Khmer pagodas preserve Khmer language, handwriting

VOV.VN - For the Khmer people, a pagoda is a place, not only for religious activities, but also to teach moral issues and personality. Soc Trang province has 92 pagodas, all of which hold classes to teach the Khmer language.

Teaching is a summer tradition at southern Khmer Theravada pagodas. Each year the pagodas prepare to welcome students who attend classes for free.

A pagoda that does not have a suitable classroom can borrow space at a nearby school, cultural house, or community house of the hamlet (phum, consisting of 3-8 families with kinship relationships) or village (sóc, consisting of several phum). The teaching is done by monks and volunteers.

Monk Kim Chi Thanh, who has studied in Thailand and is teaching at Ta Mon pagoda, tells VOV that they run three or four classes each year. This year they have three classes from grade 1 to grade 3.

“Every summer primary school children come here to learn the Khmer language. I’ve been teaching for a long time. Most of the teachers are monks who teach for free to help the children learn their mother tongue. If you are Khmer, you should know the Khmer language and writing system,” elaborates monk  Chi Thanh.

Students are of different genders, ages, and social backgrounds. Some are monks, but most are children eager to learn Khmer during the summer.

Students in difficult economic circumstances are given books and school supplies by the pagoda. Some pagodas have built dormitories for students and volunteer teachers who live too far away to commute.

Duong Trieu An, a primary school student from Tran De district, is studying at Ta Mon pagoda.

“I’ve been studying at the pagoda for a year. I can write, read, and spell. The teachers take good care of us. We hope more classes will be opened so that more children can learn Khmer. I study hard so I won’t disappoint my teachers, parents, and monks,” says An.

Despite limited pedagogical skills, the monks take advantage of the summer school vacation to teach the children Khmer in the hope of preserving and promoting the Khmer cultural identity.

Although Khmer isn’t a regular school subject, the pagoda classes are in line with the curriculum of the education sector.

According to Venerable Lam Binh Thanh, deputy head of Som Rong pagoda, each year the pagoda holds classes to teach Khmer children their mother tongue. The classes are open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. every day during the summer except Sundays. There are usually two classes each year.

“Newcomers learn from the beginning. Those who have studied Khmer before, take advanced classes. A number of the monks teaching here have studied at the southern Pali education complementary school,” says Venerable Binh Thanh.

In addition to writing, reading, and Khmer grammar, the children are taught Khmer customs, rituals, and traditional culture.

Thach Thanh Sang, a primary school student from Vinh Chau town, recalls last year he attended a summer class at Prey Chop pagoda to improve the knowledge of Khmer culture and writing.

“This year I continue to attend these classes because they are useful to me. I hope the pagoda will open more classes for more children to participate,” says Sang.

The Khmer language classes run every year by pagodas in Soc Trang province have contributed to improving people's knowledge, preserving and promoting the cultural identity, the language and writing of the Khmer people.

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