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Push for Burmese language fluency could stamp out ethnic languages, experts warn

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Min Thuta – Plans to encourage fluency in Burmese (Myanmar) language in Burma’s ethnic areas through the new Language Education Program (LEP) will result in diminished significance and use of ethnic languages, warned the coordinator of a multi-lingual school program in Thailand.

“When I visited Mudon Township, I saw that the teachers and students were only allowed to speak in Burmese. The teachers are Mon, and the students are also Mon. It is not good to disallow the speaking of the mother language between teachers and students,” said Nai Sunthorn Sripanngern, the coordinator of the bilingual education system at Wat Wang Wiwekaran School, Sangkhlaburi, Thailand.

The LEP has already been implemented in Wingmaw of Kachin State, Mudon Township of Mon State, and Tachilek in Shan State since the 2008–2009 academic year, and now the program has been extended to Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Yethedaung townships of Arakan State for the 2011–2012 academic year.

The Voice Weekly journal reported that U Ngwe Toe, Vice-Officer of the Department of Higher Education (Lower Myanmar), the Ministry of Education, and UNICEF are testing the effectiveness of the Language Education Program (LEP) at six townships throughout the whole nation.

“The LEP program may be possible to implement at Mudon town, but it will be extra work in rural Mon villages. It will be an added burden. Teaching with the student’s mother tongue in primary school is the most effective for ethnic children,” said Nai Ngwe Thein, Chairman of the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMDP).

The LEP could negatively affect developing skills such as creative and critical thinking for ethnic children, said Nai Ngwe Thein.

“I worked in Waingmaw as the in-charge of the Kachin State Education Department. Children there couldn’t speak Burmese. They could only pass exams in Kachin language. They couldn’t understand the issues taught in Burmese because the curriculum was not in their mother language. Therefore, I do not believe the LEP will be effective for Kachin ethnic students,” Nai Ngwe Thein said.

Dr. Bannya Aung Moe, Member of the Upper Parliment (Amyotha Hluttaw), suggested at a parliament hearing that Burma’s primary school system in the ethnic areas should teach three languages (the students’ mother language, Burmese, and English). However, his suggestion was rejected.

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