Melbourne’s First Buddhist School Opens to Compassion, Manners, and Meditation
Situated in the Springvale suburb of Melbourne, Australia, Hoa Nghiem Primary School (HNPS) is the first Buddhist school in the city and is providing children from Buddhist and non-Buddhist backgrounds alike with a curriculum that incorporates Buddhist teachings. Its academic program has been designed together with Daylesford Dharma School, the only other Buddhist school in the state of Victoria. HNPS’s motto is: “Strong Mind, Good Heart, Global Responsibility.”
According to an article in The Age published on 20 March, the school’s curriculum is focused on compassion, environmental sustainability, well-being, and mindfulness. “The administrators of Springvale’s Hoa Nghiem Buddhist Temple spent 10 years raising $7 million (which includes a $600,000 grant from the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship) to build a Buddhist primary school on the temple’s grounds,” it reported.
The Age reports that HNPS presently has a total of 20 students, while a 22 February article in the Herald Sun specified it had 16 students from prep to grade 4 and was looking to expand into grade 6 next year. According to The Age, the school’s administration hopes to to enrol 120 students by 2021.
On the HNPS website, school principal Jacqueline Bosman writes: “HNPS is an independent school that is educating and nurturing the next generation of peacemakers, problem solvers and community leaders. . . . We know that in order to truly thrive, whether now or far into the future, our students will need to develop all aspects of their character: the intellect to pursue even the loftiest dreams, the kind heart to build positive, respectful relationships and the self-awareness to take action in the world.”
Certain elements of the school’s program, such as well-being and mindfulness, share similarities with other Buddhist schools set up in the West, such as the UK’s Dharma Primary School, which advocates a holistic educational ethos. In her interview with the Herald Sun, Bosman said: “The feeling was there is a real place in today’s society for a school that is founded on belief, compassion and critical thinking, We devote a lot of time developing children’s critical thinking capacity, to question and analyse what they see in the world.”
Aside from the standard curriculum, the school offers an Awareness Program, which over the four terms of 2016 will pose four questions for students to discuss and investigate in order to build teamwork and resilience: “Who am I? How do I create personal wellbeing?”; “Who are we as a group? How can we create social harmony?”; “Who are we as a human race? How can we live in a balanced manner and share our planet with other sentient beings?”; and “How do karma and impermanence play a role in our lives?” The program is supported by daily meditation and an extended period of whole-school meditation every Monday morning.
One of the school’s co-founders, Thich Thien Tam, was quoted by the website as saying: “The Hoa Nghiem Primary School was founded as an environment where children can be awakened to their capacity to be wise and loving individuals. Through education, meditation and mindfulness practices, they will enter society as global citizens and contribute with compassionate thoughts and actions.”
HNPS is attached to the premises of Hoa Nghiem Buddhist Temple, which serves the nearly 12,500-strong Vietnamese community in the area. As the school offers Vietnamese as a second language it is ideally suited to help the children of immigrant parents, some of whom do not speak English at all and can barely communcate with their children, who in contrast do not speak Vietnamese and have assimilated into Australian society.
Quang Minh Buddhist Temple in Victoria’s Braybrook suburb also plans to open a Buddhist school in 2018.
Hoa Nghiem Primary School
Meditation meets maths in Melbourne's first Buddhist school in Springvale (The Age)
Buddhist primary school in Springvale South a first for Melbourne (Herald Sun)
The Dharma Primary School