Education Reform and Development in Myanmar
To kick off the year, Professor Marie Lall joins me today to talk about education reform in Myanmar.
Marie Lall has recently published a new, Open-Access book entitled Myanmar’s Education Reforms – a pathway to social justice? She is a professor at the UCL Institute of Education and has over 25 years of experience in the region.
Citation: Lall, Marie, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 227, podcast audio, February 8, 2021. https://freshedpodcast.com/lall/
Will Brehm 3:12
Marie Lall, welcome to FreshEd.
Marie Lall 3:14
Thank you, Will, for having me. This is brilliant.
Will Brehm 3:17
So, Myanmar held its first supposedly free and fair election in 2015, about five years ago, and the winner was called the National League for Democracy, the NLD, which was headed or is headed by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She’s quite famous worldwide. Many people probably have seen pictures of her. What type of reform did the NLD promise?
Marie Lall 3:44
What I always say very clearly to everyone is without the Thein Sein government, there would not have been an NLD government.
Will Brehm 3:51
And so that was the government from 2011 to 2015.
Marie Lall 3:54
Exactly. So, the elections are always every five years. November 2010 were the first elections. The first one since 1990, which were the result of having been recognized. And then 2015 were the elections that Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won. And we’ve just had another one which we can talk about at the end, which was in November 2020. But the government always takes over three, four months later. Sort of March, April, just before Thingyan, which is the Myanmar New Year. The reforms promised by the NLD. Actually, the NLD is a traditional party from the left. So, if you go and you look back in the 1980s and 1990s, their background, ethos, and philosophy is one of socialism. Not very deep socialism, light touch socialism, but one which is very much about social justice. And if you read the election manifesto, which I did in detail in order to write this book, they are really talking about bringing social justice, although they don’t use that word in Burmese, to Myanmar through education. And education, in many ways, is a litmus test. It’s a way of bringing social justice to the people. And what they were saying is that they would expand the reform program, they would make education accessible to all, it would be free, and basically, people would be able to have a better life.
Will Brehm 5:20
Marie Lall 5:22
Will Brehm 5:23
Marie Lall 5:24
And very particularly with education. This means, I mean, in Myanmar, the government education is free. And it’s also the government is the largest provider of schools and education, both at school level and higher education level. There is now a private sector, but it’s tiny, it’s urban, and it’s for the growing middle classes. The idea was that people would still have to pay. And the way this works is that I was part of a UNICEF study in 2013, and we calculated that it’s about 70% of all expenses that are borne by the parents, these are hidden expenses. Because of the centralization, the money from the Ministry basically trickles down to the states and regions, to the state and region officers, and then to the township education officers, and then to the school. So, if you have a broken roof, or your toilets don’t work, you basically go up the Grand Trunk road to the ministry and put in a request. And perhaps six to ten months later, you might get an answer saying no, we don’t have any money for that repair. So, instead, you go to the parents, and the parents will pay. Teachers have traditionally been on a very low salary. President Thein Sein, before 2015, raised those salaries quite substantially. But the tradition has been that parents supplement salaries, mostly through tuitions. So, tuitions are almost mandatory. So, in many ways, what the NLD was saying is we need to revamp education, both in terms of the access and in terms of the quality. And there’s a big document, which is called the NESP, National Education Strategic Plan, which is the education policy of the day. Interestingly, the NESP was the National Education Sector Plan, which was actually put together under the President Thein Sein government. And so, the interesting thing is that there’s been continuity. There are minor changes, which were made to that 270- or 300-page document. I think it’s even larger than that. But they are minor. So, the idea of social justice through education was something which was propagated through the Thein Sein government but really saw the light of day in the NLD Manifesto.
Will Brehm 7:35
In terms of social justice, in this particular document, in this manifesto, and perhaps previously in the previous government. Was this in concern with the sort of diversity of Myanmar? I mean, there’s so many ethnic groups in Myanmar. And this is usually what we think about, or at least in, in the Western press, this is what you hear about. Were they talking about social justice in terms of across all ethnic groups, education would fulfill a particular promise and would be used to create that social justice in society?
Marie Lall 8:10
So, that’s really interesting that you asked this, but actually, the answer to that is no. Because in Myanmar, the idea of social justice is rather one of poverty versus the middle classes. The rich versus the poor.
Will Brehm 8:22
Marie Lall 8:23
And although Myanmar is massively diverse. 60 to 65% of the population is Burman, Bamar. And 35 to 40% is ethnic minority. There are 135 recognized groups. The 135 is a number which comes through the British census, in under the colonial period. And it’s been hugely problematic because, as we all know, ethnicity and adherence to identity tends to sort of shift over time. But in Myanmar, these identities have been set in stone in many ways. And it also means that if you’re not part of those 135, you’re outside. And you don’t have the same rights, and you’re not recognized in the same way. The biggest social justice issues, there’s something I argue in the book as well, is between the majority Bamar and those ethnic groups. So, that’s something which is entirely unrecognized by the NLD. The NLD just says across all groups. So, they include it in their manifesto, they include it in their policies, but there’s nothing that actually is working towards that. And I’ll give a brief example, which is the key problem in all of this. It’s teacher education. They don’t call it teacher training. They call it teacher education. So, teacher education colleges -of which there is now one in every state and region, until recently there were two ethnic states which didn’t have teacher education colleges- would recruit people. So, you had to have a certain matriculation rate to get in, and if you look at the breakdown of young people getting trained to becoming teachers, there are very, very, very few people of ethnic origin. So, if you look at the breakdown of the teachers, or those who want to become teachers, the trainees in effect, student educators, as we call them, they are mostly Bamar. And very few are from an ethnic background. And so that means that the teachers fanning out across the entire country are going into remote and ethnic regions and conflict-affected regions and don’t speak the language that the children speak, then the children drop out of school. And guess what happens then? If they drop out of school, or they don’t get good enough grades at the matriculation rate, they can’t become teachers. And we go around that circle. And we’ve been going around the circle now, well, since independence, so 1948. So, it’s been a long time. So, the idea that this needs to be broken. Everyone in the ministry knows that there’s a problem there. Because teachers don’t speak the ethnic language. And children don’t learn Burmese in certain families until they reach school, so they can’t understand the teacher. But there is no formal policy, which allows for the recruitment of ethnic teachers, who then go back. And in fact, I had one contact with one particular ethnic group, the Pa’O, who actually said, right, we’re fed up with this, we’re going to create our own Teacher Education college. They even got recognition from the State Education Office. This is in Shan state in Taunggyi, and they got retired and current teacher educators to come and teach at their college. And they basically recruited all the ethnic students who had been rejected from the various teacher education colleges. And when these students graduated, they were recognized by the State Education Office, we all went hurray! And then they were sent to areas where they didn’t speak the language. They were sent to areas where there are other ethnic groups, not the ones where they came from. So that, you know.
Will Brehm 11:52
So, the cycle continues.
Marie Lall 11:53
The cycle continues.
Will Brehm 11:55
Oh, my gosh! So, it’s interesting to think that there was this continuity between the 2010 to 2015 government and then when the NLD came to power. And so, that’s interesting to think about. But I would imagine there were some challenges. I mean, were there challenges between, what did you call it before the civilianized government and then the freely elected if we want to call it that as well, quote, unquote, NLD elections in 2015. So, were there any particular issues, say, of -how did the NLD manage the military when they sort of came into power?
Marie Lall 12:38
That was much easier for President Thein Sein, who was an ex-military himself. What happened with President Thein Sein is a lot of the senior administration were ex-militaries who took off their uniforms and wore the lungi. And obviously, because 25% of all the seats in all Parliament’s state, regional and national upper house and lower house is reserved for the military, relations with the President Thein Sein administration was much easier. But it wasn’t that easy. Let me just put that in brackets. President Thein Sein went up against some very conservative military forces to push through some of the reforms. And in fact, his first radio address after the elections after the USDP had won the elections in 2010, was early 2011 he went on the radio and said, “There are a lot of sort of entrenched views here. It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to be very difficult to overcome them.” But he actually went on the radio regularly updating the Myanmar population, saying, “But I will bring the following reforms.” He made a list, and every time he’d done something, he went back on the radio and said, right, we have moved forward on this, we haven’t moved forward on that, we will continue to press forward. And so that was actually very interesting that even as an ex-military officer, he was facing certain problems. With the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi has worked extremely hard to have good relations with the military. She has bent over backwards. And one of the examples obviously is the way she’s dealt with the Rohingya crisis. So, some of your listeners will obviously have followed what’s going on there. The problem started earlier, and this is by no means the first time that there had been violence against the Muslims in northern Rakhine, and the massive exodus into Bangladesh, but this was by far the largest, and I think the main exodus period was 2017. And Aung San Suu Kyi said nothing. And Aung San Suu Kyi has not said anything about any of the other dozen conflicts that are raging across Myanmar. The peace process is something which we can talk about as well if you want. There is a peace process, but there are plenty of groups who are not part of this peace or who have rejected this peace process or not part of it, and the fighting continues. And Aung San Suu Kyi, in order to keep the peace, has not said anything. But not only to keep the peace with the military but also to keep the peace with regard to her voters. Because many of her voters just simply think of Myanmar as being majority Buddhist Bamar country, which has accommodated sufficiently for all the minorities. And if she’s seen as someone who would voice the position of minorities, that would cost her votes. Having watched her for a long time, I would say that she might have the majority Bamar position herself, not necessarily thinking that this is something which is either required or necessary. And every time she’s spoken about any of these conflicts, she sort of washes it off and sort of tries to point to the sort of macro picture of what the country is going through and what the country is trying to do. So, yes, it is harder for the NLD to operate with the military, but they seem to have found a way of accommodating up to Aung San Suu Kyi going to the ICJ and defending her country against accusations of genocide.
Will Brehm 15:58
I guess five years on, so you know, let’s say at the end of the first term of the NLD in power in 2020, all of these great promises in their manifesto for social justice, as you outlined, and some of the difficulties that Aung San Suu Kyi has had to balance and some of the continuity with the previous government, have the reforms worked? Have they been able to achieve what was set out in some of the manifesto?
Marie Lall 16:31
So, with regard to the reforms, I think we have to look further back. So, the reforms, or the changes in Myanmar, really started to happen in the early 2000s. At first, it was extremely slow. Then we had the 2010/11 to 2015, which set the background for all the reforms. And they were so fast that many of us, many of my Myanmar friends and many of us outsiders, were almost a bit scared that things were going too rapidly and that perhaps there would be a backlash, perhaps the military would get upset, and things would backtrack.
Will Brehm 17:09
What changed the most, in your opinion? Like what scares you the most?
Marie Lall 17:13
Freedom of expression, which has been dialed back again. The laws on freedom of expression changed quite dramatically under President Thein Sein. You could criticize the government under President Thein Sein and not get arrested. You can’t do that now. You probably had to be bit careful with criticizing the military, but you could criticize the government, and nothing would happen to you. But now, if you go and criticize the NLD, the likelihood is that you will be taken to task. You will go to jail. At the very least to court, but you will go to jail. I think what was scary was all the different things happening at the same time. So, there was a peace process, there was economic reforms, there was education reforms, there was health reforms, it was labor reforms. I mean, everything was being blown up. The International Labor Organization wrote the new sort of articles regarding labor law, and suddenly all the international organizations are being invited in. Prior to this, specifically in education, we only had JICA from Japan, and UNICEF. So, the UN agencies were sort of active in Myanmar, but on a very, very low scale. No one else was active in Myanmar. Suddenly, the doors were wide open to everyone. So, it was a very rapid change. Privatization of schools was allowed, and people allowed to go on the streets. I mean, things were radically shifting. And so, we were all a bit worried. Actually, when the NLD came in, certain things were dialed back. One big thing which I need to say is civil society. President Thein Sein came out -and I’m known for someone who really supported that government because I really thought that they made a big change. And as I always say, without them, there would be no NLD government today. President Thein Sein came out and said, “The government cannot do this alone -not in such a short time. Civil society organizations, you’ve been doing this behind our backs for a long time, in terms of education, in terms of health. Come in and help us.” And the interesting thing is when Aung San Suu Kyi came to power, or the NLD came to power, there is a big mistrust of the NLD of civil society organizations. So, those were dialed down. So, it used to be quite easy for civil society organizations to get funding between 2011 and 2015 from abroad, to run programs, education programs, health programs, labor programs, AIDS programs, you name it. Now, everything goes through the government. So, it’s become very, very, very hard for civil society to have the same kind of impact that it did.
Will Brehm 19:50
Why is the NLD skeptical of civil society so much?
Marie Lall 19:54
Because they’re control freaks. The NLD is very much about centralized control, which also means that the constitution allows for a certain amount of decentralization. And that’s something President Thein Sein did very little about. I mean, he was doing everything else. But that’s one thing he really didn’t touch on. Land reform he didn’t touch properly, and he didn’t do very much on decentralization. But the idea was, this would come next, right? You can’t do -as I said, there was … everything was happening at the same time, certain things had to be in second place. But with the NLD, they are very uncomfortable about giving people at the lower rung any kind of power. And this feeds into the Myanmar culture of hierarchies. So, it’s easier if the responsibility is at the top for everyone because that means that you’re not responsible for anything. So, that’s a big problem that we have in the changes in education as well. So, you’ve got these wonderful, glossy policy papers like the NESP. But ultimately speaking, it’s the Minister and the director generals who have to do everything. And if they don’t do it, no one else will do it. Because no one else wants to be made responsible for something failing. They could lose their job.
Will Brehm 21:12
Marie Lall 21:13
And so, there’s this big fear. And the further down you go, the idea is just to keep your head down and to do only what you’re told, and not anything more. And that’s been part of the problems that have been faced not only by the NLD but by any government that would come in because that’s just part of the entrenched culture, which came in through military dictatorship. You know, we had in 1962, the Burmese way to socialism, everything was so controlled. In order to survive, people had to behave like that.
Will Brehm 21:46
So that legacy lives on in a way?
Marie Lall 21:50
Will Brehm 21:51
So, it’s interesting to think that for about five years, in a sense, the floodgates were opened to donors and civil society organizations. I would imagine some of them continued to exist into the NLD period. And do they still exist? I mean, are there still development partners working in Myanmar in education?
Marie Lall 22:14
Yeah. So, the NLD did not get rid of any of the development partners. In fact, the money is more than welcome. But it’s much more streamlined. And it’s much more controlled. Civil society organizations exist, they just can’t get money from abroad. So, they get donations from locally. So, they still operate but obviously not at the grand scale that some of them -some of them operated at a really grand scale previously, and that’s been dialed down. It’s very much about controlling who’s doing what. But the problem is, so with donor money, it comes, it’s supposed to achieve something. Donors want to tick the boxes on they’ve given so many millions. So, against the NESP in education, they want to see what the money has achieved. And the problem is you’re dealing with a totally overworked ministry, which through this hierarchical structure, where no one wants to take any kind of responsibility, and it’s always dialed back up to the Director General’s or up directly to the Minister that makes executing on any of this program very difficult. So, a lot is being done but actually, when you go and look on the ground, what I say in the book is there’s a lot of activity, but very little change. So, a lot of stuff is -people are moving, the curriculum is being rewritten, there’s training happening at all different levels, teachers are getting trained, teacher educators are getting trained. Everyone is getting training. But when you go into the classroom, it’s the same as it always was. In one school that I visited, they were saying, “Oh, we’re teaching the new curriculum and the old curriculum, and some of it is in rote learning, some of it supposed to be in child-centric approach, but really, teachers are getting slightly confused with what they’re supposed to do with which curriculum.” So, they just go in, and they just get everyone to rote learn everything. That’s just the safest way of doing it.
Will Brehm 24:05
So, why is that happening, though? If all of these new curriculums, for instance, are being rewritten?
Marie Lall 24:12
So, the primary curriculum was rewritten with the help of JICA. And in fact, they even got a very good teacher book so that the teachers basically get advice on how to deliver this new curriculum. But because you’re rewriting a whole curriculum, and you’re expanding from an 11-year curriculum to a 12-year curriculum, plus a KG year, and you’re dealing with teachers who were trained in the old method. So, you’re throwing this new curriculum at them with some cascade training expecting them to change the way that they have always taught. And, in the end, some teachers will try, find that simply, if you’re dealing with 50 to 100 students in the classroom, it becomes unmanageable, so they’ll revert back to the old ways. A lot of the problem with the reforms as they’ve been brought in is the fact of the lack of context. So, if you go into monastic school, you will rarely have -especially big monastic schools in urban areas- rarely have less than 80 children in the classroom. In rural areas, obviously, the classes are much smaller, but then you’ll have fewer teachers as well. In a government school, you’ll rarely have anything less than 50 or 60 in the classroom. I mean, this is normal in Myanmar. So, trying to -even JICA has done a really good job. I mean, I looked at the new books, and I looked at the teacher stuff, and they understand Myanmar very well because they’ve been there for a long time. But even then, the new curriculum, which JICA has written, supposedly, you’d think that that would be coordinated with the educating of the new teachers, right? But that’s being done by UNESCO, and I think ADB also has something to do with it, and so the JICA stuff is being passed to the schools, but not passed to the teacher educators. So, that new teachers are not being trained in the whole new curriculum. Just in parts of it.
Will Brehm 26:02
So is it a lack of coordination among –
Marie Lall 26:04
Oh, it’s a total lack of coordination amongst the aid agencies, which are called development partners in Myanmar, but also between the various aid agencies, and the ministry, and the different parts of the ministry. Because the ministry in itself, one of my Myanmar friends the other day on another podcast was laughing and says, “People don’t speak to each other between departments in the ministry, how do you expect them to talk across ministries?” Again, it’s that sort of putting your head above the parapet, you have fear of what could happen.
Will Brehm 26:35
And presumably, this has been going on for quite some time. This is not new to the NLD era?
Marie Lall 26:41
No. This has been going on, but it comes out because we have this big reform program. So, the reforms have brought to the surface those problems. But then this is really important. It’s not the first time that we faced some of these problems, because I mean JICA and UNICEF, specifically in education -health has also had its own reforms, and WHO has been in Myanmar for decades- just in education, JICA and UNICEF have been running programs to try and bring schools to run child-centric ways of teaching and learning for 25-30 years now, 25 years at least. And there are big reports, hundreds of pages, which are publicly available, where you can read as to why these programs didn’t work. And now that we’re running the new reform program, through the NESP, with, again, a whole load of donor money coming in, we find they’re the same conclusions when you have the evaluations, when you have the report saying, why did this not work? Or is there a gap between the policy and the practice? And the same points that we find today -and that we also found in the NESP midterm review, which was just run in the second half of 2019- are exactly the same points as what UNICEF said 15 years ago and what JICA said 20 years ago. So, no one’s done any kind of sort of thinking about lessons learned.
Will Brehm 28:08
That seems to be a problem of the donors not looking back on their own history.
Marie Lall 28:13
A problem of the donors but also the ministry not being able to communicate. The ministry is aware of all these programs because UNICEF programs and JICA programs were run through the ministry. So, they’re also aware, and so it’s a combination. The ministry is overburdened. I mean, they are understaffed. They’ve got too few people to run too many programs, everyone wants a piece of them. All the donors come in with different programs trying to cover the same stuff. At one-point, UCL was running a program for helping universities and higher education while the Japanese were doing something similar. And the Minister didn’t know was he supposed to come and see us at UCL or was he supposed to go and speak to the JICA people and the Japanese who were there? I mean, so you had to be in two places at the same time. This is common in Myanmar, and because you don’t want to upset anyone, you don’t say anything.
Will Brehm 29:04
Looking back even further to more of the colonial period, how much post colonialism, or sort of neocolonialism, could we see in some of these, sort of educational processes that you’re explaining?
Marie Lall 29:18
I think a lot of the donors bring in the sort of notion of we will bring good practice to you. I mean, I’ve written saying about child-centric approaches being sort of brought into Myanmar and then obviously, not being adopted because it doesn’t work with the context. Some things do work. And within child-centric … I mean every time I ran a workshop on something like this, people say, “If we could find a Myanmar way of doing it, which fits with our culture,” i.e., if we could be authors of our own destiny then things would work. And I think that’s really what the ministry would need to do. But for that to work, you need to work with civil society organizations, and you need to work with broader society, you need to be given the time and the space to develop what works. And there are plenty of organizations locally which do this, but it’s at the small level rather than at this macro, sort of kind of ministerial level. So, yes, you have a lot of this sort of development partner approach DFID, or now FCDO, is very much part of this bringing in our way of doing things, which is really quite a shock to Myanmar in many ways because Myanmar was a British colony from the three Anglo-Burmese wars. And then, in the Second World War, the Japanese chased the British back to India, and then the British chased the Japanese back out. And then, in 1948, Burma was independent. And from 1962, with the first big military coup and then the country hermetically sealed itself off. So, actually, there’s been no sort of foreign push for any of the sort of philosophies from the outside. Literally in 1962, and the late 80s, when Myanmar opened up to sort of the East -China in particular, but ASEAN as well- but not the West. Until 2010, there was no contact. So, it’s actually quite a shock for many of the sort of Myanmar people to receive this sort of Western wisdoms.
Will Brehm 31:18
Western wisdoms coming in. So, at the end of 2020, Myanmar held another election, and NLD wins again. So, is the next five years of NLD rule in terms of education, is it similarly guided by that manifesto that was written in 2015?
Marie Lall 31:39
No. I think really now what is clear is I actually did not see an NLD education manifesto for 2020. That might just be me not having looked hard enough. But I think really that partly because there’s no need to do that anymore. The idea really is we have the NESP, and we had a midterm review. And actually, the big crisis is to get the second version, so NESP 2. NESP was supposed to run for a certain number of years, at this moment off top of my head I can’t remember for how long, but they had just run its halfway point at that point. And so, the idea with NESP 2 was to see what had worked, what hadn’t worked and refine it. And the problem is that COVID has happened. So, the ministry is trying to put together a second version of NESP based in part on this midterm review, which sort of showed up where some of these bottlenecks were -some of these problems. But it is obviously much, much harder to do so when you’re not sure when your schools are going to be reopening and when most of the donors are out of the country, and everything is done on Zoom. And yeah, it is highly problematic. So, I am not quite sure where we are going with the education reform program at the moment. I think once the pandemic is over, people will revert back to the NESP and see what else needs to be done. I’m told by colleagues that the ministry is still working. But how are they bringing those changes down into the schools and into the universities and into the education colleges? I can’t imagine how that’s working given the travel restrictions in the country, and given, you know, the COVID restrictions. So, yes. I think we have to wait post-pandemic to see how things are going to evolve.
Will Brehm 33:30
Well, Marie Lall, thank you so much for joining FreshEd, and it really was a pleasure to talk today, and congratulations again on your book.
Marie Lall 33:36
Thank you. Thank you so much, Will.
Will Brehm 33:39
On February 1, the Myanmar military took power of the country and detained government officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup occurred just hours before parliament was due to sit for the first time after the November elections. Since I interviewed Marie on January 25, I called her on February 1 to get her reactions to these events. Hi, Mary, thanks so much for coming back on a pretty wild day.
Marie Lall 34:05
Yeah, total shocks this morning. Five days or six days ago we spoke, and the world has entirely changed. It’s all very much different today.
Will Brehm 34:13
So, today is February 1 when we’re talking. What happened?
Marie Lall 34:17
Well, I’m not quite sure what happened. From my Myanmar contacts, I had a message this morning on WhatsApp saying military coup. I went online and saw that chief of staff had basically taken over the country, and there are demonstrations but pro-military demonstrations in Yangon, I’m told. The MPs have been arrested, Aung San Suu Kyi and the President have been arrested. Aung San Suu Kyi and the President have called for civil disobedience, saying that the military has gone outside of the Constitution. So, therefore the public is not bound by it, and they should go and protest. That basically, the 2020 elections are being stolen. And the people I’ve spoken to are going to hunker down at home, and we are all sitting there, like rabbits in the headlight, not quite sure what’s going to happen next. So, they didn’t need to do this. There is no need. The 2008 Constitution actually has allowed -the military wrote it- the military to keep control of three ministries: The Border Affairs Ministry, Home Ministry, and whichever ministry deals with military affairs. And so, they don’t have an interest in running reforms in education and health, agriculture, land reform, and all the rest of it. So, it was almost a division of labor where they kept control of things they wanted to do, including fighting the ethnic armed groups and dealing with security issues. And the civilian government was sort of dealing with the other side of things. And the civilian government had cooperated. Of course, there are always issues and problems, but they have cooperated, including Aung San Suu Kyi going to the International Court of Justice, at the Hague defending the actions of the military. So, in that sense, if the reason given, which was that there was fraud in the elections and that the Union Election Commission didn’t look into it sufficiently, that the parliament was not looking into it, and that the President refused to convene the National Defense and Security Council twice. Those were the reasons given for the coup today, just don’t seem sufficient for throwing away what is 15 years of progress -it’s taken 15 years to get here. The quote, unquote, roadmap to democracy, that I spoke about, the idea sort of came up in 2003-2004, and really was sort of launched with the writing of the Constitution at that particular point in time. So, effectively, we’re looking at 15 years down the drain.
Will Brehm 36:43
So, is it fair to say that you were surprised?
Marie Lall 36:47
Yes, I was surprised. And most of the people I spoke to this morning in Myanmar were surprised because this was so drastic. Last few days, there have been rumors swirling about. But just to be very clear, these rumors come and go. There have been times when the tanks have been taken out. I remember time I was in Myanmar when the tanks went up to the USDP headquarters, and they got rid of Shwe Mann at that particular point in time. One of the very power -actually a Speaker of the House, they demoted him from his position within the military party. And we all thought, “Oh, my God, this is going to go wrong. It was going to be military coup.” And there was no military coup, they just threw him out of the party, and that was the end of it. So, it’s not the first time that you see mobilization, rumors of a coup, and then everything goes away. But this is very clear. I’ve seen the letter that’s gone out to everyone, organizations and private people and international organizations, but from the Office of the Chief of Staff Min Aung Hlaing saying, “Yep, for one year, we’re going to run this country, and these are the things we’re going to do. We’re going to look at the election records, and we are going to deal with COVID. And then we’re going to call elections again. And then we’ll start all over.” That’s what they promise.
Will Brehm 38:05
So, would it be fair to say, or maybe potentially project, that the education reforms that we were talking about in our interview might just be on pause for a year? Or do you think they’d actually be unwound, and sort of a lot of the progress might be lost?
Marie Lall 38:20
I don’t think they’ll be unwound. But progress will be lost because when you stop something sort of midway. I think the biggest issue is that the aid money is just going to be stopped. So, a lot of this is co-financed by aid money. And as long as there’s -after military coup, the various governments will not -I’m sure commercial money from China and so on China doesn’t have a problem with this, is going to continue. But Western aid money, everything from FCDO, USAID was aid, I suspect, even the World Bank might rethink the loans and the grants that it’s giving to Myanmar. Everything might just get paused for a year. And if there’s no money, I suspect that things will stop. Or at least stop for a … until – the problem is Will, if people go on the streets, then this could be very much longer than a year. If stay home and heed the advice, which according to the friends I spoke to, they are defying the military on social media. They were told not to use social media to sort of complain about the coup and criticize. People are defying that as of now. As of the moment that you and I are speaking. There have been demonstrations, but they’ve only been pro-military demonstrations. So, those seem to be tolerated. But not against the coup. But that could change very rapidly.
Will Brehm 39:48
And it’s only Monday at about 4 pm GMT, so a lot could change by the time this goes out.
Marie Lall 39:56
By the time this goes out, there might be demonstrations, there might be standoff with the military, and then obviously, things could take a lot longer than one year. But perhaps people will stay given COVID. Perhaps if there’s a clear roadmap, perhaps people will give the military the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball.
Will Brehm 40:17
Well, you’ll have to come back on and give us an update later in the year once a few things are a bit more clear. Thank you so much, Marie, for coming back on, and it’s just unbelievable what is happening in Myanmar right now.
Marie Lall 40:30
Yeah, well, it meant for many that the 2020 elections have been stolen. And that’s awful.
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Myanmar’s education reforms-A pathway to social justice?
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