THEY educate one in seven school-age students, but monastic schools are struggling to find the funds needed to employ teachers and purchase basic learning materials, abbots say.
Unlike state schools, monastic schools rely on contributions from donors and non-government organisations. Many double as orphanages and provide accommodation and meals to their students, which takes resources away from the classrooms, said Badanta Zayar Nanda, the abbot at Aungzeyarmin monastic school in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township.
“We still need more funds to run our school. At the moment we rely on the daily collection of alms and contributions. There are more than 300 students who sleep here and more than 200 are orphans,” he said.
The school offers classes from kindergarten to seventh standard, after which students who want to continue studying are sent to nearby high schools.
“We have more than 1000 students … and 32 teachers, whose salaries are K40,000 a month. The cost of the salary is split between us and Shine Hope Company. We want to recruit more but we just can’t afford it.”
At a recent workshop, U Myo Tint, retired deputy rector of Institute of Education, said 16 percent of school-age children study at monastic schools. While there are several thousand registered monastic schools, catering to more than 200,000 students, he estimated there were something like 13,000 monastic schools nationally, or one for every five villages.
A monk from the Sagaing Region Monastic School Education Supervisory Committee, a Ministry of Religious Affairs body, said the government’s policy was that the monastic sector should not be a “burden” on the state budget.
“It means they should do as much as they can with their own means,” he said. “Some schools have funds for teacher salaries but most do not. Likewise, some have sufficient buildings while others do not.
“Of course the Ministry of Education is obligated to [educate the students]. But the Ministry of Religious Affairs is taking on part of this duty, as much as it can.”
Monastic schools are administered by the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Department of Promotion and Propagation of Sasana.
An abbot from a monastic school in Hlaing Tharyar township said that since his school was established in 1997, the only state support it had received was exercise books from the Ministry for Progress of Border Areas, National Races and Development Affairs. “To be honest, I’m just happy that they allowed me to set up the school,” he said.
But the shortage of funds means students at monastic schools often lack stationery and text books, while teachers need to make do without teaching aids, Badanta Zayar Nanda said.
As monastic schools generally cater to those who cannot afford the state system, he said many monastic schools needed to offer free lunches to ensure the students turned up for school.
“If we have 200 enrolled students, only about 100 will come each day because their parents cannot afford to prepare lunch for them. We offer lunch to keep them in school,” he said.
“I try to make them literate and educated to save them from becoming street children. Most companies won’t employ people who are barely literate; this is why I decided to focus on providing formal education.”
Another abbot from Shwepyaysoe monastery in Mingalardon township, said establishing a network of benefactors was essential to fund a monastic school. “I myself faced difficulties in attending school so I established a monastic school with the help of benefactors, after considering how much I would need to both establish it and keep it running,” he said.
The abbot of a monastic school in Sagaing established in 1962 said he relied on donations from individuals and NGOs for all running costs.
The school has about 300 students and 11 teachers, five of whom are monks.
“The monks have to teach in the [monastic] schools but there are not enough of them for all the students, so teachers from outside are appointed as well,” the abbot said.
“They are paid about K30,000 a month in cash and in kind. Each month, a nearby factory contributes K5000 and the monastery gives K10,000, as well as about eight pyi (half a basket) of rice to each teacher.”
For many teachers at monastic schools, money is not the primary motivator.
“I am Buddhist so I always want to do things that are beneficial to my next incarnation,” said U Win Ko, a teacher at a monastic school in Ywathitkyi village near Sagaing.
“If I impart my knowledge to these children, they will in turn hand it down to the next generation … so I am satisfied with my virtuous deeds. I am going to help them as much as I can.”