HO PONG TOWNSHIP, Shan State — The Burmese government will soon allow Buddhist monasteries to offer middle school-level education, Minister of Religious Affairs San Sint told reporters Thursday.
The minister was speaking at a meeting to review monastic education across Burma, being held this week at the Naung Taung monastery school in Ho Pong, southern Shan State.
Since 1992, monastery schools have been allowed to offer primary school-level education—for children aged between 5 and 9. According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, there are 1,597 monastery schools in Burma, with about 6,000 teachers and more than 260,000 students.
On the first day of the three-day meeting—the first of its kind to be held in Shan State—San Sint said monastic education would soon be extended to middle school level (ages 10-13), although he did not say when the change would be made.
“We already allow primary education in monastery schools. Now, as the monastery school leading monks have proposed, the Ministry of Education is considering how to allow middle school education in such monasteries soon,” the minister said.
More than 700 veteran monks who run schools are attending the meeting in southern Shan State to discuss the challenges facing monastic education in Burma, Sayardaw U Razainda Thiri, the principal of Naung Taung monastery school told The Irrawaddy.
He said the school has more than 1,000 students, and currently provides primary education, as well as accommodation for some students of nearby high schools.
“As the biggest monastery school here, we can welcome all the monastery schools from around the nation to make this big conference here to decide on future plans,” the monk said.
In Burma, where more than 80 percent of people live in rural areas, monastery schools provide education to many children who live beyond the reach of the government’s schools.
San Sint, the minster, said that the government allocated 2 billion kyat (more than US$2 million) for monastery schools in 2013-14, and he expected that this year’s budget would be similar for monastic education.
In the conference, the veteran monks are set to discuss reforms to Burma’s wider education system, lessons to be taken from international education systems and ways that monastery schools in Burma can become sustainable.
“We will be discussing whether monastery schools should build up their own teaching colleges or universities,” U Razainda Thiri said.
“We need to upgrade our monastic education to catch up with the international education system. For example, we’re now teaching computer skills and English-language training for students.”