Joy of teaching ethnic writing in Khmer pagodas

For Khmer people in Soc Trang, pagodas are places not only for religious activities but also to teach moral issues and language for monks and children in Phum Soc.
Joy of teaching ethnic writing in Khmer pagoda

Teacher Huynh Thanh Teo reviews lessons for monks preparing to participate in the Pali Rong examination at Sro Lon pagoda, My Xuyen district, Soc Trang province. (Photo: Phuong Nghi)

Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang has been renowned for its ancient pagodas with unique architectural styles which reflect the culture and belief of each ethnic group. The province is now home to 92 Khmer pagodas which are closely associated with the cultural, daily and spiritual life of local community.

Specially, pagodas organized classes to teach and foster Khmer script for monks and Buddhists in Phum Soc, contributing greatly to preserving and promoting their ethnic handwriting.

Coming to Sro Lon pagoda (Chen Kieu pagoda), Dai Tam commune (My Xuyen district, Soc Trang province), I met Teacher Huynh Thanh Teo when he was standing on the podium and using projectors to explain words and translating meanings from the Pali into Khmer languages so that the monks can easily understand.

Teacher Thanh Teo shared: “I come here to review lessons for monks who are going to participate in the Pali Roong examination, organized by the provincial Patriotic Monks' Solidarity Association. This year, apart from classes at Chen Kieu pagoda, I was invited to give lectures at other pagodas, including Tum Nup pagoda (An Ninh commune, Chau Thanh district), Tuk Sap pagoda (Lai Hoa commune, Vinh Chau town), and Prek Ta Kuol (Thanh Quoi commune, My Xuyen district). My greatest joy and pride are seeing my students pass the Pali Roong exam and be selected to study at the Southern Pali Culture Training School in Soc Trang province”.

For Son Vinh, a senior monk preparing to take the Pali Rong exam, studying Pali language is sometimes difficult. However, thanks to teacher Teo’s enthusiastic teaching, he understood his group’s language. “Each lesson of his class is a lot of fun. He often lets students think and speak. That helps us remember the lesson very quickly and feel comfortable in his class”.

At the age of nearly 80, Teacher Lam Len in Prek Chveng (Thanh Phu commune, My Xuyen district) still drives to pagodas every day to provide monks with important knowledge of the Khmer and Pali languages.

Coming to Prek On Dok pagoda (Can Duoc hamlet, Thanh Phu commune), in front of us, a respected teacher was standing on the podium, holding chalk and writing on the board with Pali words. This year, apart from classes at Prek On Dok pagoda, during the week, he was also invited to give lectures at Phothi Satharam pagoda (Ward 7, Soc Trang city) and Sala Pothi pagoda (Ward 2, Vinh Chau town).

Teacher Lam Len said after retirement in 2004, he was invited by Khmer schools, agencies, and pagodas to teach the Pali and Khmer languages, including the Southern Pali Culture Training School, Tra Vinh University, and Hau Giang College. Despite having thoughts about refusing to teach far away many times, he tried his best to continue teaching thanks to his dear students’ smiles. He wished that his students would pass the Pali Roong exam and have chances to study further.

Joy of teaching ethnic writing in Khmer pagoda

Free Pali writing classes for monks and children in Phum Soc, Soc Trang province. (Photo: Phuong Nghi)

Monk Ly Nol, a student at Sala Pothi pagoda said: “Having Teacher Lam Len teach Pali language in the past two years has been an honor for us. He lives simply, has a broad knowledge of the Pali and Khmer languages, and also understands the thoughts of his students. In teaching, he is very respectful and has a fascinating teaching method to help us absorb the lesson quickly. In addition, he guides us to choose higher education paths to become qualified to serve religious and ethnic work”.

With the spirit of dedicating their best to the nation's traditional culture, although Pali teachers do not have a salary, they have contributed significantly to keeping their nation's language accompanied with the country’s trend of integration and development in the renovation period.

Soc Trang has more than 362,000 Khmer ethnic people, accounting for over 30% of the province's population of 1.2 million. Local pagodas’ organization of Khmer language classes for local children makes a great contribution to preserving the script of Khmer language while helping children enrich their knowledge of Khmer culture.
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Translated by Phuong Linh