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From the Archive - 02.06.1945

Occupation halts lessons in Burma

Entering a little Burmese village, which I will call Minbyin, I talked with two Burmese teachers who lived under Japanese rule for three years. One was an elderly high school principal; the other, a woman of perhaps 25, was his cousin, who taught at the same school and who, but for the war, would have completed her studies at Rangoon University.

We talked in English. My host, U Bwint, and his cousin both apologised for their halting speech, saying that they had not been able to use English much under the Japanese. Indeed, they had been compelled to attend classes in Japanese, with a strong propaganda twist, though they had often played truant.

U Bwint called into his wooden house and a little girl of about 6 came shyly out. "She has lost all of her English," said her grandfather. "The Japanese wanted us to keep the school open and teach as they wished us to teach, but we would not. So there has been no education in this district for three years."

"Will you open the school now?" U Bwint spread his hands in a gesture of resignation. "The Japanese took the building as a barracks. Then came aeroplanes and damaged the roof. Later, the Japanese took the stones and timber to build their trenches."

It is difficult to estimate the effect of the occupation on Burmese education and culture. In 1942, literacy was higher than in most Eastern countries; every other Burmese man, and about one woman in seven, could write a fair letter in Burmese. One in 50 was literate in English.

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