As poverty in Myanmar (Burma) deepens, Buddhist monasteries have started schools to provide basic education and care for the increasing number of poor children who cannot afford to attend state schools. These schools accept students of both sexes and of all ethnicities and religions, and use the standard state curriculum. The monks and nuns leading these schools see education as vital to the future of their country. The state spends less than 2% of gross domestic product on health and education, leading to a serious deterioration in the country’s future prospects.
In Myanmar, teaching methods are typically rote and resources for teacher development are inadequate. While the abbots and teachers running monastic schools are truly dedicated to serve the poor as part of their religious duty or the practice of Metta (compassion), few have training in school management or understanding of education principles and developmental needs of children. The teachers are typically young women who have completed high school, but lack teaching qualifications.
Responding to these challenges, leaders within the monastic school system developed a program for improving monastic education. They developed a teaching model that goes beyond basic literacy and numeracy to foster self awareness, critical thinking, and eco-friendly life-skills. The program includes follow-up and mentoring of teachers and schools to sustain the practices learned during the intensive 10 week training.
The self-awareness component is aimed at building the trainees’ team spirit, confidence and commitment. The life skills component introduces practical skills for poor communities struggling with daily survival through introducing teachers to organic farming, nutrition, and natural soap and shampoo making. Teachers learn that there is much to teach students outside the classroom walls.
In 2010 and 2011, the first 100 teachers from 25 schools underwent the ten-week training. AFSC has supported this process from the beginning, providing the services of an educational adviser and advisors on program and financial management. AFSC believes that supporting local initiatives is the best way to strengthen civil society.
Below are some comments from teachers who underwent the training:
“This training is more systematic and holistic; it starts with making us understanding ourselves before we get into how to improve the way we teach. So we learn to know ourselves, know our values, and know how to work with others, and that motivates us to improve how we teach and deal with children”.
“Awareness training helps us to use positive thinking and know how to control ourselves and reduce negative thinking. This helps us learn how we can get cooperation from other teachers and from students.”
“Combining life-skills training with awareness training and ‘reading and writing for critical thinking’ is very good for the school – we now know how to introduce many practical skills for children to learn – not only from books, but working together to do things together. The children are happy and teachers and monks are happy to be working together.”
“Life-skills training gave us very practical ideas on how to integrate real life learning into the school. We have now started our own school garden and composting and now teachers and students work together happily to grow vegetables and fruits for the school.”