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Myanmar Ethnic Regions Keep Schools Open Amid National Closures for Pandemic

Students Attand Class at a Mon National School in Terriroty Controlled by the New Mon State Party in Southeastern Myanmar’s Mon State, December 15,2020- Photo Courtesy: RFA

Schools in ethnic army-controlled areas near Myanmar’s borders with Thailand and China have been operating regularly throughout 2020, even as most schools have been closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is surging in the Southeast Asian country.

Though all schools across Myanmar are closed due to the pandemic, schools in territory controlled by the Mon ethnic armed group, as well as others in Kayin state and Tanintharyi region, are open.

Authorities from the New Mon State Party (NMSP), an opposition party that signed the Myanmar government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement in 2018, said that Mon national education schools within its territory in Mon state have remained opened because they believe that students and teachers are not at risk of infection.

On Thursday, Myanmar recorded 113,082 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 1,182 new ones, and 2,377 deaths since March, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports. Yangon and Mandalay regions, home to Myanmar’s two largest cities by population, have recorded the highest number of cases. In Mon state, nearly 2,000 people have tested positive for the virus since April.

More than 20 Mon national schools have remained open at the request of students and parents, said Min Aung Zay, coordinator of the Mon National Education Committee (MNEC), which oversees a network of schools that educate primary students in their own language.

Mi Nwe Oo of Ei Shey village said she is conflicted over the decision.

“I am worried that my children would be distracted by the outside world if they didn’t go to school for a long time, but at the same time I am concerned about the risk of them getting infected if they are in school,” she said.

Authorities initially delayed the start of the academic year in 2020 to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but then opened schools under NMSP regulations intended to curb the spread of the virus, Min Aung Zay said.

“These schools are located in very far-flung areas of the New Mon State Party’s controlled territory,” he said. “Some are in the border area, but they are far away from population centers, so we have negotiated with the NMSP and agreed to keep them open.”

Authorities also wanted to avoid having idle children and unemployed teachers, he said.

“We were worried that our students might be distracted if the schools were not kept open,” he said. “We also worried that the teachers will be unemployed if the schools remained closed.”

‘It was up to the parents’

Overall, there are 1,506 schools in Mon state with more than 16,000 teachers. The MNEC administers a network of 133 Mon national schools that provide instruction to over 10,000 students in ethnic Mon communities across the state and in and neighboring Kayin state and upper Tanintharyi region.

The fewer than 100 schools that are jointly operated with the government provide instruction for over 14,000 students and employ 780 teachers.

Mi Thoon Malay, headmistress of Mon High School in Nyi Sar village, said the institution has remained open because there is no risk of COVID-19 infections in the community. Nevertheless, the school has implemented the NMSP’s virus protections measures.

“The Education Department also provided materials such as face masks and hand sanitizer for students,” she said. “That’s why we have been able to open our schools.”

Officials from Mon state’s Education Department said schools in areas outside NMSP-controlled areas would resume classes only after government-run schools reopened.

Mon national schools in Yebyu and the upper Ye Creek area in Tanintharyi region, and in Kyain Seikgyi and Payathonzu townships in Kayin state, are providing instruction, while other schools jointly operated with the government remain closed, they said.

Members of the NMSP’s central executive committee were not available for comment.

Some schools located in territory controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), which campaigns for the self-determination of the ethnic Karen people in mountainous Kayin state, also have decided to remain open during the pandemic.

Padao Saw El Htee, secretary of the KNU’s No. 7 Division in Hlaingbwe township, said the schools have remained opened under the guidance of parents.

“We closed the schools jointly operated with government since that is the government’s policy, but schools run by the Karen Education and Culture Department in KNU-controlled territory remained open,” he said. “We didn’t force the decisions. It was up to the parents. They wanted their children to go to school as usual.”

Nyi Rang, spokesman for the United Wa State Army’s liaison office in Lashio in northern Shan state, said most schools in the ethnic army-controlled territory are open.

“Schools in Panghsang are closed these days, but schools in other townships are open as usual,” he said.

Reported by Min Khine Soe Lynn for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Copyright © 1998-2020, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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How to identify Fake News or Messages on Social Media 

Beware of Fake News and Fake Messages on Social Media

Always follow websites or social media platforms of traditional media outlets whether newspapers, magazines,Television News Channels or Radio Stations and authentic online only media outlets.They still maintain journalism excellence and stress on reportorial talent.On the other hand, fake news websites run by people with non journalism background and promote their own ideology with fake news and disinformations and obviously conspiracy theories.

But unfortunately mainstream media also manipulates news to establish their story angle.There were various instances when News papers and TV Channels promoted fake news/conspiracy theories in the form of out of context or manipulated pictures/videos and distorted informations.

Always check the URL of any website.Some fake news websites look like the orginal and popular one the same layout,Logo but if you check the URL you may find extra words like if the orginal website's URL is the duplicate one might be or something like that so first check the URL for authentic informations.

Check whether photos are original or photoshopped.Check Google images for authenticity.You can find help from Google Reverse Images search.

Check the news sources from other websites whether they picked up the story or not.

Whether the website layout is little bit clumsy and obviously grammatical mistakes and spelling mistakes and excessive use of Sex related and sensational and hate stories.Because sex and hate sells.

Follow official websites relating to COVID-19

WHO Clarifies the disinformation about the virus:
COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates
Cold Weather and Snow can not kill the new coronavirus
Taking a Hot Bath Does Not Prevent COVID-19
COVID-19 Can not be transmitted through mosquito bites

Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth)

According to World Health Organization (WHO): Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water

Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth . If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early.

Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slight runny nose, until you recover.

Follow WHO guidelines

When you follow COVID-19 related news and messages from social media then check and recheck it before consuming it.Follow journalism mantra: if your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Most of the messages or informations quote different organizations like WHO, UNICEF, UNDP,Cambridge University  or other well known institutes,organizations or individual to authenticate the messeges.Check official websites of these organizations  if stories are repeated there

Forwarding messages from unknown sources or little known sources, it would be better to ignore it.

Check whether any logo like UNICEF or WHO or other organizations used in the messages which look similar to original logo.

These type of messages are full of Grammatical mistakes and spelling mistakes which are quite uncommon in original messages.

Some fake messages pretend to be real one like unofficial Twitter handle of international media organizations like BBC,CNN,Washinton Post, New York Times-check the official Twitter handles of media outlets.

You can identify fake messages if the message requests you to share it.

Beware of Fake News or Fake Photos/Videos Relating to Communal Hatred

Always check the fact checking sites if you have some doubts about the authenticity of any information or picture.

The Same Method Applies to You Tube Videos Check the Source the credibility of the Source.To Check Fake You Tube Videos Check and Recheck the sources. Does the person have the legal right to the video posted? Did that person capture the video? Whether it has been altered?

But due to advancement of technology we can not really wipe out fake news.According to experts advent of  Artificial Intelligence(AI) some companies small or big one developing  technologies that can  lay digitally created script to anybody's voice  even words,sentences never said by the person.Even they developing a technology which can create fake video footage,images,audios like originals.So be cautious! Rumour-mongers are active everywhere whether in physical world or cyber world.

Without evidence or with fake evidence, a conspiracy theory will always remain a conspiracy theory.

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