Junta propaganda materials were distributed to students taking their matriculation exams at high schools in Naypyitaw this week, parents and teachers of the teens said.
Staff from the communications department of the military council handed pamphlets to the students as they exited the exam halls after taking their tests in ecology and biology on Wednesday. The documents listed the military’s resolutions for the upcoming 78th Armed Forces Day, commemorated on March 27, the 10 “rules” of being a soldier, as well as speeches by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Excerpts from speeches by independence icon Aung San, the father of imprisoned State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, were also reportedly included in the pamphlets.
“My son told me that the flyers included a dramatised story about how soldiers sacrificed their lives to protect civilians. He threw it away on his way home, so we didn’t see it,” a parent from Pyinmana Township said.
The local military council in Naypyitaw issued a statement on Wednesday on the distribution of the materials, saying that “it aimed for the students to have broad knowledge about Armed Forces Day.”
A teacher in the area who spoke to Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity speculated that the junta was looking for new recruits as troop numbers are on the decline.
“They’re trying to brainwash innocent students,” the teacher said. “The students going to the government schools right now are only doing so because their conservative parents made them go. It’s not like the youth today are ignorant, so their propaganda won’t succeed.
Cpt Zin Yaw, who served in the army for 17 years before joining the Civil Disobedience Movement in the aftermath of the February 2021 coup, said that the matriculation exam period was referred to as “recruitment season” during his time in the military, and that scouts were deployed to find potential newcomers.
“It’s the time when the students are extremely emotional, be it because they either pass or fail the exam,” he explained. “It’s the time when the students’ psyches are the most vulnerable and they are the most likely to join the armed forces. However, they’ve never done something as desperate as handing out propaganda materials before.”
Myanmar Now has documented the setbacks faced by the regime since the coup, including defections, large numbers of casualties, and a decline in voluntary recruits. The military has resorted to arming pro-junta civilians and calling on the family members of active troops to serve in the army for daily wages of under US$5.
The number of students sitting nationwide for the matriculation exam this year—161,851—has decreased dramatically since the coup, after which many students stopped participating in the junta-controlled education system. In 2019, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were more than 910,000 matriculation test-takers, of which around one-third passed the exams. In 2022, one year after the military takeover, this had dropped to around 280,000 participants, less than half of whom passed.