s business since I don’t have income anymore”, she said.
Shar waiting for a customer at the front door to give meals ordered online.
Apart from financial difficulties, security concerns are a stumbling block for university teachers from rural teachers to stick to online education. For fear of the junta’s reprisal and arbitrary arrests, they changed their mobile sim cards and some even had to move to other places. Thus, it has made them lose connection between each other and it means they cannot teach in online education programs.
Shar said that she was not sure whether she would be able to actively participate in an online education program because of her security concerns. “My place is still conflict-free. But, many villages in our township have been raided by the junta’s security forces. The offensive of the Tatmadaw against People Defence Forces is gradually becoming more intense these days. The internet and electricity blackouts can happen any time. How can I conduct online learning in these tough circumstances?”, she said.
“I rarely communicate with my colleagues. Most of them are occupied with some work like online shopping for income. And, as we are now on strike, some are worried about being abducted by the junta and have even changed their phone numbers. If you can be abducted at any time, you wouldn’t be interested in talking about your job, I guess. ”
She is not the only one to experience this kind of situation. Mon (Pseudonym), an assistant lecturer from Khin-U township, is spending her time reading books and teaching her niece and nephew who are primary level students.
“The only online educational stuff I am doing is searching for educational videos for my nephew and niece. I’m not sure I can be helpful for the interim education plan that has to get established online. I do not know how to use digital tools well yet. That actually is not a problem. The real problem is I don’t even want to learn about using them at the moment. I am seeing news of youth being murdered and abducted by the junta’s so-called security forces everyday. As long as the junta exists, I am sure I cannot focus on any education stuff unless this revolution can benefit from it”, she said.
Mon, assistant lecturer from Khin-U, helping her niece and nephew with continuing their learning due to the family’s refusal of the junta’s slave education.
QUESTIONS ON CONTINUING EDUCATION
Some universities in Myanmar have already developed asynchronous learning platforms for students. However, the question of whether or not students would be interested in them in these challenging times still remains.
According to Daw Yee Mon (Pseudonym), a university lecturer from Kanbalu Township, university teachers from rural areas will not be able to teach students during this period as the education they can provide is not attractive to anyone, let alone security concerns.
“There’s no problem with attending online training and courses for me. I am already taking some MOOCs. The real setback is we can’t continue our initial plan to teach students online. We tried to implement an online learning platform via Moodle before this coup. Now, it’s all gone. And young people we should be teaching now are in the jungle arming themselves. Even if there were many students who can take courses online, the topics we can teach and the way we used to teach have nothing to do with their current interests”, she said.
“Some students are now taking online courses for a small fee. It’s because of the competency of course instructors and the usefulness of courses”, she continued, referring to the top-notch courses offered by some educational organizations. “We, university teachers from rural areas, should try to make ourselves more qualified first. This will be a lot more helpful for the post-revolution era and this is the only thing we can do now, I think”.
Two teachers out of four interviewed for this article suggested that the National Unity Government (NUG), the only government recognized by the people of Myanmar, and other educational organizations should somehow help striking university teachers from rural areas who are feeling distressed about their future.
“I know the only important thing for now is to fully provide for the People Defence Forces (PDF). But, it’s important to not diminish our commitments for this revolution. I’m not talking only about money. There should be something we can do for this revolution apart from taking part in the CDM”, Mon said, adding that she wants to do educational things only if and if it would be beneficial for this current revolution.
The coup has ruined education on so many levels in Myanmar as the junta’s indiscriminate attacks on its own people has made it impossible to continue any educational work, from basic to higher education, for teachers from rural areas. Now, after NUG declares a “people’s defensive war against the junta”, it has become even more certain that educational programs cannot be continued due to people’s complete focus on the coming war and security concerns. Meanwhile, university teachers from rural areas are willing to sacrifice so much for the greater good of getting rid of the junta, stating that they can do educational work only if it can help stamp out the junta.
“I am not worried about being unable to continue our teaching or learning. All we need is war. It’s true that I am having troubles with my financial and security issues. But, if I become an IDP like people from other parts of the country, those won’t matter anymore. We need to remove the junta as soon as possible. If my teaching can have the military generals killed, I want to do it. Otherwise, I don’t want to continue any educational work”, said Shar.