Buddhists make up more than 88.6%; Mussulmans 3.28; spirit-worshippers 3.85; Hindus 2.76, and Christians 1.42 of the total population of the province. The large nominal proportion of Buddhists is deceptive. The Burmese are really as devoted to demonolatry as the hill-tribes who are labelled plain spirit-worshippers. The actual figures of the various religions, according to the census of 1901, are as follows: -
The chief religious principle of the Burmese is to acquire merit for their next incarnation by good works done in this life. The bestowal of alms, offerings of rice to priests, the founding of a monastery, erection of pagodas, with which the country is crowded, the building of a bridge or rest-house for the convenience of travellers are all works of religious merit, prompted, not by love of one's fellow-creatures, but simply and solely for one's own future advantage.
An analysis shows that not quite two in every thousand Burmese profess Christianity, and there are about the same number of Mahommedans among them. It is admitted by the missionaries themselves that Christianity has progressed very slowly among the Burmese in comparison with the rapid progress made amongst the Karens. It is amongst the Sgaw Karens that the greatest progress in Christianity has been made, and the number of spirit-worshippers among them is very much smaller. The number of Burmese Christians is considerably increased by the inclusion among them of the Christian descendants of the Portuguese settlers of Syriam deported to the old Burmese Tabayin, a village now included in the Ye-u subdivision of Shwebo. These Christians returned themselves as Burmese. The forms of Christianity which make most converts in Burma are the Baptist and Roman Catholic faiths. Of recent years many conversions to Christianity have been made by the American Baptist missionaries amongst the Lahu or Muhsö hill tribesmen.
Compared with other Indian provinces, and even with some of the countries of Europe, Burma takes a very high place in the returns of those able to both read and write. Taking the sexes apart, though women fall far behind men in the matter of education, still women are better educated in Burma than in the rest of India. The average number of each sex in Burma per thousand is: - literates, male 378; female, 45; illiterates, male, 622; female, 955. The number of literates per thousand in Bengal is: - male, 104; female, 5. The proportion was greatly reduced in the 1901 census by the inclusion of the Shan States and the Chin hills, which mostly consist of illiterates.
The fact that in Upper Burma the proportion of literates is nearly as high as, and the proportion of those under instruction even higher than, that of the corresponding classes in Lower Burma, is a clear proof that in primary education, at least, the credit for the superiority of the Burman over the native of India is due to indigenous schools. In almost every village in the province there is a monastery, where the most regular occupation of one or more of the resident pongyis, or Buddhist monks, is the instruction free of charge of the children of the village. The standard of instruction, however, is very low, consisting only of reading and writing, though this is gradually being improved in very many monasteries. The absence of all prejudice in favour of the seclusion of women also is one of the main reasons why in this province the proportion who can read and write is higher than in any other part of India, Cochin alone excepted. It was not till 1890 that the education department took action in Upper Burma. It was then ascertained that there were 684 public schools with 14,133 pupils, and 1664 private schools with 8685 pupils. It is worthy of remark that of these schools 29 were Mahommedan, and that there were 176 schools for girls in which upwards of 2000 pupils were taught.
There are three circles - Eastern, Central and Upper Burma. For the special supervision and encouragement of indigenous primary education in monastic and in lay schools, each circle of inspection is divided into sub-circles corresponding with one or more of the civil districts, and each sub-circle is placed under a deputy-inspector or a sub-inspector of schools. There are nine standards of instruction, and the classes in schools correspond with these standards. In Upper Burma all educational grants are paid from imperial funds; there is no cess as in Lower Burma. Grants-in-aid are given according to results. There is only one college, at Rangoon, which is affiliated to the Calcutta University. There are missionary schools amongst the Chins, Kachins and Shans, and a school for the sons of Shan chiefs at Taung-gyi in the southern Shan States. A Patamabyan examination for marks in the Pāli language was first instituted in 1896 and is held annually.