Karen children get small taste of their own language

Small girls and boys in a variety of traditional Karen costumes – girls wear striped, white, blue and yellow dresses, while boys wear red.

It is Saturday morning and the children gather in front of their wooden school, a basic structure that lacks walled classrooms. The children are primarily students. On normal schooldays the students wear a uniform of white shirt and blue sarongs or shorts. Today is not a school day, but the students have come to class to learn their Karen language – officially not allowed in government run schools.

Kler Pu village is where the 210 students and six teachers, two of them Karen, attend Nyaung Don primary school.

Kler Pu village is east of Tavoy in Tenasserim Division, southern Burma. The village is in a government-administrated area, as well as under the control of the Karen National Union (KNU).

There are 12 Karen villages in the area. For the first time villagers and village elders say Kler Pu have the opportunity to teach their children the Karen language and to maintain their ethnic identity.
Dressed in his traditional Karen shirt and red striped sarong, Saw Tin Lay, the headmaster of Kler Pu primary school spoke to Karen News.

“The government told us we could teach the Karen language under ‘development subject’. But, if we only have time to teach in one period on Friday’s under the ‘Development subject’ it is not enough time. Because our (people) already away behind, if people run one foot step, we have to run 10 foot to catch up. Time is not seeking us, but we have to seek it, so we now run and to teach a half day class on Saturday.”

Students gather under the raising of the Karen national flag and sing for the first the Karen national anthem for the first time.

Unfortunately, the students cannot sing it properly, some of them not at all, but all can sing the Burma national anthem.

Naw Pa Tha, a student girl told Karen News.

“I am happy that I can learn the Karen language. It is important for us to learn our own language.”

Teacher say teaching the Karen language is still a big challenge as there is a lack of official recognition, qualified teachers and materials in Karen. The material the school does have has been brought from the Karen Education Department on the Thai border, and some the Karen churches in Burma.

Naw K’nyaw, a Karen teacher, told Karen News.

“I graduated from KBTS (Karen Baptist Theological Seminary). There,
once a week I learned Karen for one period. I collected all the Karen books I got at the school and I now teach the student here as much as I can. I am happy that I have a chance to teach Karen children. The students are also happy. Students here do not know their own history or where their people came from.”

Saw Tin Lay explained to Karen News.

“A nation cannot be recognized without its language or literacy. The Karen is a nation, but without having its own language and identity, we cannot survive. All Karen need to speak and write their own language.”

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