Mon Educators Work to Preserve Ethnic Traditions

By Nyein Nyein 10 January 2017

RANGOON — Instruction in ethnic languages at government primary schools still faces challenges, although the Burman-dominated country officially allowed classes at the early primary level three years ago, according to ethnic Mon educators.

Mon educators told The Irrawaddy about the challenges of teaching ethnic languages at the golden jubilee of the Mon Literature and Culture Committee (MLCC), where more than 500 ethnic Mon university students, teachers, professors, and ministers gathered in Rangoon on Sunday.

“I learned the Mon language until I was in 2nd grade. I wanted to learn more and kept learning from my older brothers,” said Mi Nang Yamone, a 20-year-old university student. She studied in a monastic class for three more years as a primary student. From 1981 to 2010, Mon language was mainly taught through monastic classes during summer break, from March to May.

Discrimination persists between Burmese and Mon language teachers at school, in term of facilities and furniture, even though the state parliament has approved instruction of both, as well as differences in curriculum and salary.

Mi Than Mon, a Mon language teacher at the government primary school in Mudon town, Mon State taught at a monastic school since 2011 and joined the government school in 2014.

“Mon language should be taught as a subject like Bamar Sar [Burmese language] at secondary and high schools, as well as at university. Now we are only able to teach it until 3rd grade,” she said, adding that informal language instruction was going nowhere.

She urged for government support to encourage the children to love the ancient language.

“Children’s interest in the Mon language is very low, partially due to a lack of encouragement. Children who excel in the language are not put on the annual list of outstanding students,” she told The Irrawaddy. Instead, dedicated teachers use their own money to award those outstanding students.

The government salary for ethnic language teachers is 30,000 kyats per month (about US$20), but the payment is made as a lump sum after 10 months, even though public school teachers are paid monthly throughout the year.

“If the ethnic languages were taught in their respective states and the government provided salaries, it would be great news,” said Naing Tin Oo, a professor at the Cooperative University in Thanlyin and chairman of the Golden Jubilee organizing committee.

Nai Cham Toik, another leader of the MLCC echoed the challenges of preserving Mon literature and culture, as there are fewer people who speak, read and write Mon.

Fortunately, the MLCC provides Mon language training for young people both at the primary and university levels in Rangoon, said Mi Pyone Pyone Aye, an educator and librarian at the National Library.

The MLCC was formed in 1966, when all organizations were dismissed years after the coup of Gen Ne Win. The golden jubilee is intended to raise awareness about Mon literature and culture and features exhibits of Mon historical books, traditional dress, symbols, dance and musical instruments, said committee leaders.

“When we started MLCC it was difficult but we carried on the task. We want the young people to know about it so they can pass it on to younger generations,” said Naing Tin Oo.