Religious Affairs Ministry Pledges Expansion of Monastic Education

By Zarni Mann 21 May 2015

MANDALAY — A Buddhist conference held to discuss monastic education has been promised the expansion of a number of monastic primary schools across the country, in order to increase access to free education for the children of rural and poor families.

Soe Win, The Minister of Religious Affairs, said that stalled expansion plans would resume from the 2015-16 academic year, according to those present at the conference.

“The minister said that the ministry will expand 35 primary schools to cover middle school education, and six others will cover high school education, starting from this academic year,” said U Nayaka, the head of the Phaung Daw Oo monastic school in Mandalay. “The plan was actually approved last year, but it was delayed due to internal matters in the ministry.”

The two-day conference, attended by hundreds of abbots and volunteer teachers from monastic schools across the country, concluded on Thursday in Hopong, 20 miles south of the Shan State capital of Taunggyi.

A similar forum was held in the same location last year, during which the former Minister of Religious Affairs, San Sint, also promised funds to provide school upgrades. Soon afterward, San Sint was sacked from the ministry and convicted on corruption charges, leaving the upgrade plans in limbo.

All 1579 monastic schools in the country are registered under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. First emerging as a system of alternative education to government schools in 1992, the schools now operate with around 7000 teachers and 260,000 students nationwide, primarily drawn from families who cannot afford government education. Monastic schools rely on volunteer teachers and limited budgets, and most educate only to a primary school level.

“It is like some of our dreams come true. We’ve been waiting so long for this upgrade because most students who finish primary education have no choice but to leave school,” U Nayaka told The Irrawaddy.

The ministry is also planning to increase funding for teacher salaries and training. In 2013, the government provided 3 billion kyats (US$2.95 million) in financial support to the schools, which allowed some teachers to receive a monthly honoraria of 38,000 kyat ($34.90).