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Mae Hong Son, tough for development projects, said Governor

There is no other place like Mae Hong Son, it is tough for development projects, said Gumtorn Thavornstit, Mae Hong Son Governor.


The City of Three Mists, Mae Hong Son, lies in a deep valley with high complex mountain ranges in the North of Thailand. It is the most mountainous province and furthest from Bangkok in the north and is the third largest in Northern Thailand and seventh largest in the country.




The province has the lowest population density of all provinces in Thailand. Ninety per cent of its land is national forest and reserves. Five per cent is used for agriculture and the other five is residential areas. 

Every district in Mae Hong Son shares a common border with Myanmar. Over sixty per cent of its population are members of ethnic groups, among them the HmongYaoLahuLisuAkha and Karen. One other notably and big ethnic group are the Shan

On average, residents in Mae Hong Son make a bit over Bt 20,000 (USD 650) per head per year, which is counted as the lowest in the country. 

“Mae Hong Son people are not poor. They have enough rice in a storehouse to eat. What they lack is opportunities in education and public service,” said the Governor.

“I don’t expect to see every student to go to schools in cities for bachelor degrees. It’d be too bad to see people leave their own home province in the name of education and not come back,” he said.

UNESCO and other seven UN agencies have been engaged in the “UN Joint Programme on Integrated Highland Livelihood Development in Mae Hong Son” with its aim of improving quality of life and reduce poverty among vulnerable groups in underserved areas of Mae Hong Son through both protection and empowerment measures. 

Naoki Minamiguchi, the Programme Manager said that this UN Joint Programme represents a pioneering initiative of bringing together the wealth of diverse development-oriented expertise from eight UN agencies  joining hands with Thai agencies and partners in a collective effort to address the multi-faceted developmental challenges facing Mae Hong Son. 

UNESCO Bangkok is seeking to increase opportunities and access to quality education for vulnerable populations with special attention to life skills in education. More specifically, the organization aims to further improve enrolment, attendance and completion rates through formal and non-formal education for all and to enhance schools and learning centres’ capacities. 

Thuanthong Srisawat from the Ministry of Education said children in Mae Hong Son have a lower chance for quality education due to its complex location. 

“Many live in the mountain. We have a high numbers of dropouts as students have to travel quite far for school. We have a high number of ethnic students whose first language is not Thai, and we have difficulty retaining teachers,” said Mr. Thuanthong, Deputy Director of Mae Hong Son Office of Educational Service Area 2.

Phuttachad Jandam, Deputy Director of Mae Hong Son Office of Educational Service Area 1 added: “It’s usual that we are short of teachers. And it’s usual that one teacher takes care of up to two to three [primary] classes for 20 students per each class. And this shortage of teacher definitely affects quality education for Mae Hong Son students.”

In this initial stage of the UN Joint Programme on Integrated Highland Livelihood Development in Mae Hong Son, UNESCO Bangkok has been working collaboratively with Mae Hong Son Educational Service Offices, Provincial Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education, and Mae Hong Son Governor’s Office to organize workshops and field visits to their staff.

“Capacity development of education personnel is at the core of all activities of the project through training workshops on management, networking and study visits,” said Intiranee Khanthong, Programme Assistant of UNESCO Bangkok. 

“The visits would provide opportunities for managers and implementers at different levels of the project to observe effective literacy and non-formal education system, implementation mechanism, monitoring and evaluation methods of the successful cases and to strengthen partnership mechanism and develop sectorial strategies and learning curricula altogether.”

The recent UNESCO workshop and study visit for Mae Hong Son government officers was conducted in October last year in Chiang Rai, North of Thailand as its geography is close to Mae Hong Son and it is a successful province in education. This is the second workshop and study visit following its first in Bangkok in November 2010. 

During the three-day trip, the 20 local authorities visited Mae Fah Luang University to learn about necessary skills in the 21st century in the workshop organized by a Mae Fah Luang trainer on topics including best practices and lesson learned on communication and working style in dealing with voluntary groups to top management. 

They also visited the Ban Huay Rai Samukki School under the supervision of formal and basic education office and Pa Mu Cher Community Learning Centre under the supervision of non-formal and informal education office to share information on teaching and learning modalities and implementation methods suitable for highland people. 

At the Ban Huay Rai Samukki School there are over 400 students from kindergarten to higher secondary level, most are from ethnic groups, with a total of 20 teachers. 

Supachoke Piyasan, Director of Ban Huay Rai Samukki School said: “We try to adapt our school curriculum to fit our local context as we don’t only focus on academic performance but to add career and income generation skills programmes to our students.” 

“Thai is not our students’ first language. Due to this language barrier, they may have difficulty catching a lesson and drop out as they may not do well in terms of academic performances. So we need to create other type of opportunities for them and by having this career training background and experience, they learn that work environment is not always as they may have dreamed, ” said Supachoke.

Skill programmes offered for students at Ban Huay Rai Samukki School include orchid and winter plants growing, garden decoration, general mechanical repairs, cooking, bakery and barista. Chiang Rai is one of the most frequently visited cities in Thailand and the school location is near many tourist attractions.

The government officers from Mae Hong Son also visited Doi Tung Development Foundation under the patronage of the late Princess Mother, Princess Srinagarindra, with its task to improve quality of life of Thailand's ethnic groups in Doi Tung area through various social enterprises development to benefit local people. 

A grandmother of 71 years old whose name is not given told the participants that she has been working at Doi Tung Foundation for about 20 years for bobbin winding weaving. She started receiving 90 Baht per day and is now up to 180 Baht per day for her eight hour day’s work. 

“My life has been a lot better as I have my daily income compared to when I had no work or only employed in a rice field or for whatever and whenever,” said the grandmother.  

Ichiro Miyazawa, Programme Specialist of UNESCO Bangkok, said “There are a lot of lessons we can learn from Doi Tung Foundation. Activities are owned by local people and income have been generated through their learning and creativity.” 

Other educational sites for this field visit include Vimuttayalaya Institute of World Peace Development founded and directed by Master V. Vajiramedhi whose philosophy is “No happiness is greater than peace”, Wat Rong Khun, Heaven on Earth (White Temple), one of the most beautiful and unique temples in Thailand, designed and funded by national artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and Ban Dam Museum, Hell on Earth (Black House or Black Temple), created by national artist Thawan Duchanee.

Vichai Puangpakisiri, Director of Mae Hong Son Office of Educational Service Area 2 said: “This field trip is a great opportunity to meet UNESCO staff who would be involved in this developmental programme later and learn about the best practices of other relevant educational projects, for example, how to cater education for ethnic populations whose mother language is not Thai and career programmes to suit local community and its context.”

For UNESCO Bangkok’s upcoming activities under the Joint Programme on Integrated Highland Livelihood Development in Mae Hong Son, UNESCO will be working in close consultation with Mae Hong Son Governor to identify and plan suitable future activities to fit the context of Mae Hong Son, the City of Three Mists.

If anyone wishes to support the programme, please contact Ichiro Miyazawa at or Intiranee Khanthong at .  Any kinds of supports including ideas, funds and teaching and learning materials are most welcome.


By Rojana Manowalailao, UNESCO Bangkok