‘Without Knowledge, We Can’t Attempt to Develop’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 3 June 2014

HO PONG, Shan State — Khun San Lwin serves as chairman of one of Burma’s six self-administered zones, where the majority ethnic Pa-O population in Shan State were granted a degree of autonomy under the 2008 Constitution.

Formerly a member of the Pa-O National Organization, which signed a ceasefire with the government in 1991, Khun San Lwin speaks to The Irrawaddy about efforts to improve the region’s school system, and explains the important role that monastic education plays in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone.

Question: What is the population of the Pa-O region?

Answer: There are more than 400,000 people in these three townships and sub-townships. Under the 2008 Constitution, if there are more than half ethnic minorities in a given region, it can be recognized as self-administered. There are five self-administered regions in Shan State: Danu, Pa-O, Palaung, Wa and Kokang.

Q: How many monastic schools and students are there in this region?

A: The most influential and biggest monastic school here is Naung Taung Tat Oo School. Now the Naung Taung sayadaw [abbot] is try to help his fellow monks to open monastic schools like this school in Hsi Hseng and Pinlaung townships. We want to promote monastic schools in this region to develop an all-inclusive education sector. In this region, there are many orphanages; some poor parents want their children to go to school. There are more than 1,000 students at the Naung Taung school.

Q: Comparing government schools with monastic schools, which are more effective?

A: There are different types of systems for students here. Government schools have already set up the [curricular] framework. The government education system is changing as reforms aim to achieve an international standard. But the difference between the schools is that the monastic schools are not only teaching students, but also providing food and accommodation. Students must follow the monastery’s rules.

Q: With the political and policy reforms of the last few years, do you see the role of monastic education declining?

A: We need strong support for this education to meet this [international] standard. The free education system is a success in our country. Monastic schools are also participating in this system as much as they can.

Q: What percentage of the population in this region can read and write?

A: At minimum, 85 to 90 percent of the population can read and write in this region. We’ve been trying hard to reach this goal.

Q: What are the Pa-O people’s aspirations regarding their children’s education?

A: Since 1991—after we dropped our weapons in exchange for peace with the government—we’ve learned about the condition of education in this region. I’ve learned that without knowledge, we can’t attempt to develop our region.

I’ve tried to ensure that all children can go to school. I’ve seen there are many Pa-O residents who want to improve their situation, to take advantage of the changed situation. We still have a long way to go. Everybody has a responsibility to improve their children’s education future. We want all people to inclusively participate in our education goals.