Another rainy day in Myanmar. We spent the morning visiting the vast temple grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Out of nowhere, a flash of crimson passed by, an evanescent moment. The colour, so striking against the backdrop of gold, was unexpected, as was the youth and animation of the group. The young monks were quiet and respectful as they ambled through this magnificent Buddhist monument but their gait and facial expressions revealed something else.
Buddhist monastic schools play a vital role in the education of the poor and underprivileged throughout Myanmar, as well as in Laos and Thailand. I often visit these schools when in the vicinity, and watch as young monks are instructed in business maths or English grammar or art, the latter usually based on sculpting Buddhist images or restoring carved panels.
‘ Generally, Burmese monastic schools accept children from needy families who live nearby and are unable to attend government schools. Many of the orphans who attend monastery schools in Yangon and Mandalay are from remote areas and have been sent by senior monks from their villages and small towns. Some operate similarly as boarding schools and some as day schools depending on the situation and support of the public.
The schools are required to cooperate closely with township education authorities to be officially recognized. The operation and finance rely heavily on donations and collaboration from the public. The fees of most of the students at the school were covered by these donations, and some parents were able to make a small contribution.’¹