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Beyond Access, Quality Education for Migrant Children?

In the small town of Bangkhunthien, a south-western Bangkok suburb, uprooted families are hoping for a better life in Thailand. But many families face enormous challenges, particularly those immigrants from neighbouring countries including Myanmar. Often without knowledge of the local language, unfamiliar with local culture and with limited resources, integrating into the local community is far from easy.

Two girls from Sanjao Haonukul School enjoying recess time (©UNESCO/R.Vivekanandan)

For many parents with limited means and in search of stable income, sending children to school is often not a priority. There is also the question of their legal status – will sending their children to school leave them exposed, jeopardising a better life in Thailand? 

When education is itself a distant hope, what chance can such children possibly have of quality education? What chance could they possibly have at improving their own lives and those of their families and communities? 

Since 2009, the Foundation for Rural Youth (FRY) has been championing the rights of these children to better education. Originally established to help Thais from rural areas settle in urban Bangkok, their work has increasingly shifted toward the pressing needs of migrant families. 

Fuelled by dissatisfaction with the marginalization of migrant children, FRY provides education programmes and partners with schools to support the integration of migrant children into mainstream Thai schools.

 

Their work has allowed children who were once marginalized to be equipped with basic Thai language skills and to enrol in local schools, not just for their own benefit but that of the entire community. 

Indeed, Bangkhunthien residents have increasingly shown their support of the work of FRY, resulting not only in donations to the Foundation, but also support from local families who themselves work to provide free education for migrant children in government schools.

 Not far from FRY, Sanjao Haonukul School is a public primary school which began accepting migrant children three years ago and now has 49 students from Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia currently enrolled. Some migrant students have come through the integration programme offered at FRY, but even those who have not receive free education including lunch, milk, uniforms, books and stationery. 

At Sanjao Haonukul School, all students are treated equally, regardless of their status, their nationality, or their cultural background. A buddy system has been set up to further support migrant children, and the school works to engender in all the children respect and appreciation for the cultural diversity of their community. 

In addition to the proud grins of the children and the sounds of their playground laughter, awards and trophies decorate the school halls, and suggest that quality education, once a distant hope for so many families in Bangkhunthien, is now becoming a reality. 

UNESCO colleagues and participants of the UNESCO-KEDI Regional Seminar 2012 on ‘Education Policy-Making in the Age of Migration in Asia and the Pacific’ made a visit to FRY and Sanjao Haonukul School as part of the seminar. The experience has been invaluable to participants and colleagues of UNESCO, and we congratulate both FRY and the Sanjao Haonukul School for the achievements they have made in improving educational opportunities for children of Bangkhunthien.

For more information, please contact Ramya Vivekanandan [r.vivekanandan(at)unesco.org] at the Education Policy and Reform Unit


Written by Rachel McCarthy [r.mccarthy(at)unesco.org] and Stella Yu [s.yu(at)unesco.org]. 


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28.08.2012