Magazine article New Internationalist

'All History Is Propaganda'

Magazine article New Internationalist

'All History Is Propaganda'

Article excerpt

'We don't need no education,' goes the song. In Burma, they take it literally. The country has reasonable rates of literacy but appalling academic standards. I met up with a group of young people from Shan State and they told me their experiences of Burmese classrooms. They were following a nine-month blitz of a course to develop their critical faculties and computing skills at the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth (SSSNY) in Thailand. Most will then go on to be active in their communities back in Burma, as educators and motivators for change.

The school's location is kept secret and its students must stay under 'house arrest' for their own safety. They all requested anonymity. Here is what they had to say:

Knowing nothing

'I was an economics major at university, but I knew nothing. They taught the first year's syllabus in 10 days. Our classes were in English, but I didn't know the meaning of what was being said. So we just learned by heart or copied. There was only one teacher teaching the economics major. We had to take turns to attend tuition and push to get into the lecture room.'

'At exam times we just copied [cheated]. It all depends on where you get a seat. If it's far away from the teacher, then you're lucky - you can copy a lot. Sometimes they didn't lock the door of the room and the students came and wrote down notes on the desk beforehand. Most of the teachers knew what we were up to - they had done the same in their time. If, unfortunately, you didn't have a "lucky seat" and you failed the exam, you went to the teacher's home. You have to give him some money and he says: "Give me your table number." If he says that, then you will be ok. If you take private tuition from the teacher, you get all the questions before the exams.'

The bogey of politics

'We don't have any chance for political education in Burma. They don't teach critical thinking. We just have to copy things from the textbook. They show us the textbook and we write it down. Teachers are frightened to touch anything political. …

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