Seventy primary level school children in Moreh, on the Indo-Burma border, may not be able to attend classes this monsoon, which begin in June. That’s because there is not enough funding to cover the cost of school equipment, including text books and stationary for the children.
The start of the 2010 academic year is also being delayed because teachers have not been paid their salary for nearly two years.
“I do want to hear and see the school has to open as usual, but do not want to worry it will close”, said Pa Laang Khan Thang, the 60 year old, who has been School Principal and taught math for over 13 years..
“I’m so worried that these school children will disappear and walk away as other children do, those who are wandering on the street, working in tea shops in the market to earn some money” he added.
UNICEF said in its report on Myanmar, “Today, primary school enrollment rates are high, and more schools are being constructed. However, less than half of all children in Myanmar (Burma) currently complete primary school”.
The report also said …“high primary school dropout rates and widespread poverty have had the effect of rendering large numbers of Myanmar’s children and youth vulnerable to various forms of exploitation”.
The school was founded in 1993 by some Burmese dissident groups, including members of the All Burmese Student Democratic Front (ABSDF), Kuki Student Democratic Front (KSDF) and the National league for Democracy – Liberated Area (NLD – LA).
Over a decade ago the old two story primary school ‘Daung Pyoe Gin’ was built with bamboo walls, a wooden floor, a roof made from grass used in thatching at Moreh City, Manipur State, on Indian soil.
Moreh is a Kuki dominated Indian town in the state of Manipur, which shares a 200 km long border with Burma.
The founders call themselves ‘Daung’, meaning – ‘Peacock’, which is the symbol of Burmese students and celebrates the history and struggles of the student movement.
The mission of the school was to nurture the children of Burmese political activists who fled the country to avoid arrest and torture inside Burma.
The school started with around 15 students.
‘We founded the school because our kids needed it. We spent some of our own money and some NLD – LA funds. Teachers were paid Rs.600 at that time”, said Khin Maung His, one of the founders who fled from Burma in 1989 to avoid arrest for political activities.
The number of students has steadily increased. The majority were from poor families living in Moreh, whose parents sell vegetables in the market, work in tea shops or are domestic workers and venders. As well, over 20 children from the Burmese village of Nanpharlon cross the border daily to attend the school.
The annual cost for a primary level student at a private school is over Rs.10,000 ($227 dollars) including school fees, tuition and etc.. Because most parents cannot afford to pay that amount, they send their children to Daung Poe Gin School for free.
“Both the parents and the kids were getting benefits from the school (Daung Pyoe Gin). All the primary level school children were getting a chance to study the India Education curriculum and even nursery kids can read and write in English”, said the principal.
As well as adopting the Indian education system’s curriculum, Burmese language is also introduced there.
School children can attend the local private secondary school after they completed primary level in Daung Pyoe Gin, even though it is not recognized yet by the government.
But the school is now considering seeking recognition by the Indian Government in the near future and also expanding to include a secondary school.
“It is not difficult to seek to be a recognized school,” the principal said. “But it was totally out of our mind in the past”.
There are hundreds of Burmese migrants living in Moreh.
Many Children were picking up plastic bags, collecting bottles and papers from both border sides.
Since around 1994, the school was funded by the Thailand based Burmese NGO, National Health and Education Committee (NHEC), which provided around Rs. 1 lakh and a half annually to cover the cost of teacher’ salaries, school equipment and medicine. But, the group stopped providing funding for teacher’s salaries in 2008.
“We submitted a budget proposal for both school equipment and teacher salaries, but we got budget only for school equipment. It is very difficult to run a school”, said an official named Sasat, who was in charge of the school from 2006 to 2009
But NHEC could not guarantee funding for the 2010- 2011 academic year.
“It will be a challenge for both the school and school teachers this monsoon class, because we were told by NHEC they could not guarantee funding will continue for the next school season”, said the former school in charge.
He also said, “Renovation of the school and digging a well for the school children were paid for by donations from the community and self support”.
Despite questions about funding for the coming monsoon season, classes will start as soon as possible, said founder, Aung Hsi.
“We will try to raise some money from Burmese people resettled in third countries to open the school this monsoon. But the school needs its own funding to run regularly”, he added.
“If we close the school, almost all the kids will end up working as child laborers, while a few children could join local government school and some will wait for the next year 2011 academic year”, said the founder. “But we will find alternative ways to get funding for the school, if we cannot get full funding this year”, he added.
Over 2 lakh rupees, (around $5,000 dollars) are needed to run the school annually.
Now, School parents, founders and school teachers are starting to worry about the next monsoon season class at the school known by locals as the “Burmese school”.
But, could it be that the monsoons will wash away the worries of the founders, teachers and parents with only 20 days left until the start of new classes?
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