Every child in Myanmar when they reach the age of eight of nine has the opportunity to begin their education at a Buddhist monastery, or pongyi kyaung. It will always be the students choice to enter the monk-hood or become a layperson but at the monastery they must all abide by the same rules set by the five universal Buddhist commandments; do not take a life, steal, have unlawful relations, tell lies or take intoxicants.
The education focuses on the tenets of religion and the teachings of the Buddha as well as the usual secular classes such as math and science. Monastic education now bases part of its curriculum means that more children, regardless of religion, are able to study at the monasteries. The venerable U Zitila, from the Thayet Taw Monastery in Lanmadaw Township, said manastic education schools are aiming to attract a more inclusive class of students than in the past, so many raw now offering government educations with permission from the ministries of Religious Affairs and Education. In 1946 Buddhist missionaries in Myanmar started a monastic education project with the aim of opening more monastic schools in remote mountain regions of Myanmar, the venerable said. This program was finally formalized in 1992 with permission from the government and with the expanded aim of opening monastic schools throughout the country using state-run curricula. “In olden times, Christians made missionary trips to the snow-capped hills of Chin State and Kachin State. They won over locals through their humanitarian work, which included the provision of free education. No one is to blame but us (Buddhists); we ignored these people, and it is time to redress the balance.” Monastic schools today especially target orphans or children from destitute families, who cannot afford to pursue formal education. Some well-funded monastic schools also provide students with free food and accommodation while many others are just normal day schools. The two ministries_ The ministry of Education and the Ministry of Religious Affairs_ collaborate to supply curricula and textbooks to interested monastic schools, which are run under the management of a Buddhist monk. Venerable Ashin Nanda Wuntha, a patron of the Sutaung Pyae (2) child development and monastic education school in Thanlyin Township, Yangon Region, said many parents are attracted to monastic schools because they offer a good free education. “We accept children regardless of their religion but we give them Buddhist moral lessons. But our main focus is provide students with enough schooling to help them in their later lives,” he said. Monastic education fulfills two purposes in Myanmar; firstly it promotes the teachings of the Buddha and secondly fills a void in the state some parents can’t afford. Sitagu Sayadaw Dr Ashin Nyanissara, a leading Theravada Buddhist, said that this second role gives monastic education a humanitarian element that aims to promote literacy throughout the country. Myanmar benefits from one of the highest literacy rates in Southeast Asia. The Ministry of Information released a report in 2007 that stated the national literacy rate for those over the age of 15 to be 94.75 percent. “Monasteries in the past focused on religion but now to fill the hole that state education leaves, “ the venerable Sitagu Sayadaw Dr Ashin Nyanissara said. “There are many children and orphans who can not get a primary education, even though the state does try and offer education in the furthest corners of the country,” the venerable said. “In the teaching of Buddha, we the sons of the Buddha, have to care for the welfare of laypeople and encourage filling ultimate aim of nibbana (nirvana)_ the cessation of all desire, supplying education is one of the steps for goal of morality, mentally as well as intellectuality of mankind in the teaching of Buddha,” the venerable added. According to the list from the department of promotion and propagation for Sasana under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, there are now more than 1400 monastic schools in 248 townships throughout Myanmar that have opened under this system: 1100 primary schools, 190 advanced primary schools, 112 middle schools and two high schools.