U Nayaka, Chair of MEDG, Principal of PDO

U Jokita, Assistant Principal at Phaung Daw Oo School is proud to announce the Venerable U Nayaka, Principal of PDO, has been selected as a Top 50 Finalist for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize. He was selected from thousands of nominees from 129 countries and is the only finalist from Myanmar.

The Global Teacher Prize, a $1million prize for one exceptional teacher, was established in 2014 by the Varkey Foundation. The purpose of the prize is to recognize and promote the importance of the teaching profession and has been dubbed the “Nobel Prize of Teaching”.

A strong network of monastic school in pre-colonial Myanmar had helped produce a literacy rate as high as most western countries. However Colonial economic and cultural differences, followed by the military period of political suppression, ruined both the state and monastic education systems. UNESCO reports only 50% of Burma’s children are now enrolled in secondary education.

"Myanmar’s democracy process before 1962 convinced me Myanmar was not able to sustain democracy because seventy percent of population was uneducated and does not have access to basic education necessary to improve their livelihoods." U Nayaka

As a young monk, U Nayaka had a dream of educating all poor children, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender (the traditional monastic system had been male-dominate). He founded PDO school in 1993, permitted by the Ministry of Religion as a Primary school for 450 students with 17 volunteer teachers. In 1994 it upgraded to a Middle School and PDO was licensed as a High School in 2000. International recognition came early with the Japanese government funding the first large classroom building in 1997 and soon followed by a second large building from an Australian donor. Additional classrooms, dormitories, a library, computer center and a school clinic have been funded by NGOs and donors from Germany, UK, Netherlands, and US.

U Nayaka recognized that the traditional rote memory teaching methods were not going to produce the creativity and critical thinking skills the country needs in its young leaders. For twenty years he has been fighting to change to “child centered approach” teaching methods in the monastic schools and also to influence the government to make similar changes. To achieve this he has organized the Monsatic education community into a cooperating network of schools, focusing on seeding new schools where none exist, especially in rural and conflict areas. Under his umbrella organizations, such as MEDG (Monastic Education Development Group), these schools are being provided with teachers, newly trained in western methods and emphasizing development of critical thinking skills and creativity in students.

Despite both political and cultural barriers and risks of introducing these western approaches, he has succeeded by using innovative paths such as competitive debate as a means to teaching dialectic and critical thinking as well as helping student gain perspective of both sides of an argument. Parent engagement is also being encouraged and despite cultural barriers is gaining acceptance in the network. Schools in the network are also provided with administrative support, as well as health and hygiene upgrades. Both MEDG and CPME (Center for Promoting Monastic Education) which focuses vocational training as well as basic education at the Middle School levels are moving forward with U Nayaka’s vision of an educated youth that will make a difference in their society.

FIGURE 1: MEDG trained teachers & support staff in monastic schools across Myanmar

The growth of the PDO school has not been easy. However the government has realized that PDO and the monastic education movement are strictly non-political and of no threat to the government. U Nayaka was recognized by President Thein Sein in 2013 with the State Excellence award.

PDO school students are imbued with both Buddhist moral principles as well as aspirations for a democratic future for their country. Responsibility for ones deeds, understanding and respect for others have been taught as critical life lessons. Exposure to foreign volunteer teachers as well as the ethnic diversity of the huge student body have helped students to grow as world citizens even during the period of Myanmar’s isolation.

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought but we need to also consider the rights of others." U Nayaka

He has also received, in 2012 Worthy of a Hero Award from 7 Day News Journal for Courage Personal Sacrifice for the Sake of Others. He has been recognized internationally as an expert on education in Burma and was invited to Washington DC in 2003 to consult at the US Dept. of State and in 2008 to consult at the United Nations in New York.

His latest project is to provide international quality teacher education at the college level by establishing a free university at Phaung Daw Oo in affiliation with Australia Catholic University. The program will commence in March 2016 with a diploma course in teaching methodologies. The program will be led by two teacher with Masters degrees from Australia Catholic and Victoria Universities in Melbourne Australia. The University administration will be headed by another PDO graduate who has received a Masters in organizational development from Mariana College in the Philippines.

In addition to teacher training programs, U Nayaka is working to upgrade and broaden the scope of education for the many novice monks studying across Myanmar. Traditionally their studies have been limited to Buddhist theology and Pali language. Since 2012, he has introduced additional curricula for novices at PDO and advocated with the country’s leading Pali educators to include the addition of mathematics and English curricula. In 2015 they are adding exams for these subjects at the basic, middle and advanced levels of Buddhist teaching at monasteries across the country. The purpose is to develop a more skilled cadre of religious leaders, in this country.

As division chairmonk of the Dhamma School Foundation, a new initiative has begun in partnership with the Shine Hope Company to educate the public concerning nutrition and food contamination. They are advocating a focus on fresh, local product and traditional foods as healthier than imported processed foods, high in sugar and chemical additives.

In partnership with Child's Dream Foundation, U Nayaka has built 11 new primary and middle level monastery schools in rural parts of Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions and have three more in the planning stages.

U Nayaka is on the board of the Pyin Nyawdaya Company whose aim is to support monastic schools across the country. They have provided both financial and technical support for disaster recovery and expect to start providing teacher trainings in the next funding cycle.

U Nayaka continues to crusade to educate his country in the strong belief that educated youth will become the leaders who can build a strong Myanmar.