YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who was forced to spend years of solitude under house arrest, has hit out at young people “wasting time” on computer games and social networking. The veteran opposition politician, whose party will soon take power after winning landmark elections last November, made the comments in a letter to organizers of a literary festival at the weekend in Yangon. “Our lifestyles are changing nowadays as technology improves,” she wrote in a public letter to the Nobel-Myanmar Literary Festival posted online late Saturday.
“Now our children waste a lot of their time on computer games, Internet games and social networks. Children read less because the use of technology has increased,” she added. Suu Kyi is widely adored in Myanmar for her years of steely opposition to decades of brutal and corrupt junta rule.
In November her National League for Democracy (NLD) trounced the military-backed governing party and will soon form a new administration — though the army will still wield significant power under the junta-written constitution. The NLD’s electoral success owes much to capturing the youth vote in a country where just over half the population is under 27. But Suu Kyi, who turned 70 last year and was an academic before she became a politician, has never professed to be at the forefront of technology.
For the best part of two decades she had little more than a dusty library of books and the radio to keep her company during long periods of house arrest, before her release in 2010 and the country’s slow transition towards a quasi-democracy. Just a few years ago access to the Internet was limited and monitored while a cellphone would cost thousands of dollars.
Now Myanmar is as awash with smartphones and social media accounts as many of its regional neighbors. In her letter Suu Kyi also hit out at education standards, citing underfunding as well as a tendency toward rote learning rather than critical analysis. “We rarely have libraries in our schools and we have no more time to read books when we are in class,” she said.
“Our education system is about learning by heart and answering questions, limiting critical thinking and reading books.” Under junta rule education and healthcare spending was chronically neglected as the military lavished what little income the impoverished nation had on itself and its allies within the business elite.
Expectations are sky-high that Suu Kyi and the NLD will begin to reverse that trend. But the military still retains control of key security ministries, a de facto veto in parliament and huge economic clout through army-owned conglomerates. Suu Kyi is also banned from becoming president under the military-drafted constitution. She has vowed to be “above” whoever is chosen as president.