Myanmar’s education system during the reign of kings and kingdoms was based on monastic schools. Members of the royal family and children of farmers and peasants received the same uniform teaching at monasteries.
They were first taught the fundamentals of Buddhism, ethics, and discipline, and eventually, divination, medicine, astrology, mathematics, and humanities. The education system was appropriate for its time and was top-notch as well. This allowed Myanmar to influence its neighbors back then.
After the second Anglo-Burmese War in 1894, the British government established the education department in Lower Burma which changed the nation’s education system. Monastic education declined during colonial rule as less people sought its teachings at a time when it was considered irrelevant.
In 1878, Calcutta University began teaching Burmese high school students, thus starting college-level education in the nation, and eventually, the Rangoon College was established in 1884.
At the same time, Judson College became more prominent and in 1918, it merged with Rangoon College to form the Yangon University. This was also where student boycotts were launched against the University Act.
The chief outcome of the boycott against the 1920 University Act was the awakening of a political consciousness among the Burmese people, something they had never experienced before. Tired of calling the colonials ‘Thakin’ or ‘Payar’ to show reverence, they revitalized their nationalistic spirit.
One of the students who took part in that particular boycott, Sayar Hein, recalled that eleven youths rendezvoused under a large tree in the southwest of Shwedagon’s compound to discuss a matter of utmost importance on the 8th day of Tazaungmone, 1281 ME, and their discussion was the precursor to a major shockwave across Myanmar.
He described how students from Yangon College and Judson College rallied their fellow students the next day and gathered about 600 of them to launch a movement that left an impact on the entire nation.
This year marks exactly a century since the Rangoon University students’ boycott of 1920. The nationalistic spirit, strength, and unity forged through the student movement pushed Myanmar forward on the path to independence. And, these qualities must be passed down from generation to generation as long as the world stands.