Right Education - the Srisa Asoke Model

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This paper outlines the Srisa Asoke model of right education, a Buddhist community‟s initiative, effort and success in reclaiming and setting the direction and application of its model of right education in nurturing and inculcating in the next generations the right philosophy and values of living and development of humanity. In response to what Srisa Asoke community sees as ineffectiveness in the mainstream education system in producing students with right values and conduct, the community set up its own primary and secondary schools to educate, train and develop its own children and youths on spirituality, right conduct, and skills in right livelihood, and generally the Srisa Asoke philosophy of right living in harmony with one another and with the environment in a responsible and sustainable way. The primary components of the Srisa Asoke education are training in morality and spirituality, development of vocational skills for right livelihood, resourcefulness and practical skills in problem solving, creativity and innovation, academic knowledge and sciences. Students are evaluated objectively using a three-tiered assessment system. They are assessed on moral conduct, practical performance in works, and academic performance by the monks or nuns who are their supervisors, by their teachers and seniors. Since its inception, the Srisa Asoke model of education has won many awards at district, provincial and state levels in recognition of its success and appreciation. The success of the Srisa Asoke schools lies in producing students who have a good sense of morality and right conduct, who are confident, skillful and independent, resourceful, creative and innovative members of their community, and who are capable of making and earning a good and right livelihood without resorting to selfish exploitation of fellow human and natural resources. Now the schools are beginning to attract children from all over the country. Currently the Srisa Asoke schools provide education free for all its students, numbering over two hundred in 2010.

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Right Education - the Srisa Asoke Model

  1. 1. Right Education – the Srisa Asoke Model iSuwida Sangsehanat and Bong C. L.i College of Bodhi Vijjalaya, Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok, Thailand. Paper presented at Lay Buddhist Forum 2010 -Buddhism for a New generation- September 30-October 04, 2010 Seoul, South Korea.Suggested citation:Suwida, S., and C. L. Bong, (2010). “Right Education – the Srisa Asoke Model” in LayBuddhist Forum 2010: Buddhism for a New Generation, September 30 - October 04,2010. (Buddhist Chongji Order, South Korea, 2010), pages 16-31 (for English version)(or pages 32-39 for Korean version).
  2. 2. Right Education – the Srisa Asoke Model iSuwida Sangsehanat and Bong C. L.i College of Bodhi Vijjalaya, Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok, Thailand. ABSTRACTThis paper outlines the Srisa Asoke model of right education, a Buddhist community‟s initiative, effort andsuccess in reclaiming and setting the direction and application of its model of right education in nurturingand inculcating in the next generations the right philosophy and values of living and development ofhumanity. In response to what Srisa Asoke community sees as ineffectiveness in the mainstreameducation system in producing students with right values and conduct, the community set up its ownprimary and secondary schools to educate, train and develop its own children and youths on spirituality,right conduct, and skills in right livelihood, and generally the Srisa Asoke philosophy of right living inharmony with one another and with the environment in a responsible and sustainable way. The primarycomponents of the Srisa Asoke education are training in morality and spirituality, development ofvocational skills for right livelihood, resourcefulness and practical skills in problem solving, creativity andinnovation, academic knowledge and sciences. Students are evaluated objectively using a three-tieredassessment system. They are assessed on moral conduct, practical performance in works, and academicperformance by the monks or nuns who are their supervisors, by their teachers and seniors. Since itsinception, the Srisa Asoke model of education has won many awards at district, provincial and statelevels in recognition of its success and appreciation. The success of the Srisa Asoke schools lies inproducing students who have a good sense of morality and right conduct, who are confident, skillful andindependent, resourceful, creative and innovative members of their community, and who are capable ofmaking and earning a good and right livelihood without resorting to selfish exploitation of fellow humanand natural resources. Now the schools are beginning to attract children from all over the country.Currently the Srisa Asoke schools provide education free for all its students, numbering over twohundred in 2010.1. IntroductionThe world, rolling from crises to crises, of various types, environmental, economic, political, violentconflicts, and ever more frequent occurrence of natural disasters, is in dire need of repair. Societies aretorn, families are broken, and there is rising crime rate among the youths. Many would agree that theway the world is managed or mismanaged now with a purely materialistic world view that growth canbe infinite and natural resources can be selfishly exploited endlessly is unsustainable. These „many‟include world bodies such as UNESCO1, individual nation governments, communities, and individualsacross a whole spectrum of society from academicians, scientists and economists to everyday folks ofvarious professions in the office and farms. There is the general consensus that the present main streameducation system is incapable of adequately training and equipping the youths of today to meet the1UNESCO Strategy for the Second Half of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. 2010.Education for Sustainable Development in Action, March 2010, UNESCO Education Sector. 2010/ED/UNP/DESD/PI/1
  3. 3. needs and challenges of the present and future in developing themselves, their communities, theirnations, and in maintaining a peaceful and just world. What type of alternative education system wouldadequately equip the learners and graduates to meet the needs and challenges of today andtomorrow? Any models of a right education system should meet the basic need of humanity, a need thatis very aptly articulated by Venerable Master Chin Kung 2. This is the need to value, develop andmaintain harmony among humans; among humans and other living beings; and among humans and theenvironment; and the need to learn to appreciate and take care of everything and every being. In thatway is peace and harmony developed, in that way is growth sustainable for this and future generations.This is not dissimilar from that advocated by a mundane world body such as ESD (Education forSustainable Development) of UNESCO that education system should promote reflection on lifestyles thatcombine well-being, quality of life and respect for nature and other people.Alternative school systems founded on spiritual, humanistic and/or eco-conscious sustainabledevelopment are springing up everywhere, both in Asian and western countries. Tertiary educationinstitutions are now incorporating those concepts and practice in their teaching and learningprogrammes3. Islamic-based alternative schools are also established to fight the social ills now infectingthe Muslim youths4. Buddhism-based schools are springing up to bring back the normality in education –to produce individuals fit to be leaders and citizens of a country, at peace and in harmony with oneselfand the externals, family, community, society and the environment. Tzu Chi schools are examples wherespiritual development and training in morality based on Buddhist teachings are integrated into theirstandard curriculum and everyday living of the students 5. Education and training in moral conduct andvirtues are incorporated in schools inspired and guided by Venerable Chin Kung. Morality too isinculcated in Islamic-based alternative school such as the Gayong Academy. This paper describes thealternative education model of the Srisa Asoke Buddhist community in educating and training theiryouths to fulfill their roles and meet the needs of today and the future, particularly those of thecommunity and country.2. Srisa Asoke CommunitySrisa Asoke Community is one of the nine main Asoke community centres in Thailand. The Asoke is awell-known Buddhist reformist movement in Thailand, started by Venerable Samana Bodhiraksa and hisfollowers more than 30 years ago. The Asoke community lives by the teachings, practice and spirit ofBuddha, dedicated to practice to attain enlightenment as the primary priority goal of life and living.Everyday activity of living is performed as a practice for the attainment of the spiritual goal. One ofthe principles the Asoke community lives by maybe summarized thus, „live to practice; use what weproduce; produce what we use‟, reflecting the spirit and purpose of the community, its spiritual andeconomic independence and self-reliance.Srisa-Asoke Community was established in 1976. It started forming when a few men and womengathered regularly to support one another and to practice together as kalyanamitras (spiritual friends).2 Chin Kung Venerable Master, Buddhism as an Education. Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc. e-book, downloaded fromhttp://www.buddhanet.net3 Cortese, Anthony D. "Education for Sustainability: The Need for a New Human Perspective," 1999.http://www.secondnature.org/pdf/snwritings/articles/humanpersp.pdf (accessed Aug 27, 2010)4 Abdul Lateef Abdullah. Addressing youth social ills in Malaysia through alternative education: A case study of the TaqwaInternational Gayong Academy (TIGA). http://www.ace.upm.edu.my/~lateef/Gayong/GAfullpaper.doc. Accessed 10.00pm,August 31, 2010.5 Suwida Sangsehanat, (2010). Cultivating Humanity in Educational Institutions - Tzu Chi Approach. Bodhi Research Journal, Vol.1
  4. 4. In time, they found a necessity to have a proper place and proper means of support for their practice.They pooled their financial and material resources to build a place for their living and practice whichthey named “Puttha Sathaan Srisa-Asoke” (Puttha Sathaan = Buddhist Place, Asoke = Asoke or non-suffering, Srisa = head, origin). They are the followers of Samana Bhodhiraksa, the founder of Asokemovement and community. The original small group grew over time as more people joined them. In1987, the practitioners agreed to set up a village called “Village of Buddha Dhamma” for all of themto live and work together as one Dhamma community and support one another in their practice. Thevillage is better known now as “Srisa-Asoke”, and has grown to more than 200 households in size. Thiscommunity lives with produce from their own labour and wisdom. They establish and work in their ownorganic farms to produce foods for themselves. They start and maintain services such as health andherbal centres, schools, superstores, engineering workshops and many other facilities to serve the needsof their community. They are determined to live by the philosophy and practice of simplicity in livingand needs, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. They sometimes produce more than they consume and thesurplus is distributed free or sold at cost and low price to the public. They are not motivated by„material or monetary profits‟. They are motivated by spiritual practice and meritorious deeds.3. Srisa Asoke and EducationIn 1982, Srisa-Asoke started a weekend school, a Buddhist school named “Saeng Saew Noi Rean Tham”(Little Drongos learn Dhamma) for the children and youths of their own community, the community of Kra-saeng village in which the Asoke community is established, and from other nearby villages. They teachBuddhadhamma in this school, the history of Buddhism, Buddha and his teachings, and the five precepts.In addition, they also teach traditional arts and crafts, Thai cultures and values, particularly diligence,hard work, team work, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. They learn about everyday life and living,their environment, services and contributing to the community in various ways – working in the vegetableor paddy fields to produce foods, cooking, cleaning up the compounds and village. They also learnabout spiritual cultivation through listening to Dhamma and practice.In 1989, Srisa-Asoke community noticed with alarm the social ills, pop cultures, undesirable habits andlife styles that the children learned from schools outside their community and brought back to theircommunity. They were in constant pursuit of sense pleasures, addicted to computer games, selfish, andgenerally lazy. The Community‟s committee decided to act to pass on the Asoke philosophy andpractice to the young before the problem worsened.6 In 1990, Srisa-Asoke community decided to set uptheir own education system after having considered the following: a. Community‟s needs: the programs of the conventional main stream schools education do not serve or meet the needs of the community. b. Brain drain from the community: Main stream schools do not encourage or instill a sense of service to the community. Students in those schools are exposed to different value system; they get attracted to serve „bigger corporations‟ to exploit others for bigger personal gains only instead of returning to develop their own community too. This results in brain drain from the community and adversely affects the development of the Asoke community. c. Materialistic and mercenary: The main stream schools do not provide adequate teaching and inculcation of proper human values, morality and ethics. In those schools, children are6 Personal communication: According to the recollection Khun Khandin on the setting up of Sammasikkha schools.
  5. 5. exposed to unhealthy values and attractions. Children become more materialistic, wasteful and selfish. They are less concerned with morals or virtues, the very values of humanity. The higher they go in education, the more materialistic and mercenary they get, the less are they concerned with the values of human virtues. Instead of serving their family or community, these children, by their wasteful and extravagant consumerist life style exert such burden on their families that their parents sometimes resort to borrowing money or selling their lands and properties just to provide for them. d. Serving the rich for personal gains only: Graduates of the main stream schools leave their home community to serve the „rich‟ instead of helping their own community to grow. e. Inadequate education in basic human values: Values such as gratitude, filial piety, human virtues and morality are not taught or adequately imparted into the children in main stream schools so that children do not know right from wrong and are generally ungrateful. f. Bigheadedness: Children return to their community with bigheadedness, priding themselves too good to „dirty their hands‟ doing farm work or any physical labour to help the family or community. Some of them return as complete airheads who have no clues on basic skills necessary for making a basic living. Good social and traditional values are completely forgotten!!!4. Virtue First, Then Knowledge – Priority of Srisa Asoke Sammasikkha SchoolsThe guiding philosophy of the Srisa Asoke education system is „Sila or moral conduct first and foremost;capability in work; knowledge‟. The emphasis here is to develop a whole person, a whole human beingwell-established in virtue first. Incidentally, this priority is similar to that expressed by VenerableMaster Chin Kung that wisdom would arise only from a pure mind. It is different from the standard mainstream school which emphasizes and measures only academic competence. I. Education Program: The educational program of Srisa Asoke schools consists of three main parts: a. Forty percent on imparting moral conduct and right living: five precepts; resist sensual attachment or temptations. b. Thirty-five percent on learning vocational skills: theories and practice on selected vocations of students‟ own choice to help them acquire the right knowledge and technology to develop their own business or career later on. c. Twenty-five percent for standard school curriculum on arts and science subjects. II. Daily Routine of Students: The daily life of the students is disciplined and busy in learning and working in applying what is learned and serving the community. Working and serving the community is a form of spiritual practice. Everyday work and living activity is spiritual practice, training in mindfulness from meditation at work, performing meritorious deeds. Students‟ waking time are thus productively occupied in learning and spiritual training. The daily routine of the students is as follows:  Wake up: 4 a.m.  Sanitation and cleaning works: until 5 a.m.
  6. 6.  Exercise: until 6 a.m.; then, pay respect to the national flag.  Practical learning at work bases: until 9 a.m.  Dhamma: listening to Dhamma lecture for an hour, until 10 a.m.  Main meal of the day: between 10 a.m. and 12 noon; meals preceded by chanting the relevant verses for partaking food: contemplating the purpose and the value of the foods, gratitude to the cooks and farmers, and recollection of merits earned.  Academic subjects: between 12 noon and 3 p.m.  All time out of formally scheduled classes or learning are for practicals. III. Curriculum: The curriculum consists of two parts: a. Twenty percent for academic subjects such as mathematics, English language, science, etc. b. Eighty percent on “Applications of Integrated Arts & Sciences”. These are applied learning programmes in work bases. In these programmes, the students, divided into groups or teams, are trained to apply the theory they learn in sciences (maths, biology etc) to work together as a team on the practicals or projects assigned to them in the work bases. The work bases encompass those vocations promoted by the country, “Three occupations to save the country”: green agriculture; waste and garbage management; and green fertilizer. These three occupations not only save the country but also save the environment from potential crises and disasters. There are 59 work bases or stations for the students in the Srisa-Asoke community itself. Students are also an important source of manpower to help run all the work bases or service centres of the community. By getting directly involved in these community activities, students learn the meaning and significance of leadership, competence, self-reliance besides acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge for living. The work bases are as follows. 7 a. Agriculture work bases: there are sixteen bases which include the dipterocarp forest, nurseries for trees, orchids, ornamentals and herbs; herb gardens; mushroom seeding house and farms; vegetable and fruit gardens; paddy fields; bio-extract houses; bean sprout house; and metal workshops, etc. b. Production centres: There are eight production bases. These include herbal medicine house; merit rice mill that services their own community and surrounding village communities; food production houses for production of herbal and rice flour crisp snacks, soya bean products, coconut juice agar, sugar cane products, unpolished rice and other foods and supplements; and soya source fermentation house, etc. c. Service centres: There are thirty-eight service centres. Among these are costume production house; petrol station; green fertilizer house; garbage management centre; arts and crafts and tapestry centres for cloth and mat weaving, basketry; cotton yarn stain house; Merit supermarket and „green‟ shop (selling locally made community handicrafts); shampoo and detergent-making house; produce centres for supplying the community7 Rattana Tosakul and et. al. 2005. “Srisa-Asoke community” in Walking Step by Step, Eating Spoon by Spoon: Community Wisdomin Knowledge Management. [“Chum Chon Srisa-Asoke” in Deon tee la kaaw, Kin khaaw tee la kham: Phoom Panya nai kaan jadkaan kham roo khong chumchon]. Thailand Research Fund. p 180-188.
  7. 7. kitchens and sales of surpluses; Asoke political party (For Heaven and Earth); community kitchen; energy-generating houses; engineering workshops; library; salons, etc. These work bases, production and service centres serve their own community and also surrounding communities and the general public. IV. Participatory Evaluation The assessment of the students‟ performance and conduct is based on a three-tiered evaluation system. Students are assessed by their supervising monks and nuns, by their teachers and seniors, and by their peers at work bases and in classrooms. Their everyday activity and conduct outside the classrooms and work bases are also assessed. In their assessment, priority and greater emphases are given to conduct and their amicability in human interactions (the values of brahmavihara – compassion, loving-kindness, appreciative joy and equanimity). Such values as diligence in work, a good sense of morality and maintenance of ethical conduct, and emotional stability that contribute to character building and right living are underscored. Next they are assessed on their achievements in academic performance. Students may fail if they fail in keeping the five precepts although they may excel in academic performance. 8 Moral conduct is more important than mere academic achievement. It is through purification of the mind reflected in keeping of moral disciplines that wisdom for right living arises. V. Awards Won by Srisa Asoke Sammasikkha Schools The achievement and success of Sammasikkha Srisa-Asoke Schools have received attention and recognition country-wide. This is evidenced from the awards the schools received in recent years. Some of these awards are: a. Norma Pin Award for the best managed alternative school category (1991); b. District level award for the best managed alternative school category (1994); c. Provincial level award for the best managed alternative school category (1995); (1996); d. Best organized Buddhism-based school (2004); and e. School with the best health program and support (2009). Those awards are mere secondary ornaments compared to the precious jewels on the crown of success most treasured and appreciated by the Srisa Asoke community and the school management. These jewels on the crown are the following: a. Morally upright, productive and helpful members of the community: Students understand the five precepts and practice them well. They are vegetarians. They are humble and kind-natured. They are productive and helpful members of the community and will make good citizens of the country. b. Equipped with vocational skills: Students are equipped with the necessary skills in various vocations of their own choice. Upon graduation, many become entrepreneurs and establish right livelihood, without being selfishly exploitative of the community or environment. They have leadership quality, high self-confidence and diligence. They are good team players and cooperate well with others. They are good educators themselves8Suwida Sangsehanat. 2006. “Integrated Wisdom on Buddhist Philosophy: An Alternative Strategy for Thai Social Development”,PhD Dissertation in Integrated Science Program, Thammasat University. p. 203.
  8. 8. on the theory and practice of morality, career choice and in cultivating right attitudes. Being self-reliant and self-sufficient, their success enables them to become a source of support and a refuge for others. c. Dependable and responsible leaders: High school students are independent, competent, dependable, and innovative. As seniors, they organize, run and manage the learning activities or work bases for their teachers. d. Appreciative of traditional cultures and values: Students are taught traditional values, traditional cultures, and skills in traditional arts and crafts. They are skilled in making traditional clothes and playing traditional music instruments. They apply what they learn in daily life, wearing clothes of traditional design to reflect their appreciation of traditional cultures instead of aping blindly or mindlessly the consumerist „modern fashion trends‟ (which really don‟t mean anything significant to them, culturally or otherwise). e. Drug-free: Students are not involved in drugs or unhealthy addictions. f. Gainfully employed or onto further postgraduate education: All students upon graduation are able to establish right careers, and carve out their own niche in the market place to make good clean living. Some of them set up workshops for producing agriculture machineries. Others are traditional costume designers and seamstresses, producers of organic products, etc. Others have gone on to pursue post-graduate education. The above outcomes reflect the extent of success of the Srisa Asoke Community in imparting to the new generations the human quality, spirituality, value and the philosophy of Srisa-Asoke.The success of the alternative education of Srisa Asoke is further recognised when the Srisa AsokeCommunity is invited to be the collaborator of Ubon Ratchathani University in running and supporting theacademic programs on self-sufficiency economy.9 Srisa Asoke is looking ahead to setting up a universityof its own. For now, it continues to develop primary and secondary education. In 2010, SammasikkhaSrisa-Asoke School provides free education for about 200 students in their primary and secondaryschools. They are from all over the country. Students are selected based on their understanding andadaptability to the Srisa Asoke philosophy and way of life. All students stay in the community during theschool semesters and return for home visits during the vacation. Upon graduation, some of them chooseto continue to reside in the Community. Others return home, establish their own careers and contribute tothe development of their own community. The alumni return to the Srisa Asoke Community to renew their„family‟ ties with the community, help and celebrate together the yearly Buddhist festival held at thecommunity.5. Concluding RemarksThe Srisa Asoke model of alternative education is a total participatory and integrated type of teaching,learning and applying what is learned in real-time real-life situation, involving the teachers, the students,and members of the community (monks, nuns, temples, lay members of families and friends). Studentslearn through total experience the nurturing power of the community that sustains them and of which9 Suwida Sangsehanat, (2010). Bodhi Vijjalaya: Education for Right-Career Building and Right Living Based on Buddhist Ethics,elsewhere in this volume.
  9. 9. they are an integral part, taking from it and serving it; and that the community is a refuge of their ownmaking. This total integrated approach is thus unique and very effective in producing learners who arewell-guided, morally strong in character, self-confident, able, independent, innovative, and self-reliant,and appreciative of brahmavaihara values. The community ensures their development into usefulmembers of the human race that value peace and harmony, and who know how to maintain these valuesand realize them instead getting swept away by consumerist and materialistic „pop‟ cultures, drugs andpursuit of wasteful or unproductive leisure activities that lead to so many social ills.The whole community and its village are the school campus. There is also off-campus learning in relatedAsoke communities in other provinces. Teaching and learning are conducted in classrooms and outsideclassrooms to include the community‟s farms, workshops and other facilities. Teaching and learning areclosely integrated within the community‟s structure, functions and activities. In this way, students aregiven real life practicals in applying what they learn in theory, and at the same time contribute to thecommunity and help solve any problems that may arise or present. They are learning about real life(not hypothetical) situations, confronting real-time problems and working out real-time solutions. Theteaching and learning are totalistic in terms of development of the students, their interaction and theirrelationship within the community and the environment. Learning through applying in daily life helpsdevelop students‟ potential in creativity, innovation and skills necessary for right living. Students thuslearn about life and all its problems, about self-reliance and the unlimited human potential when tappedinto properly with skills and know-how.Through guidance and interaction with the teachers and members of the community and totalparticipatory learning process in the lives and works of the community, students learn about the value ofmoral conduct, the values of brahmavihara in relating to people and the environment, helping oneanother and the community grow spiritually and develop economically and sustainably without unfairexploitation of human and natural resources.The education system at Srisa Asoke, its methodology and delivery can be said to be a total immersiontype of participatory learning in real life situation and real time experience; and application oflearning about right living and applying it to the benefit of oneself and the community. The educationsystem and practice thus develops and applies the human potential for the individual and his/hercommunity in a way that is in harmony with oneself, one‟s community and environment. It is thus asustainable system of education in a holistic sense, sustainable development of the individual, thecommunity, and the environment in terms of human potential, spiritual and physical; and self-relianceand independence in terms of economic growth and achievement. All these translate into training andachieving right living in the Buddhist sense.ReferencesAbdul Lateef Abdullah. Addressing youth social ills in Malaysia through alternative education: a case study of the Taqwa International Gayong Academy (TIGA). http://www.ace.upm.edu.my/~lateef/Gayong/GAfullpaper.doc. Accessed August 31, 2010.Chin Kung Venerable Master. Buddhism as an Education. Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc. e- book, downloaded from http://www.buddhanet.netCortese, Anthony D. Education for sustainability: the need for a new human perspective. 1999. http://www.secondnature.org/pdf/snwritings/articles/humanpersp.pdf (accessed Aug 27, 2010)
  10. 10. Rattana Tosakul et. al. 2005. Srisa-Asoke community. In Walking Step by Step, Eating Spoon by Spoon: Community Wisdom in Knowledge Management. [“Chum Chon Srisa-Asoke” in Deon tee la kaaw, Kin khaaw tee la kham: Phoom Panya nai kaan jad kaan kham roo khong chumchon]. Thailand Research Fund.Suwida Sangsehanat. 2006. Integrated Wisdom on Buddhist Philosophy: An Alternative Strategy for Thai Social Development. Ph.D. Dissertation in Integrated Science Program, Thammasat University.Suwida Sangsehanat. 2010. Cultivating Humanity in Educational Institutions – the Tzu Chi Approach. Bodhi Research Journal, Vol.1. In pressSuwida Sangsehanat. 2010. Bodhi Vijjalaya: Alternative Education for Right Career-Building and Right Living. Elsewhere in this volume.UNESCO. 2010. UNESCO Strategy for the Second Half of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Education for Sustainable Development in Action, March 2010, UNESCO Education Sector. 2010/ED/UNP/DESD/PI/1.

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