Shortage of Textbooks, Teachers and Political Will Stymie Karen Literature Classes

A Karen State official is accusing some school administrators of putting up road blocks to prevent Karen language and literature classes from being offered.

“The textbooks haven’t been issued yet this year. Some headmasters don’t want ethnic literature to be taught because they worry that it would affect the teaching hours,” said Saw Aye Mya, chair of Kayin State’s Karen Literature and Culture Committee. “Some schools have students who want to learn [Karen literature] but there aren’t any teachers to teach them. The [qualified] teachers have been transferred to work in non-Karen villages.”

He added that finding time to teach Karen literature in multi-ethnic schools was also proving challenging, while Karen parents in urban areas are not necessarily encouraging their children to read and speak in Karen language.

According to officials from the Karen Literature and Culture Committee, Karen literature can be taught from kindergarten to the second standard. The class is not available in most of the urban schools, however.

“The Department of Education has allowed [Karen literature] to be taught officially in the lower primary level. If there are teachers and schools to teach it, it can even be taught up to the third and fourth standards,” said U Soe Myint, Kayin State’s Education Officer. He said that ethnic literature classes are not offered in urban schools as those classes are multi-ethnic.

But teachers say the largest stumbling bloc preventing Karen language classes is the need to focus on core courses to boost the exam pass rate. Hours spent on “development” subjects such as physical education, music and ethnic literature have been reduced in order to focus on exam preparations for the tests in the fourth and eighth standards

Teaching ethnic literature has been permitted across Myanmar since the 2013-2014 academic year. Some schools in Karen State have been allowed to fly the Karen national flag and wear traditional Karen costumes on Mondays and Fridays.

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