The junta is trying to tempt educators still on strike to return, saying those not judged to have committed serious crimes could have their absence treated simply as "unpaid leave".

There were at least 260 attacks on schools between May 2021 and April 2022, according to Save the Children charity.
There were at least 260 attacks on schools between May 2021 and April 2022, according to Save the Children charity. (Reuters)

Myanmar students have begun a new school year, with classrooms becoming the latest battleground in the polarised country.

While the junta is desperate to project normalcy, its opponents want teachers and students to stay away from classrooms.

In capital Naypyidaw, parents arrived by foot or scooter to drop off their children at a crowded school gate on Thursday.

The headmaster, who did not want to give his name, said there had been a 30 percent increase in enrolment compared with last year.

"We are not too worried about safety in Naypyidaw compared with other regions," he said, adding that "security forces" were keeping watch around the school.

Public schoolteachers — dressed in the green and white uniforms mandated by the education ministry — were prominent in the early mass protests against the military coup last year.

Sixteen months on, the junta is trying to tempt educators still on strike to return, saying those not judged to have committed serious crimes could have their absence treated simply as "unpaid leave".

Going back to school, however, comes with risks.

The military has struggled to crush resistance across swathes of Myanmar and low-level officials perceived to be cooperating with the junta are regularly targeted in assassinations.

READ MORE: UN: Over a million displaced in Myanmar

Teachers on strike

"Many of my students have joined the People's Defence Forces (PDF)" that have sprung up to fight the military, said Wah Wah Lwin, 35, a middle school teacher in northwestern Sagaing region.

Wah Wah Lwin said she had been forced to leave her village after she refused to join the teachers' strike last year and was accused of being an informant.

Now, as she teaches around 40 students in a makeshift school near a monastery, members of a pro-junta militia stand guard outside, providing protection in the absence of regular security forces.

Meanwhile, Moe Aye, an educator on strike in commercial hub Yangon, said she is happier teaching privately, visiting the homes of parents who want to keep their children away from junta-run institutions.

Other teachers supporting the boycott give lessons by video, delivered over the Telegram messaging app. 

But with internet access in some regions regularly cut by authorities and rolling power blackouts, online learning can be patchy and frustrating.

READ MORE: What is happening in Myanmar one year after the military coup?

Source: AFP