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The School for Shan State Nationalities Youth (SSSNY) was formed by a group of youth from Burma’s Shan State in May 2001, to provide a social justice education program for youth to become active citizens participating in social and political change in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Vision
To promote dedicated and pro-active Shan State youth with necessary skills for social and political change, through a social justice education program.

Goals

To empower, educate and encourage young Shan State activists of different backgrounds and ethnicities to participate effectively in the struggle for true democracy, human rights, justice and gender equality.
To support educational development in and for Shan State, Burma.

  • As the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth begins its 15th program, participants and graduates of our three training programs approaches 500.
  • Social Justice Education Program – Intensive 6 month English language based social justice education and awareness training, with emphasis on activism and advocacy for change
  • Community Leadership Development Training – Intensive 30 day upgrade and expansion training for working community based activists, in first language with translators
  • Community Youth Cooperation and Leadership Empowerment – 8 – 10 day introductory training in political, community and democratic development principles, in first languages and English with translation

SSSNY recognizes the necessity of a strong education to catalyze social and democratic change in Burma. By offering classes in topics designed to engage students as participatory learners, and using teaching methods to encourage critical and creative thinking skills, SSSNY empowers youth to take a pro-active role for social and political change

Much has been said about the political space opening up in Burma, while less has been ventured about the political space opening within individuals; this remains the territory at which SSSNY excels in revealing capacity and potential to individuals in its in-depth, broad and intensive experience in its current location. It is the only program of its kind either inside or outside Burma, unique in its residential, intensive English immersion in social justice issues in a multi-ethnic cooperative living environment.

Background and Challenges

Burma has suffered and struggled under a series of punishing military regimes over the past 50 years and has been devastated by civil war, conflict, incompetence, and corruption, finding it ranked 150th out of 187 countries studied in the 2014 UN Human Development Index. The educational system in Burma has been systematically driven backwards since the 1962 military coup; nominal reforms begun in 2010 have yet to produce real progress in any public sectors. Intentionally underfinanced education has resulted in outdated, decrepit and substandard facilities and curricula the result of spending just 0.8 % of its GDP on education (Angola, ranked 149th spends 3.5%, and Rwanda, ranked 151st, spends 4.8%) Education in Burma is compulsory for just five years, with 25% drop out rate in this short period; only 17.8% of adults over 25 years of age have attended high school.

The ruling powers of Burma see an educated population as a threat to their control and authority and have invested enormous energy in preventing citizens from acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary for analyzing, questioning, and mobilizing in pursuit of truly participatory democracy which holds leaders accountable.  Below is a brief overview of active policies which have reduced the education system of Burma to a meaningless imitation of education as a fundamental, internationally recognized human right.

  • Parents pay an annual fee for building maintenance, school furniture and school books even though Burma has laws mandating free primary school education. Annual primary school fees are about US$100 – the average monthly salary in Burma – and is higher in secondary schools. This targets families in poor, rural areas, which comprise 70% of the population and are mainly areas of smaller ethnic nationalities.
  • These costs are an obstacle for all children and their families; however, girls pay the most. Family members generally do not support daughters going to school if there is limited funding, preferring to support sons’ education. Consequently, the dysfunctional educational system deepens the differences between genders, compounding and consolidating inequality within the society.
  • Gender and income discrimination is compounded and implemented by government controlled curricula, which seeks to unify the nation by diminishing diversity. Using ‘education as a weapon” the military controlled government has protracted and embedded conflict in the classroom where ethnic diversity in Burma is denied, disparaged and omitted, thereby aggravating ethnic conflicts. Community-based schools are harassed and monitored and many are forced to close, leaving the state-controlled schools with Burmese as the language of instruction as the only alternative. The smaller ethnic nationalities struggle to preserve their cultures and retain their languages in the face of assimilation.

As in many other countries, students have been active in opposing oppressive governments. In March, 2015 students across Burma united to protest exclusive and restrictive legislation which perpetuated government control of academia; 65 student activists face up to six years in jail for unauthorized protest. Since the military coup in 1962, great effort has been made to suppress and dissipate students’ political power and ability to unify. In 1988, students’ demands for justice and human rights were answered with extreme violence and the closure of all universities. In 1990 they reopened, but with a new, government-controlled curriculum, only to close again for three years in 1996. Burma’s 156 universities have been built in remote areas to impede and discourage access.  Additionally, regular classes have been replaced by poorly administered “distance education” programs with only 10 days’ annual attendance and which require expensive extra tutoring to prepare for rote answered examinations.

Students in Shan State face additional hardship when seeking education. For the Shan State students who live on the border or in conflict areas, school is often only a dream.  In Thailand, refugees escaping from civil war and abusive military government in Shan State are not recognized by the Thai government, and consequently neither by the UN High Commission for Refugees. They face difficulty accessing basic support from international humanitarian organizations, including the right to education. Struggling to exist in the most basic living conditions, most have become migrant workers, subject to exploitation and abuse, with education unattainable and inaccessible. A cycle of poverty persists.

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