A Glimpse of two Myanmar Sar Texts for Matric Students (1968-69 to 1985-86) and current Grade XII students

By Dr Myint Zan

Schools throughout the country have reopened for the new academic year. And the ‘inaugural’ new Matric (Grade XII) results have been issued on 11 June 2024.
‘The Compulsory Burmese Prose Text’) ပင်ရင်းစကားပြေလက်ရွေးစင် (hereafter ပင်ရင်း or old Matric text) was one of the two main texts that were used for Matriculation students from the academic year 1968-69 to 1985-86. The other text is အထက်တန်း ကဗျာလက်ရွေးစင် (‘Selected Poems for High School Texts)’ used during the same academic years.
I have also read the မြန်မာစာ (ဒွါဒသမ တန်း), which the Grade XII students who sat for the Matriculation exams in March 2024 and current Grade XII students have had to study. This article narrates a few of my thoughts about these two textbooks, which were taught to Matriculation students up to 55 years apart.

Glimpses of old Matric Text ပင်ရင်း and brief juxtapositions with current Grade XII Matric Myanmar Sar Text
There are 61 (mainly essays) that are reproduced in this old Matric text. Not all of these essays are taught to the 9th and 10th standard students of those yesteryears. Some of the essays are excerpts from books and magazines; some are full-fledged, relatively short essays from magazines, mainly published from the 1920s to about the 1960s. The sixty-one essays were written by about 45 different writers- all of whom had passed away by now. When this text ceased to be a မြန်မာစာ Myanmar text starting from the 1986-87 high school academic year, the writers whose essays were reproduced in this text Sayas Maung Htin, Zawgyi, Min Thu Wun, Tin Moe, Aung Thin were still alive, but alas they are no more now.
It is my strong opinion that this text, eclectic as it is (in Burmese ကောင်းနိုးရာရာ), is better than the Matric text that preceded it viz ဦးပုည ဝတ္ထုလေးပုဒ် (‘Four Novels of U Ponnya’) which perhaps was the main textbook from the early 1960s to the academic year 1967-68. It is also better than the subsequent Myanmar Sar texts from 1986-87 for the next 20 years or so where -again – U Ponnya’s ရေသည်ပြဇာတ် (‘Water Seller’ Play) was in the text.
Yours truly has heard that sometime in the late 1980s, the then paramount leader U Ne Win (6 July 1910-5 December 2002) laid down his ‘necessary guidelines’ or rather imprimatur that only the literary outputs of those authors who have been dead for at least 20 years should be included in the Matric Myanmar Sar texts. Thankfully, this anomalous situation is no longer the case nowadays. In the current Grade XII Myanmar Sar text, there are seven (!) essays both in the literary genre and linguistics genre written by Maung Khin Min (Danubyu) (born 24 January 1940) and one poem by Tekkatho Taw Thar (U Aung Thaung) (born 5 October 1941). There is an essay by the late Min Yu Way (26 September 1928-29 July 2021), who passed away perhaps just a year or so before the Grade XII Myanmar Sar text was published. The poem by the late Bhamo Nyo Nwe (27 December 1922-12 November 2009) is also included in the Grade XII text. (The poem လက်ဘက်ရည်ကြမ်းဝိုင်း – ‘Group Discussion while drinking tea’ is also in the selected poems ကဗျာလက်ရွေးစင် over 50 years earlier).
Most of the essays in Pinn Yin can be considered as falling within the field of literature. There are no essays which specifically discuss linguistics and language issues. This is in contrast to the current Grade XII Myanmar Sar text, where 43 pages (out of 125) are language and linguistic lessons.
In the general knowledge category (သုတ), there are 18 essays. For space reasons, I will mention only one here, probably written in the late 1930s to early 1940s, which is အိုင်စတိုင်း၏တရား (‘Einstein’s doctrine’) by Deedok U Ba Cho (24 April 1893-19 July 1947). The article provides elementary, inchoate knowledge of modern physics vis-à-vis Einstein’s Relativity theory.
In the category of သုတ-ရသ (knowledge-aesthetics), the brief narration in the form of a short story cum essay is ဆေးဆရာ (‘Medicine Man) by Maung Htin (21 March 1909-29 January 2006). ဆေးဆရာ is, to me the most enigmatic in the text when I re-read it a few years ago.
Under the category of ရသ (Esthetics), there are quite a few remarkable essays.
ပုဂံစျေး (‘Pagan Market’) by Saya Zawgyi (12 April 1907-26 September 1990) is a philosophical piece written in mellifluous prose. This short story is, in the complimentary sense, written enigmatically, but notwithstanding such an enigma, it is an inspiring literary product. Perhaps it is one of the very few essays- maybe the only one- in this matric text that has been translated into English. The translation apparently was made soon after it appeared in the vernacular in the late 1930s. From my recall, the translation was probably done by G H Luce (20 January 1889-3 May 1979).

အမေ (Mother) by Thein Pe Myint (10 July 1914-15 January 1978) is another esthetic presentation of note in this Matric text.
The essays Pi Teit (‘Joy’) by the late Min Shin, ချိူတကူး နှင့် ဂုဏ်ရည်မတူ (‘Cho Ta Gu and the movie Goan Yi Ma Tu’) by Aung Thin (17 April 1927-25 October 2014) and သင်္ချိုင်းကုန်းမှာ (‘At the cemetery’) by Tin Moe (19 November 1933-22 January 2007) are also affecting pieces that were reproduced in this Matric text of yore. None of them made their way into the Grade XII current Matric text.

Glimpses of current Grade XII Myanmar Sar Text juxtaposing with ပင်ရင်းစကားပြေလက်ရွေးစင်
The current Myanmar Sar text has three main parts. The first part is အပြောသင်ခန်းစာ (‘Lesson on Spoken Burmese language’). The second part is အဖတ် အရွတ် သင်ခန်းစာ (‘Lessons on reading and recitation’), and the third part is about အရေးသင်ခန်းစာ (‘Lesson on Writing’).
The first and second parts can be considered as mainly linguistic or language-based. There is, one can presume, a direct translation of an article from a website (the link is stated) on the topic of the low and high pitch in speaking (အသံနိမ့်မြင့် သဘောတရား). There were no linguistic lessons in the old Matric Myanmar Sar text of 55 years to 38 years ago, which, as stated above, is mainly literature-oriented.
I will focus on the second part of the current Grade XII Myanmar text (pages 23 to 124), which constitutes the bulk of the text.
There are seven essays and one short story under the sub-genre ‘Selected Myanmar Prose’. The earliest prose piece is from the Pagan era, which was over 750 years ago and is from a stone inscription (perhaps rewritten in contemporary prose for easier understanding). The most recent piece is by the late psychologist Dr Kyaw Sein. The literary pieces spanned the works of eight different writers from Pagan, Inwa, and the colonial and post-colonial eras. Likewise, eight poems composed by eight different personages from the Toungoo, Nyaungyan, Konbaung, colonial and independence eras are reproduced with a glossary of terms at the end of each lesson.
One notable feature in the prose and poetry selection in the Grade XII current text is brief biographical information provided about the eight writers and eight poets. This addendum is missing in the prose text in the old Matric text ပင်ရင်း.
Another feature which was missing in the old text but is present in Grade XII text is the genre of drama. A single play is included in the text. And guess what? It is the play ရေသည်ပြဇာတ် (‘Water Seller Play’) by Salay U Ponnya (1807/1816?-1867). Since the early 1960s and over the past sixty years, the drama of the ‘Water Seller’ may well have been taught for much more than one generation of matriculation students for about 50 years! (The main exception being the academic years 1968-69 to 1985-86 no play was taught in the Myanmar Sar text).
It is good that in Part I of the Grade XII text, methods for effective speaking in Burmese and other language-related issues are discussed. This may count towards evaluation in school-held exams (ကျောင်းစစ် စာမေးပွဲ), but how would it work for the government-sponsored common exams for the whole country (အစိုးရစစ် စာမေးပွဲ)? Perhaps since the bulk of the Grade XII text is on what can be considered as the literature ‘genre’, the bulk of the exam questions would be on the literature category. Only a select few of the 61 prose pieces in the Matric text of 38 to 55 years ago had to be studied by the then students. Current Grade XII students may have to study the whole prose selection: 7 essays, one short story and eight poems, in addition to the language and linguistic lessons.

Comments on the essay questions for the Myanmar Sar Matric Exams
In the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, in the Compulsory Burmese Matriculation papers, the (unseen) essay (စာစီစာကုံး) constitutes 25 per cent of the marks for the exam. There are three topics, and candidates have to choose one of the topics and write about it. And there are no prompts as to what to write in the essays. Starting from at least ten or maybe 15 or so years ago, the Matric Myanmar Sar exam questions have only one or two (unseen) essay topic(s) (which constitute 10 per cent of the examination marks), and there are prompts! Is this an (unfortunate?) reversal of the trend for several decades of not giving prompts or outlines for Burmese language Matric essay papers?
Apparently, providing outlines and requiring the students to adhere to them is to obviate students cramming by heart several essay topics if their crammed topics come up in the exams, viola! They would regurgitate what they have crammed. By providing outlines, the authorities apparently hope, students cannot willy-nilly reproduce what they have learned ‘by heart’ but have to follow the prompts. If they do not do so or do so clumsily, then the examiners may notice that these candidates have ‘crammed’ their essay topics. This may or may not be a good solution to this problem, but it can be said that perhaps in essays in the English papers, many students, including quite a few students who obtained distinctions in the subject, also regurgitate what they have learned by heart. From 1974 to 1986, there were prompts in the English language papers for essay topics, such as ‘Why I like dogs better than cats’ with prompts (1974 Matric English exam essay topic). Should there be an essay question in Burmese on the same topic with prompts? If the candidates like dogs better than cats, they still have to ‘toe the line’ and write that they like cats better than dogs!
Apparently, since 1987, no prompts or outlines have been provided for the Matric English essay questions. I raise these points to ponder, though I realise that ‘cramming;’ by heart for exams mainly but not only for the language papers is – to revert to the French language – a problematique of some intricacy.

Suggestions for research on Myanmar Sar texts past and present
In my article on English language texts in the GNLM, I suggested that a Master’s thesis can be written about the contents, pedagogy, teaching aims, methodologies, and teaching outcomes of various English texts, say, starting from about 1965 to current times. One hopes that this article provides some rudimentary information and ‘prompts’ for such an undertaking of the Matric Myanmar Sar texts of the past fifty years or so.

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