Teachers want official go-ahead to teach Karen

Fort the first time the Karen Education Department and the Karen Teachers Working Group held a summer camp for teacher training in a government controlled area. The training was held in Pway Poe Kla village, east of Dawei, in Southern Burma. The training was made possible because of the ceasefire agreement reached between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Burma government in January 2012.

More than 80 Karen teachers, from Karen villages in the KNU’s Mergui-Tavoy District, known officially as Tenasserim Division, attended the training. The teacher training not only included how to teach modules, but also encouraged Karen teachers from the different communities to teach the Karen language in their schools.

Naw Tha Lay Htoo, a female community health worker who attended the teacher training spoke to Karen News.
“We were not allowed to learn our Karen language in school. I could only read and write Karen language by attending summer training where we were taught how to read and write Karen.”

In Burma, the teaching of the Karen language or any other ethnic language is officially banned in government school. The right to learn ethnic languages is not endorsed in the national constitution. The Karen people claim that many of their generation cannot read or write Karen due to the bans. The Karen teachers say this is causing people to lose their history, traditions and language.
Naw Tha Lay Htoo said.

“I think they [government] worry that the Karen will progress so they have not allowed the teaching of the Karen [in school]. The Burmese language is now dominant.”

To maintain their Karen language, Karen communities tried to teach Karen through religious activities, such as in Sunday school. In Karen Buddhist communities, the teaching of the language is carried out in Monasteries or in culture group.

Naw Hay Tha, a teacher, who attended the teacher training, told Karen News.

“I teach the Karen language at Sunday School, because the children could not speak Karen well and could not write Karen. To be able to read and write Karen, I have to study by myself.”

In rural areas where the majority is Karen, the Karen language is being taught in official school hours. Teachers say this can only be done with the ‘understanding’ of local authorities – most of the time it is carried out without the knowledge of government authorities.

Thera Htin Linn, a Karen teacher and a government village track education officer in Pway Po Kla village told Karen News.

“The government [now] encourages us to teach Karen. They said we could teach on Fridays during the Development Subject Period. This is not enough [time] for us.”

A village secretary, Saw Three, from Ko Say village spoke to Karen News.

“We had an understanding in our village that we teach Karen on Friday mornings for one period, but mostly we teach it at Sunday school. The Karen people today have been left behind. We want this generation to be able to read and write their language, otherwise it will be lost forever.”

Teacher’s say teaching the Karen language is a challenge due to the lack of class time and lack of official recognition for it. Schoolteachers say they live in fear of being found out and accused by the government.

Saw Three said.
“During the previous government’s time we didn’t have the opportunity. But this government has provided an opportunity, but we still need to have its permission to teach Karen in schools. We haven’t heard that the government has officially allowed Karen to be allowed to be taught at schools.”

Thera Htin Linn said.
“We worry that we can only teach the Karen language for one period on Fridays. In the school there are not only the Karen teachers but also government teachers. We worry it will become a disruption.”

Naw Tha Lay Htoo said.
“In the future we want the government to officially allow the teaching of the Karen language. Now, many Karen people are ‘shy’ to speak their own language, they cannot write it, they only can write Burmese.”

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