Active support from New Zealand’s educator unionists for Myanmar counterparts

published 12 April 2022 updated 13 April 2022

Teachers from New Zealand are supporting educators in Myanmar who are protesting against the February 2021 military coup and who are committed to delivering quality education.

In Kayin State in south-eastern Myanmar, 62 striking teachers from the trade-union led Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), are providing mathematics, geography, English and Myanmar language classes to over 475 children from kindergarten to sixth grade. They undertake this despite the risks posed by the Myanmar military.

The teachers’ activities have received financial assistance from the New Zealand Educational Institute - Te Riu Roa (NZEI) and the New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA). This funding has been channelled through UnionAID – the development agency for the New Zealand trade union movement.

New Zealand unions’ particular responsibility for Asia-Pacific countries

“Myanmar is in crisis with the military junta at war against its own citizens. New Zealand’s unions see a particular responsibility for countries in our Asia-Pacific region, even though their plight may not be as prominent in world news currently as other countries,” stressed Ross Wilson, chairperson of UnionAID, and former president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.

Kayin State teachers welcome students and deliver their classes in a variety of locations, he said. As it is currently the dry season, classes can be held in shaded areas, including in buildings.

Wilson went on to underline that “teachers have families too, and UnionAID has supported the CDM by ensuring they are paid”.

Ongoing disruption for children’s education in Myanmar

Wilson stressed that, since 2020, children’s education in Myanmar has been completely disrupted - first by the pandemic and closely followed by the military coup a year ago.

The day after the coup, doctors and nurses across the country took strike action, joined soon after by other public servants, including teachers, as part of the ongoing resistance movement. Thousands of families have been displaced by fighting, and public servants have voluntarily provided them with health and education services, he noted.

Ongoing international education unions’ solidarity

“We continue to stand with educators in Myanmar struggling to ensure a future of peace, freedom, and prosperity for their country,” emphasised David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International. “We also commend education unions, in New Zealand and elsewhere, that are once again true to one of the pivotal values of trade unionism - solidarity.”