School, state and Sangha in Burma

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    This article explores by means of an historical descriptive analysis of schooling in Burma the merits of historical descriptive analysis in comparative education. It demonstrates how control over schooling is likely to relate to state legitimacy. Prior to the nineteenth century, the supervision of teaching in Burma was undertaken not by the state but rather by the monasteries of the Theravada Buddhist order, the Sangha. The monastic schools were widespread and they served as an important legitimising device for both the Sangha and the Buddhist state, which were engaged in a competitive partnership. During the nineteenth century, the British colonial administration demolished the pre-existing socio-political structures that assured the Sangha its authority, and permitted alternative forms of public instruction. The teaching role of the Sangha was diminished, however not destroyed, and it continuously resisted the British intrusion. Following independence, rather than re-invest authority over schooling in the Sangha, the new state instead expanded its mandate over public instruction as a means to inculcate the 'national idea'. In the present day, schooling is subject to the dictates of an autocratic military regime, and the Sangha has been forced into a subordinate role in support of nationalist objectives, in contrast to its earlier powerful part in structural opposition to the state
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)45-63
    JournalComparative Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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