Buddhism school trial `a success'

by SIRIKUL BUNNAG, Bangkok Post, July 25, 2005

Principles of dhamma succeed in classroom

Bangkok, Thailand -- Chai Nat could become the first province where all state schools subscribe to the principles of Buddhism in teaching their students following the success of a pilot project there.

Of the 203 primary and secondary level public schools in the province, 80 have turned from being general to being Buddhism schools since the launch of the trial a year ago.

Wasant Naniew, head of the education zone in the central province, expressed satisfaction with the trial, which he said gave students better discipline and encouraged them to use their time wisely, both inside and outside the classroom.

The project will be expanded to cover all public schools during this school year, with the cooperation of the provincial chief monk. He will send monks to organise religious activities in all schools every week, Mr Wasant said.

Given that 99% of students in the province are Buddhists, he was optimistic about the plan. Students in other religions would not be required to join Buddhist activities, despite studying in a Buddhism school, he said.

A Buddhism school is one of the five forms of state schools designed and promoted by the Education Ministry since 2003. The others are general schools, international and bilingual schools, high-tech schools using new information technology as a tool for teachers, and schools for gifted children.

The key principles in a Buddhism school are applying the Lord Buddha's dhamma in teaching and learning.

Sri Samosorn, in Nong Mamong sub-district of Chai Nat, is one of the 80 schools which joined the programme last year.

The school had problems with students breaking rules, including having long hair, skipping classes, smoking, brawling and even sexual harassment before joining the project.

The school director, Samrit Rongthong, said all problems had since decreased, including a sharp drop in the number of smokers from 50 to 10, fighting and sexual harassment issues. Accidents caused by students racing motorcycles were now a thing of the past, he said.

``Students now love themselves more and have started appreciating the value of their lives,'' the school chief said.

The key success of the school is to apply the Lord Buddha's teaching on morality, concentration and discernment to all activities. Students pray and meditate in the morning before classes begin and in the afternoon before leaving school. They also go to the temple on every religious day, he said.

Monks were invited to the school every Friday, when they spent two hours preaching to the students, he said.

``When the school started the programme, I came under criticism from parents who said that I was crazy because I was doing nonsensical things to their students,'' Mr Samrit said.

As the programme was now bearing fruit, he said the school had given the community new hope. Parents who had trouble before in handling their children's behaviour now thought they could groom them to be better people after all.

The increasing enrolment this year reflected this success, he said, with 120 students applying to join the school - a 20% rise.