Teachers who joined Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement following the military coup in February have set up a school for children displaced by conflict in a temporary camp in a rebel army-controlled area of eastern Kayah state near the Thai border.
The internally displaced persons (IDP) camp where the school is located hosts more than 1,000 civilians, mostly ethnic Karennis, who fled their homes to escape fighting between the Myanmar military and Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) troops since May.
The KNDF is a new network of civilian resistance fighters that includes existing ethnic armed groups in the state and Karenni organizations.
Violent clashes between rebel and junta forces erupted in Kayah state’s Loikaw, Demoso, and Shadaw townships after the military coup on Feb. 1 overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Some 100,000 residents have fled their homes amid fighting in the state, taking shelter in Buddhist monasteries or in nearby hills and jungles.
The Education Department of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the dominant ethnic political organization in the state, opened the school to provide uninterrupted instruction to the children, said Hsu Bu Rel, the department’s vice minister.
Children displaced by the conflict have not been able to attend classes for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which hit Myanmar in March 2020 and now is in its third wave. They then lost a second year of education because of political unrest in the country, Hsu Bu Rel said.
“We want the IDP children in our camp to have an opportunity for schooling,” he told RFA. “In addition, this school gives us opportunities to learn from the CDM [civil disobedience movement] teachers and to try out the new curriculum and teaching methods of the Karenni Education Department.
For security reasons, RFA is identifying the location of the camp school only as being in a KNPP-controlled area near the Thai border in Kayah state.
School principal Hla Moe Myint said more funding is needed for educational materials for the IDP children, school buildings, and additional teachers.
“Teachers can perform fully only if they have these materials in hand,” she said. “There are so many needs. Besides, we want to set up a library as they [the teachers] have expected. We have difficulties in fulfilling their needs.”
Teacher Hsu Khu Rel said the school serves students from grades one through 11 and uses both a national curriculum and a new one created by the Karenni Education Department.
Another teacher named Josephine said many educators from government schools, who walked out of work to join the CDM protests against the junta and fled arrest in their hometowns have joined the school.
“They have different teaching methods and a different schooling system,” she said, pointing to the teachers’ more sophisticated grading system that makes it tougher for students to pass tests because it is not based on traditional rote learning.
About 265 students had enrolled in the IDP camp school by the end of June, though additional ones were incoming, teachers said.
Eighth-grader Cherry Phaw said she was pleased to continue her education at the school.
“For more than two years I couldn’t go to school,” she told RFA. “We were on the run whenever there was fighting, so I couldn’t go to school. I am grateful to the teachers for enabling me to learn in school. I am happy here.”
Thoe Mel, the parent of students who attend classes at the school, said she is glad that she could enroll her children in school at a time when other schools across the country are closed because of ongoing crackdowns by the military regime and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My children haven’t gone to school for two years,” she said. “I am so happy now they are going to school. I am very optimistic.”
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