Education, not technology, is the solution to problems in Burma

February 18, 2009

Although technology can be a powerful tool in overthrowing oppressive governments and staging protests, the people of the country must first be aware that they have rights; that they can protest violations of their rights, and that they can strive for a better future.

However, in a country like Burma, that seems almost impossible to achieve at the moment. Since 1962, the country has been run by an oppressive military regime that guiltlessly murders and imprisons anyone who tries to protest their form of government. There is a nationalized education system; unfortunately students can go through it never even hearing the words democracy or human rights. So although almost all Burmese are literate, they are not aware of their own rights. In George Packer’s eye-opening article, “Drowning”, he says, “Hnin Se had told me that, through her relief work in the delta, she had learned how few of her countrymen knew that they had any rights, even the right to complain”, speaking of the people living in rural areas suffering from the effects of the cyclone Nargis. The government did almost nothing to help; the majority of the aid efforts were organized by Burmese civilians, many of whom can only afford to eat one meal a day.

40% of the Burmese population is comprised of individuals who are under 18 years old, and were not alive to witness the protests of 1988. They are members of a generation who have been beaten into ideological submission by their government. Many are not educated enough to know how to make a change and have witnessed recent violent acts against protestors, which may scare them from following in their predecessors footsteps. The government also tends to indoctrinate many young children into the military, although they claim that military service is voluntary and prohibited to anyone less than 18 years of age.

Millions of young Burmese flee across the Burma-Thailand border and learn of democracy and become activists for change in Burma. However, it is dangerous and difficult to return to the country to try to educate others and make changes in the nation. This kind of information is almost impossible to find in Burma, so there is a huge discrepancy of knowledge between Burmese refugees and the Burmese still living in Burma.

The government also controls all digital technology. They filter internet and cell phone use pervasively. Internet access is only found in the big cities and it is very slow. In a nation with a population of about 55 million (2006 estimate), only 214,200 people had cell phones in 2006 and 40,000 were internet users in 2007. Although it is possible to get to filtered websites through proxies at internet cafés, the government has demanded that many internet café owners document their clients’ activities just in case the military wants to check in on them.

The Burmese government was even able to shut down the entire nation’s internet service for three weeks after a series of protests recently. The government does not need the people’s support to survive, and vice versa, which is how it has been for generations. I believe, that if somehow the majority of Burmese youth were able to realize all the truths that their government is hiding from them, they will be able to overthrow the junta, with or without the help of internet and cell phones.

-Sylvia Avila

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