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Network a Big Step Forward for Flexible Learning Strategies to Reach Out of School Children

17.12.2013

Thousands of youngsters in northern Thailand and beyond stand to benefit from the formation of a regional network dedicated to using flexible learning strategies to reach out of school children at a recent consultation meeting in Chiang Rai.

The Regional Consultation Meeting on Flexible Learning Strategies (FLS) brought together 63 participants from the Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education (ONIE), the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) and NGOs involved in implementing FLS and providing learning opportunities for out of school children in the northern Thai provinces of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Tak and Mae Hong Son as well as Bangkok.

UNESCO Bangkok in collaboration with the UNICEF Country Office for Thailand and the Chiang Rai Provincial Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education, Ministry of Education of Thailand organized the Regional Consultation Meeting on Flexible Learning Strategies (FLS) for Out of School Children in Thailand from 29-30 November 2013.

The meeting offered a unique setting for government and NGO representatives who share similar objectives in reaching out of school children through FLS to collaborate. Many of the forum's participants said that this was the first such opportunity they have had and that it proved a valuable experience in broadening their knowledge in FLS.

Participants exchanged information and good practices and at the meeting's end coordinators from each province were selected to follow up on and promote FLS in their provinces. A regional network for future collaborations on FLS was established.

In February 2014, follow-up meetings on the outcomes of this forum will be held in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Tak and Mae Hong Son to discuss concrete action plans at the provincial level.

UNESCO Bangkok in collaboration with UNICEF Country Office for Thailand and Chiang Rai Provincial ONIE will continue to support this activity. The pilot initiative in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Tak and Mae Hong Son represents a major step in the promotion of FLS both in the north and nationwide.

Experiences from Suwannimit Foundation

The Suwannimit Foundation is a registered Thai foundation dedicated to strengthening the operational capacity and sustainability of community-based organizations that service underprivileged people on the Thailand-Myanmar border. The foundation collaborates with other organizations on education, social and health service programs.

Displaced Children: Access to Education and Challenges

Background

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has only recently emerged from decades of military rule, during which armed conflicts between ethnic armed groups and government forces were common. As a result, there are more than 3 million displaced people and migrant workers from Myanmar living in Thailand. An estimated 30,000 school-aged children are living along the Thailand-Myanmar border in Tak province.

Three refugee camps (known as temporary shelters) were set up in Tak for those fleeing armed conflicts in Myanmar. The population of these camps stands at 80,000; 25,000 of whom are school-aged children (TBC- Statistic 2012 March).

Situation: Displaced children and access to education

In Tak province's Mae Sot, Mae Ramat, Phop Phra districts, there are 74 Migrant Learning Centres (MLCs) run by community-based organizations and supported by the Suwannimit Foundation as well as other NGOs. Approximately 15,000 children have access to non-formal or informal education at these MLCs. These centers are not part of the Thai Non-Formal and Informal Education system.


There are schools similar to MLCs in the 3 refugee camps. There a total of 15,411 children are attending (Statistic of KRCEE: Academic year 2013-2014) the Institute of Higher Education (IHE) under the supervision of the Karen Refugee Committee Education Entity (KRCEE), which is supported by NGOs such as ZOA and higher education entities.

Under Thailand’s Education for All policy, migrant children are able to access Thai Schools in their area and/or MLCs can approach Thai schools and affiliates to act as "schools within schools" or to enroll students in Non Formal and Informal Education (or “Kor Sor Nor” in Thai).

However, the refugee children can only attend schools in the camps. Camp school certificates are recognized by the KRCEE itself in refugee camps but not more widely in Thailand or Myanmar. Standardization examinations for Grade 12 are conducted in all refugee camps. After Grade 12, students are able to pursue one of three areas of higher education: health, education or management. After graduation, they are able to serve their communities in the camps.

Quality of life: Displaced children in terms of education

Certificates from Thai schools are recognized by the government of Thailand and enable the carrier to continue in higher education. Both school within school certificates and non-formal and informal education certificates are also recognized. Thailand and Myanmar do not recognize certificates issued by the MLCs. This situation is beginning to change in Myanmar where some states have begun to recognize the qualification.

MLCs offer a different curriculum, which is mainly delivered in three languages: Myanmar, English and Thai. Most MLCs provide classes in three subjects – Thai and English language studies and mathematics – developed by Primary Education Service Area (PESA)-2 of Tak and World Education (WE). However, some MLCs include ethnic languages such as Karen, Mon, etc. A few MLCs are financially unable to hire a Thai teacher. These centers also focus on other topics such as agriculture and handicrafts for livelihood activities as well as activities designed to improve physical and mental wellbeing, such as sports and the arts.

Not having a recognized certificate and its challenges in access to education

Approximately 10,000 children cannot access education either in non-formal education known as MLC, Thai School or NFE (Kor Sor Nor). Some 15,000 students at MLCs receive certificates that are not elsewhere. Without recognized certificates, students cannot continue their education. In terms of careers, despite having adequate training and experience, they are far less likely to be appointed to appropriate positions or even be interviewed for them.

For more information on FLS, please visit www.flexlearnstrategies.net
For more information on Suwannimit Foundation, please visit www.suwannimit.org

Written by: Sowirin Chuanprapun (s.chuanprapun@unesco.org) and Phanasak Thaweearjchariyawut (phanasak@suwannimit.org)