Scrip­ture schools feed dreams

Tem­ples un­der royal pa­tron­age give poor ‘novices’ a chance of suc­ceed­ing in life, writes Apinya Wi­patay­otin

Bangkok Post - - SPOTLIGHT -

Bud­dhist-ori­ented “scrip­ture schools” are of­ten the only source of ed­u­ca­tion for young boys from im­pov­er­ished fam­i­lies in Thai­land that can­not af­ford a state ed­u­ca­tion, but these tra­di­tional teach­ing bases have for years suf­fered from ne­glect and a lack of fund­ing.

Now they are now back on the pub­lic radar and get­ting the at­ten­tion they need cour­tesy of a royal help­ing hand and con­tri­bu­tions from sta­te­owned or­gan­i­sa­tions, mean­ing more kids fated to slip through the so­cial safety net now have a chance of chas­ing their dreams.

For many poor par­ents in ru­ral ar­eas, ed­u­ca­tion is a luxury. Send­ing their chil­dren off to school re­mains out of their reach de­spite var­i­ous gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies that are avail­able in com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion.

The par­ents see no choice but turn to lo­cal tem­ples for spir­i­tual as well as prac­ti­cal help in ed­u­cat­ing and feed­ing their young­sters — al­most al­ways boys.

The fam­i­lies count on the tem­ples to help them sur­vive poverty as they of­fer full board while guar­an­tee their off­spring will at least be taught to read and write as they study reli­gious scrip­ture time and again.

These so-called “scrip­ture schools” dis­pense ed­u­ca­tion in a con­ser­va­tive way, some­times us­ing a self-styled cur­ricu­lum. But the fo­cus is on the study of Bud­dhism and fun­da­men­tal read­ing and writ­ing cour­ses. The schools en­roll novices from Mathayom 1-6 (grades 7-12).

How­ever, some of the ma­jor sub­jects taught at main­stream schools are ei­ther ab­sent or in­ad­e­quately taught, mak­ing it a dif­fi­cult jump for the novices from the tem­ple to a reg­u­lar class­room.

De­spite this, tal­ented stu­dents can go on to Bud­dhist uni­ver­si­ties or in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing on schol­ar­ships — they are a rare breed.

The tem­ples that run the schools com­plain of stingy bud­gets and a lack of state as­sis­tance.

They are mostly self-funded, with t he monks re­ly­ing on fund-rais­ing schemes such as an­nual robe-giv­ing rites to keep them chug­ging along.

They also of­fer vary­ing stan­dards of ed­u­ca­tion de­pend­ing on their fi­nan­cial sta­tus. Of­ten, those in ru­ral ar­eas suf­fer the most. But their for­tunes are slowly re­vers­ing with the aid of the royal palace.

Wat Sri Muang Mang tem­ple scrip­ture school is one of 69 na­tion­wide cho­sen to ben­e­fit from royal pa­tron­age un­der the guid­ance of Her Royal High­ness Princess Maha Chakri Sirind­horn.

The schools have been thrown a life­line since they were placed un­der the roy­ally ini­ti­ated project.

The tem­ple and its at­tached school, which is known as Phra Pariy­atthitham Pakhem Wit­thaya, are run by ab­bot Phra Khru Jantawiriy­opas. They are lo­cated in Phayao’s Chi­ang Muan district near the Lao bor­der.

Phongphan Ekarwut, who is re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy at the schools un­der Princess Sirind­horn’s pa­tron­age, said the project was launched 15 years ago when the princess toured Nan prov­ince and vis­ited Wat Bo Luang Wit­tay­atham School there.

She re­port­edly saw the squalor that novices had to en­dure and the poor qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion of­fered there and re­solved to do some­thing about it.

The princess used her own money to raise the stan­dard of ed­u­ca­tion be­ing of­fered, which marked the start of the project.

Ms Phongphan said the princess dis­cov­ered first-hand dur­ing her trip that the novices re­lied on do­na­tions of sticky rice from lo­cals to sur­vive. She soon ar­ranged to set up a fund to help pay for nu­tri­tious meals, milk and other forms of nour­ish­ment a grow­ing child needs.

The project re­quires mil­lions of baht per year. “We want to see novices get a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion. They’re no dif­fer­ent from reg­u­lar stu­dents who re­ceive sup­port from the gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing school milk,” she said.

There are at least 40,000 novices in 400 scrip­ture schools na­tion­wide, she added.

Help has also been forth­com­ing from gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

The Na­tional Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy De­vel­op­ment Agency (NSTDA) has stepped in to teach sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy sub­jects at some of the schools. These sub­jects were added af­ter the princess made it known she wanted the novices equipped with the tools they need to suc­ceed in a fast-chang­ing, dig­i­tal so­ci­ety.

In re­cent years more main­stream sub­jects have been in­tro­duced.

Wat Sri Muang Mang is ed­u­cat­ing 50 novices. It has four teach­ers for sub­jects like English and math­e­mat­ics and six monks who teach reli­gious dis­ci­pline as well as the sa­cred lan­guage of Pali — used in early Bud­dhist texts — and the Lanna di­alect used in north­ern Thai­land.

Phra Khru Jantawiriy­opas, di­rec­tor of Phra Pariy­atthitham Pakhem Wit­thaya, said the school’s fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties have eased in the wake of the royal as­sis­tance.

Mean­while, the Na­tional Of­fice for Bud­dhism has al­lo­cated a sub­sidy of about 12,000 baht per novice each year. This cov­ers text­books, meals and the teacher’s salary.

Real ex­penses dwarf this. The school has reached out to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and other stake­hold­ers for fi­nan­cial sup­port. One of the sup­port­ers is KTBGS (KTB Gen­eral Ser­vices), an af­fil­i­ate of state-owned Krung Thai Bank.

For three straight years KTBGS has in­vested in school build­ings at Phra Khru Jantawiriy­opas’ tem­ple and do­nated ed­u­ca­tional tools to em­power lo­cals and sus­tain the com­mu­ni­ties.

This year, it or­gan­ised the robe-giv­ing rite and raised over 700,000 baht for the scrip­ture school. It ex­pects to hire more teach­ers and pro­vide ad­di­tional schol­ar­ships for out­stand­ing novices so they can con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion at univer­sity.

Ora­janya Chan­tha­wor­ra­sut, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of KTBGS, said the com­pany be­lieves longterm sup­port holds the an­swer to strength­en­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

KTBGS em­ploys over 7,400 staff and takes care of 9,900 ATM ma­chines around the coun­try.

With all that cash fly­ing around, the com­pany fig­ured a merit-mak­ing trip to the tem­ple would draw em­ploy­ees closer to re­li­gion and ham­mer home the im­por­tance of virtues like hon­esty and self­less­ness.

“Our def­i­ni­tion of ‘cap­i­tal’ is not money, as­sets or share­hold­ers,” Ms Ora­janya said.

“If we have good peo­ple and a good fam­ily, it will bring us pros­per­ity. And we know re­li­gion lays a path to good­ness.”

Mean­while, Phra Kru Soon­thorn­boon­nitwit, chair­man of Phra Pariy­atthitham School in Phayao, said novices are cru­cial to keep Bud­dhist teach­ing alive as they rep­re­sent the next generation of monks.

He said the com­mu­nity and tem­ple must work to­gether to main­tain the school.

The tem­ple some­times shares its cash do­na­tions with lo­cals through projects to as­sist the el­derly and the sick, he said, il­lus­trat­ing how re­cip­ro­cal help serves all those on the fringes of so­ci­ety.

We want to see novices get a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion. They’re no dif­fer­ent from reg­u­lar stu­dents. PHONGPHAN EKARWUT DEVEL­OPER OF SCI­ENCE AND TECH­NOL­OGY AT SCRIP­TURE SCHOOLS UN­DER PRINCESS SIRIND­HORN’S PA­TRON­AGE

Lo­cals and vis­i­tors join a reli­gious rite at a lo­cal tem­ple in Phayao. Tem­ples and schools are the pil­lar es­tab­lish­ments of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in the North.

PHO­TOS BY KTB GEN­ERAL SER­VICES

Pub­lic do­na­tions have fi­nanced the con­struc­tion of a new build­ing at the Wat Sri Muang Mang tem­ple scrip­ture school, one of 69 na­tion­wide cho­sen to ben­e­fit from royal pa­tron­age un­der the guid­ance of Her Royal High­ness Princess Maha Chakri Sirind­horn.

For many novices from poor fam­i­lies, scrip­ture schools are their only chance of get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion.

Novices sit down to a meal pro­vided by Bud­dhist dis­ci­ples vis­it­ing the Wat Sri Muang Mang tem­ple scrip­ture school.

The scrip­ture school has re­ceived gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies and pub­lic do­na­tions which en­able it to pro­cure school equip­ment, in­clud­ing a mi­cro­scope, for the novices.

Vis­i­tors ar­rive at Wat Sri Muang Mang for the ‘kathin’ or robe-giv­ing cer­e­mony, which also raises funds for the tem­ple school.

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