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People’s History of South Asia

Southeast Asia is a region of Asia that comprises countries including South of China, north of Australia, west of New Guinea and east of India. The two major regions of Southeast Asia are Mainland Southeast Asia and the Maritime Southeast Asia. The other name for Mainland Southeast Asia is Indochina, which comprises of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma and Laos. Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia are constituent regions of Maritime Southeast Asia.[1] The major religions of Southeast Asia are Buddhism and Islam, and some Christianity, Hinduism and animist-influenced practices. All countries of Southeast Asia except East Timor are member countries to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The whole region of Southeast Asia covers an area of approximately four million and five hundred square kilometers.[2] Educational development, nationalism and revolution have been the critical agendas in Southeast Asia since 1870s. Political leaders and intellectual personalities dedicated to education, nationalism, and revolution have always initiated strategic efforts to achieve the objectives associated with these elements.
Education Development in Southeast Asia
            Every generation transmitted its stock of values, skills methods, and traditions from one generation to another since the beginning of human existence. The systematic provision of learning began to develop approximately two hundred years ago. The growth of schools for children increased over time due to initiatives of the priests, bureaucrats and specialists. The religious leaders headed schools and were responsible for moral and intellectual growth of children. The early history of Southeast Asia picked up as an aspect of seminal writings that occurred at religious centres. The eagerness of the rulers and elites to absorb influences and ideas from the international arena accelerated the quest for education in the region. The earliest traces of teaching and learning in Southeast Asia are found in Hindu and Buddhist instruction manuals, development of Monastic cultures across Asia and trails that  were left by circulation of scholars.[3] These indicators are believed to have contributed to the lodgment of successive world religions and their traditions of high learning in the region’s cosmologies. Transnational networks and interactions led to the emergence of educational entrepreneurs. The role of educational entrepreneurs was to draw on financial resources and international networks to put up reformist schools of Islam and printing presses.
Prior to 1920s, the accumulated wealth of Southeast Asia countries was used to erect educational projects such as schools and printing presses with an objective enhancing educational development. The South Indian Muslims, Tamil Social Reformers and jobbing Theosophists recognized scientific development as a critical force behind societal development.[4] The countries devised patterns of regional migration with the hope that these individuals will return home equipped with new wealth of knowledge and skills. An example of this group was the Minangkabau of West Sumatra who mainly believed in matrilineal traditions. People were considered to belong to the same decent groups as their mothers. The educated people chose to be teachers, whether in colonial schools, Jawi while others volunteered to work as teachers in Mecca and Medina. The region was largely characterized by an educational cosmopolitan, which lay at the heart of its later educational experiences.
The systems of learning in Southeast Asia permeated down to local levels. The communists exploited the village-level Confucian scholar during the mid-20th century revolution. Jean deLanessan, the French traveler, wrote in the year 1895 that even the peasants could read and write. This writing was one of the elements of Orientalist romanticism in action. Jean deLanessan studied the overt behavior of the region during his tour in Southeast Asia. He realized that peasants had the same mental capacities and capabilities to read, and if they were exposed to some form of formal training. The only challenge in the region was that people did not have adequate access to academic knowledge. Jean deLanessan’s writings enlightened the natives about the necessity of revisiting their attitudes towards education and design proper intervention strategies for educational prosperity.
One of the initiators and supporters of education in Southeast Asia was Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese revolutionary leader and occupied the offices of the prime minister and president during his time. Ho Chi Minh was born on May 19, 1890 and died on September 5, 1969. He became the prime minister in the year 1945 and was the president between 1945 and 1969 before voluntary resignation because ill health[5]. Ho Chi Minh was the key founder of both the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and People’s Army of Vietnam. Ho organized Youth Education Classes and offered occasional socialist lectures to the Vietnamese revolutionary youth. While he was the prime minister, Ho asserted that the communists could teach 90 percent of the illiterates to read and write adequately within three months. The geographies of political power shifted and led to local educational networks. The richer monasteries and ambitious scholars were found near courtly centres; however, sometimes they could be left behind as political authority moved to other places. The most vibrant centers of learning in the Malay world were located in local sultanates.
Distinctive pedagogical traditions that developed in the 18th century have persisted into the present era. The most adaptive traditions include the Pandok and pesantren. The pandok is a tradition of the Malay Peninsula while pesantren is found in Java. These traditions embraced village-based schooling that led to the emergence of a wide range of institutions. Some of these institutions were very small and based on rote learning of the Arabic Quran. Other village-based schools began to embrace additional subjects in the beginning of the 19th century.[6] This initiative spread to Straits Settlements and the trading towns of Java, which began to benefit from the contributions of foreign Muslims. It was approximated that there were fifteen thousand pesantren in Java and Madura by the year 1885 with two hundred and thirty students.
The French forcibly colonized Vietnam and the entire Indochina. Vietnam’s traditional Confucian-oriented education was replaced by the French-Vietnamese education. This education was primarily meant to train people to serve the interests of the colonialists. The French colonialists wanted laborers for their farms and messengers for their offices. They wanted to employ people with some skills and knowledge in order to be able to deal with them. The system of education was structured in such a way that the natives would not access quality education.
The Vietnamese schools increased to two thousand, three hundred and twenty-two during the French Invasion in Vietnam. There was an average of one elementary school in every three villages. The proportion of students from the village accounted for only 2 percent of the children from the village attending these local primary schools.[7] The number of colleges was sixteen with only 0.05 percent of the population comprising of the natives. The whole of the French colony had three universities with the Faculties Of Sciences, Law, Medicine, and Pharmacy. These Universities were located in Hanoi and comprised of eight hundred and thirty-four students; six hundred and twenty-eight of this was Vietnamese. French was the dominant language under the French-Vietnamese education system. French was also the language of instruction in higher institutions of learning. During the prevalence of this system, 95 percent of the Vietnamese were illiterate. This is because most of the natives did not understand French while others were not ready to be assimilated to French.
Vietnam was declared independent after the departure of the French colonialists. President Ho Chi Minh identified fighting against poverty, invaders and illiteracy as critical tasks of the independent Vietnamese government. According to the president, these three elements interacted to intertwine the community in a myriad of challenges, and the way to liberation would be difficult to find. The president sent an open letter to students during the opening of school year 1945-1946.[8] The letter was sent on December 6, 1945 to confirm the birth of a new education system with the permission of preserving independence and rehabilitating the country. The primary objective of the president was to remind students that the country has officially gained independence, and the education systems would be adjusted to suiting the needs of the natives. The citizens who had feared by the strict rules of the French education system had the opportunity to reregister in various educational institutions and acquire knowledge and skills vital for the development of individuals and the nation.
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