Mainstreaming Gumba Schools

November 11, 2017 10:18 AM Arun Poudel

KATHMANDU, Nov 11: Buddha’s most basic teaching comprises four noble truths: there is suffering in life, there are causes to the sufferings, there is cessation to sufferings, and there is a way that leads to the cessation of sufferings. 

Imagine learning these in a non-dogmatic and practical way. Imagine integrating the philosophy with basic education and developing a school curriculum that teaches English grammar to the children as they learn these fundamental truths of life. Or imagine learning love and compassion in relation to the federal democratic system of our country, under social studies. 

Buddhist scholars from different monasteries across the country have been coming together with educational experts and policymakers to integrate traditional monastic education with the national education system. These experts and scholars have welcomed the government’s and Buddhist monasteries’ recent efforts to integrate Gumba schools under the national education system. 

Many Buddhist monasteries in the country have been running schools based on the government-approved curriculum. Currently, the number of such schools stands at 110, out of which 38 had participated in the three-day conference on Gumba education, organized by Nepal Buddhist Foundation in association with Khyentse Foundation. In the recent conference held in Kathmandu on monastic education, experts and scholars discussed ways to better integrate the two education systems. They said integrating monastic Gumba education with the national education system needed meticulous effort, but it would be beneficial to all.

The government has formed Monastery/Vihar Management Council under the Ministry of Education that develops the curriculum and works for quality assurance of Gumba schools. It has already developed a curriculum for Gumba schools from Grade I to X, combining Buddhist teachings and the standard curriculum. Students from such schools get government recognition of formal education. 

“The government has given recognition to traditional education by mainstreaming it,” said Acharya Serki Sherpa, a Buddhist scholar and member of the Foundation. “This move has benefitted both the country and the society. The next move would be to build teaching content based on modern scientific discoveries, while also maintaining the purity of Buddhist teaching,” he said.

Dr Shanta Dixit, president of Rato Bangala Foundation, suggested developing a curriculum by drawing ideas from modern scientific knowledge of how the human brain functions. “Young children have the ability to learn things, basically languages. If we could apply methods of active learning by looking into the way our brains work, we would be able to help them grow in a much better way,” Dr Dixit said. 

“Knowing things only theoretically does not help much. If we could help children learn things practically, they would learn better,” she said, adding that active teaching would help children apply Dharma knowledge in real life, which would be beneficial not only to them but the entire society.  
“Dharma knowledge is of benefit to the lay people, and academic knowledge is of benefit to the monastic practitioners,” said Dr King Beach, a development psychologist from Florida State University. “Combining Dharma and academic education helps those who choose to stay in monastic life. It also allows them to function in society outside the Gumba.” 

“If the young monastic practitioners decide to leave the Gumba when they grow up and lead an ordinary life, the Dharma they learn teaches them compassion for others. It helps determine your behavior towards other living creatures. That infuses everything you do and benefits all,” Dr Beach added.  “On the other hand, if the children continue monastic life upon growing up; and if they can add, subtract, multiply and divide; if they can think logically and deal with issues of everyday life around them; if they can read, write and speak multiple languages, then it will definitely help them tremendously,” he added. 

Highlighting the importance of spiritual education, Vice-president of Nepal Buddhist Foundation Acharya Norbu Sherpa said, “Neither physical development nor spirituality can alone fulfill human needs. As Buddhist education is built upon the foundation of non-violence and interdependence, formal schools and universities have adopted Buddhist teachings in recent times. We should learn from them. Both should complement each other.”

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