Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/710

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688
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
A CAMBODIAN PRIMARY SCHOOL.

By M. ADHÉMARD LECLÈRE.

THE Véat, or Buddhist monastery, is in Cambodia very much what the Christian monastery was in Europe in the middle ages — a community of persons devoted to religion, having a chapel, a place of entertainment for strangers, and a school for boys. The schools directed by the mendicants are most generally primary schools, where are taught gratuitously and in a spirit of charity to voluntary pupils reading and writing in the Cambodian language and characters; prayer in the dead language of Maghada (or Pâli), which has become the sacred language of the Buddhists of the Southern Church; reading of the Balery Mokoth, or Maghada texts, which are written in Cambodian characters on palm leaves; arithmetic; and a little religious morals on "earth to earth."

The superior of the monastery is the chief professor and exercises a general direction over the other professors and the pupils, without personally giving much attention to the instruction. Under him is a monk known as the reading professor, who reads on festival days, in the temple or in the hall of the monastery, from the sacred book, the life of Buddha and a few fragments of his teaching, and in the absence of the superior supervises the observance of religious discipline. The other monks, generally spoken of as gentlemen of the clergy, or of the assembly, or of the church, are addressed by the pupils as the professor or my professor.

All the bonzes can read and teach reading, but there are many who hardly know how to write and are absolutely incapable of reading aloud in the assembly of the faithful. Only a few of them are so advanced as to comprehend what they read without pronouncing the words. In short, although the instruction given in these institutions is very elementary, and there is absolutely no discipline, the Buddhist monks are nevertheless the veritable and only teachers of children, their beloved and respected schoolmasters, and their spiritual fathers, to whom it is "good form" to be submissive, the respected educators of the people.

The pupils are of two kinds — those who are dressed like the laity and those who are dressed like the bonzes. The former are designated by terms meaning children who study, who learn, or pupils; the others are novices. But those of both classes who are of the same age pursue the same courses. Those of the second class, the novices, are incipient bonzes. They accompany the monks who go out in the morning to beg, and, like them, hold out the wooden contribution boxes for the alms of boiled rice. Fur-