In the 1950s, Myanmar boasted one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. But after decades of military rule, the public education system is in shambles — crumbling schools, outdated curricula, and ill-trained teachers at a cost too high for the majority of poor village families that need it most.

A monk stands in for a teacher as children and monks study together at a school run by a monastery in Bago, Myanmar. | (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

But the country is at a turning point. Democratic reforms have unshackled the economy, galvanized the workforce, and forced the government to institute an across-the-board review of the public education system. While an influx of private schools meets the demands of the country's newly wealthy, the vast majority of Myanmar's impoverished are still left without.

And so, many of them turn to the country's 1,500 ancient Buddhist monasteries, which provide support and education to villagers, just as they have since the 11th century.

For many children, monasteries provide the only education, health care, and, for orphans, home they'll ever know — all free of cost. The schools accept both sexes and all ethnicities. In a typical classroom you can find a mix of Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist kids, novice monks and nuns wearing crimson or pink robes, and village children in plain clothes. In addition to the standard state curriculum, monastic schools impart Buddhist values, like generosity, character, and proper behavior.

While the government has pledged some funds — mainly to support teacher salaries — for the first time in history, the schools cobble together financing through community donations, charities, and international foundations. Though severely underfunded — the facilities are bare, the supplies are meager, and the teachers are spread thin — the monasteries provide the potential of a brighter future to its young students. Below, a look at a monastic school day for Myanmar's children.

A novice Buddhist monk helps a younger novice wear his robe at Bahan Thone Htat monastic school in Yangon, Myanmar. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Novice Buddhist monks, nuns, children, and teachers sing Myanmar's national anthem during an assembly at the beginning of a school day at Bahan Thone Htat. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

A novice Buddhist monk at Bahan Thone Htat. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

A novice Buddhist nun is given a vaccination for Hepatitis-B at Bahan Thone Htat. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Buddhist nuns play during break time at Phaung Daw Oo monastic school in Mandalay, Myanmar. (HEIN HTET/epa/Corbis)

A novice Buddhist monk washes his robes at Bahan Thone Htat monastic school in Yangon, Myanmar. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Novice Buddhist monks and village children write in their textbooks at Bahan Thone Htat. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Novice Buddhist monks play with rubber-bands before lunch at Bahan Thone Htat. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Buddhist nuns walk up in the stairs at the beginning of a school day at Bahan Thone Htat. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Students of a Buddhist monastic school meditate before the start of class in Yangon, Myanmar. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Novice Buddhist monks play a game similar to soccer during a break at Bahan Thone Htat. | (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)