Following one year of conflict between Burma's military and the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the number of internally displaced students currently enrolled in KIO-run schools is more than 10,000, according to the KIO's education department.
Although the schools that operate in KIO areas face a serious lack of textbooks and teachers the KIO says it will keep the schools open for the 2012-2013 school year, fulfilling a pledge issued by the KIO's central committee in May.
Until fighting broke out in Kachin and parts of northern Shan states in June 2011 the KIO ran 263 schools with 21,000 students throughout its territory. While the number of students going to KIO schools remains high more than half of the students are now are living in KIO-controlled displacement camps or KIO boarding schools.
Sara Kaba Htawngga Yaw Sau, a senior official with the KIO's Education Department said that since the fighting began an additional 30 schools have opened in KIO territory. The new schools offset the dozens of KIO affiliated schools mainly in Shan state that were closed last year when the fighting erupted.
Sara Kaba Htawngga Yaw Sau says that despite the enormous struggle to keep the schools functioning the KIO will continue funding and operating the schools. “While we may face some difficulties in running our free education system, we will continue to carry out our plan for the 2012-2013 academic year”, he said.
Ja Mai, the headmistress at the Laiza High School, told the Kachin News Group that schools face a lack of classrooms, chairs, tables and textbook making teaching very difficult. She said that the increase in internally displaced families in places like Laiza and Mai Ja Yang has added to the long list of issues which the KIO's education system had struggled with during the ceasefire period.
According to Ja Mai, before the war broke out last year, Laiza High School had 920 students but now the total number of students is 2,300. Due the huge increase in the school's population the students now learn in shifts and classes are far bigger than before.
Marip Roi Awng, a grade ten student at the Laiza High School described the situations far from ideal.
“Students are inconvenienced because there aren't enough chairs and teachers feel ineffective because they have to teach so many more students”, he said.
While the KIO has for decades manufactured machine guns its education department only very recently began producing Kachin language text books. Most of the KIO's schools teach in both Burmese and Kachin however the majority of the text books currently in use remain those made for Burmese government schools.
Students from KIO schools blocked by going to government schools in Shan state
The Kachin News Group has learned that hundreds of students who were previously enrolled in KIO affiliated schools in Shan state have been barred from attending government schools in their areas. The students who previously attended KIO schools in areas that were partially controlled by the government and the KIO have been unable to go to school because their KIO affiliated school closed after fighting broke out last year and because they are being discriminated and have barred from registering at nearby government schools.
Previously students from KIO affiliated schools could transfer to government-run schools with relative ease, however this is no longer the case in Shan state where local administrators from government schools have been enforcing an unofficial ban on accepting students from KIO schools.
Some of the students who were rejected by the government-run schools have been sent by their families to Mai Ja Yang to study in KIO schools there while many others have simply dropped out of school altogether.