Schools in Myanmar will open on Tuesday for the first time since the military took power, but teachers and students will defy the junta’s call for full classrooms in a show of defiance.
Four months of national unrest followed the February ouster of Mayor Aung San Suu Kyi, in which more than 800 people were killed by security forces and a nationwide strike that paralyzed the economy.
Public school teachers – dressed in the green and white uniforms prescribed by the Ministry of Education – were prominent in the early mass protests, joining railway workers, doctors, and street officials.
The junta has pushed for schools to open on Tuesday after a year of absence from Covid-19, but many educators had already decided they couldn’t return to a job they love.
“I’m not afraid of their arrest and torture,” Shwe Nadi, a teacher from the commercial capital of Yangon, told AFP. Her name has been changed for her safety.
“I’m afraid of becoming a teacher who teaches propaganda to students.”
The 28-year-old was fired for supporting the civil disobedience movement, one of the thousands of teachers and academics the junta has fired.
“Of course I regret losing my job because I loved being a teacher. While it is not well paid, we pride ourselves on being a teacher the way others respect us,” she said.
Now May – not her real name – in the southern state of Mon will also stay away, she told AFP.
The teacher lost her salary for months after joining the nationwide boycott, but said “my soul is pure” because she was on the strike.
“When I see how they killed a lot of people, I feel like I don’t want to be their teacher anymore,” she added.
Some of the dead in the junta’s crackdown were of elementary school age, and the charity Save the Children said 15 of the dead were children under the age of 16.
‘We don’t want traitors’
Junta-led media in recent days has been circulating photos of officials looking at school registrations and promising parents will be “satisfied” with the return of classes.
According to the state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, students from a school near the capital Naypyidaw opened a regular ceremony to mark the new term by performing a song of “National Enrollment Week” for the regime’s education minister. .
But at a high school in the central Sagaing region, a slogan with red paint on the front of the building urges employees to stay away.
“We don’t want the military slavery teachers,” photos from local media showed. “We don’t want teachers who are traitors.”
University students were the main drivers of political activism under nearly five decades of previous military rulers, who forcibly suppressed all signs of public dissent.
Many students were then murdered, imprisoned or expelled, and universities were closed for years.
‘Not one of my friends goes’
Some college classes are already underway, but boycotts have led to widespread absences on both sides of the classroom.
“None of my friends are coming,” said an English major at a university in Mawlamyine, a town where security forces are brutally cracking down on protesters.
“So I decided not to go either.”
Her class of 100 is now empty, despite the fact that students have been summoned by the few remaining professors on campus.
Protesters discouraged parents and teachers from sending children to schools that still have teachers willing to work, saying it amounted to support for the military regime.
“Don’t be sad if you can’t enroll your child in school and some parents don’t have children to enroll,” read a banner in the Bago region, south of the capital.
Teacher Shwe Nadi said she will remain committed to the civil disobedience movement despite fears of being detained or worse.
“I will not run because I have committed no crimes,” she said.
“If they want to arrest me, I’ll be prepared.”