Over 125,000 schoolteachers in Myanmar have been suspended by the military authorities for joining a civil disobedience movement to oppose the military coup in February, an official of the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation said.
The suspensions take effect from Saturday, the official said. He declined to give his name for fear of reprisals as he is already on the junta’s wanted list on charges of inciting disaffection. He has been told that the charges he faces will be dropped if he returns.
“These are just statements to threaten people to come back to work. If they actually fire this many teachers, the whole system will stop,” he said.
The suspensions come just days before the start of the new school year, which some teachers and parents are boycotting as part of the campaign that has paralysed the country since the coup cut short a decade of democratic reforms.
Reuters was unable to reach a junta spokesman or the education ministry for comment. The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper has called on teachers and students to return to schools to get the education system started again.
The disruption at schools echoes that in the health sector and across government and private business since the country was plunged into chaos by the coup and the arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Around 19,500 university staff have also been suspended, according to the teachers’ group.
Registrations begin next week for the school term that starts in June, but some parents are saying they plan to keep their children out of school.
“I am not going to enrol my daughter because I don’t want to give her education from military dictatorship. I also worry about her safety,” said 42-year-old Myint, whose daughter is 14.
Students, who have been at the forefront of daily protests at which hundreds of people have been killed by security forces, also said they planned to boycott classes.
“I will only go back to school if we get back democracy,” said Lwin, 18.
Myanmar’s education system was already one of the poorest in the region: ranked 92 of 93 countries in a global survey last year.
A National Unity Government, set up underground by opponents of the junta, said it would do all it could to support the teachers and students. They are calling on foreign donors to stop funding the junta-controlled education ministry.
“We will work with Myanmar’s educators who are refusing to support the cruel military,” Sasa, who goes by one name and is a spokesman for the national unity government, said in an email to Reuters. “These great teachers and brave teachers will never be left behind.”