Getting a formal education is not all over for the monks of Tamzhing Dratshang in Bumthang. They now get a second chance at education through the monastery’s Pema Lingpa Central School initiative. The initiative is aimed at providing formal education to monks who have once lost the opportunity. Just as any other students, the monks go to the same school and attend the same classes but in their sacred monk robes.
It’s 7 AM and the little monks are off to their school. Clad in their monk robes and scout scarves fastened around their necks, they walk around 2 kilometres to Zangtherpo Primary School, their new learning centre.
There are five of them this year. Aged five to 10, they are all studying in Pre Primary. They have never got an opportunity to go to school before joining the monastery. The education initiative started with the guidance of Peling Sungtruel Rinpoche.
“Rinpoche told us to talk with the school administrators to find a way to support the monks with their education. So we met with the Principal and the teachers and they welcomed our proposal. So, the monastery is more like a shelter for the monks and we are like their parents. And they get their education from our partner school,” said Khenpo Sonam Tashi, Principal of Tamzhing Dratshang.
Initially, the monastery identified around 15 of them who haven’t had an opportunity to receive formal education for admission into the school. However, most of them were found too old to be admitted into Pre-Primary.
Nonetheless, the monastery also has a non-formal education initiative for older monks within the monastery’s campus. They are taught English, Mathematics, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Buddhist Studies in addition to their regular monastic education.
The monastery has also developed curricula from Pre-Primary to Master’s degrees in accordance with the Royal University of Bhutan’s requirements.
“The curricula are designed to make the monks internationally competent as per Rinpoche’s advice. Before the curricula were finalised, the Khenpos and teachers of our monastery sat with curriculum experts and carried out research and review activities,” said Khenpo Sonam Tashi.
The monastery has recruited an ICT and an English teacher in addition to the existing faculty. It is currently working with the education ministry to formally incorporate the curricula into the education system.
“Almost 90 per cent of monks leave their monasteries halfway through their studies. So what Rinpoche observed was that most of the men getting involved in social issues or those not doing well in life are generally ex-monks. Rinpoche said this could be due to a lack of modern education. So we developed the curricula to enable the monks to find a source of livelihood for themselves even if they leave monkhood,” added Khenpo Sonam Tashi.
The initiative is in its initial stages and if proven successful, it will be instituted in other monasteries such as the Drametse and Kenchosum monasteries which are also branches of Tamzhing Dratshang.