Buddhism in Cambodia has bounced back from near total suppression by the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge to resume its role as a cornerstone of the Kingdom’s education system, driving students to excellence on both spiritual and more mundane levels, according to one senior monk.
Venerable Samdech Preah Mahasomethea Thipadey Nun Nget, the 84-year-old director of all Buddhist schools in Cambodia, said the concentration and moral strength Buddhism encourages often translates into more impressive academic performances than a purely secular education provides.
“The degrees from Buddhist schools are the equivalent of degrees from public schools but, based on my own observations, even though the degrees are the same, the monks are much more brilliant than common students,” Nget said.
“Monk-students are more industrious, spend more time working and are more moral than students in common schools. Therefore, it is rare that monk-students fail the exams needed to graduate from high school or university,” he added.
According to a 2007 annual report by the Ministry of Cults and Religions, Cambodia has 549 Buddhist primary schools with 12,174 monks, 26 Buddhist secondary schools with 6,200 monks, and two Buddhist universities with 977 students. In addition, there are 726 “discipline schools” that teach dharma classes to a further 13,612 monks.
The schools follow largely the same curriculum as secular schools but include studies in the traditional Buddhist languages Pali and Sanskrit.
Nget said that since 1993 about 300 monks have gained scholarships to study Sanskrit and English literature at universities in other countries with strong Buddhist traditions.
“Last year, three monks gained scholarships to earn their master’s degrees in India, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, while another eight monks went to study in Japan,” he said.