A better life

Born in Thailand, 14-year-old Jidapa Wongsathan from the Tai Yai ethnic group dreams of becoming a tour guide. To turn her dream into reality, the ninth-grader has decided to attend Lanna Commercial Technological College in Chiang Mai after she finishes Grade 9 next year, instead of opting for high school.

“Chiang Mai is a popular tourist destination,” said Jidapa. “I’d like to study business English so that I will get a job easier, especially in the tourism industry. My parents are pleased to support my education.”

Jidapa’s parents left Shan State many years ago following ongoing ethnic conflicts and violence. They decided to settle down in the old northern capital.

“All cows and buffaloes were shot dead so my family decided to leave Shan State,” the girl recalled. “My parents now hold a 10-year work permit. I entered Chumchon Ban Buak Krok Noi School in Grade 2. I love this school because I can learn English with a focus on speaking, listening and writing skills. It’s good for daily life.”

Jidapa is lucky to have had formal education even though she is of an ethnic background. But in Thailand, there are still many migrant children not as lucky as her, and education is still a huge issue facing ethnic children. According to the latest data from the Office of Basic Education (OBEC), of the 6.6 million school-age people enrolled in schools operated under OBEC, more than 150,000 are non-Thai. And although a birth certificate is no longer required for enrolment among migrant kids, there are still approximately 200,000 migrant children across the country who are out of school, according to figures from the Thailand Migration Report conducted by the International Organisation for Migration.

Amid ongoing ethnic conflicts, thousands of migrants from Shan State have been pouring into Chiang Mai with hopes to enhance the quality of their lives. With Thailand’s birth rate dropping, Chiang Mai provincial authorities have recognised the potential of migrant children to become human assets as the country is becoming an increasingly ageing society.

Over the past decade, the old Lanna capital shows its great achievement in providing migrant kids a basic education, thanks to the landmark 1999 Education for All Policy and the 2005 Cabinet Resolution on Education for Unregistered Persons. All stateless and non-Thai children have been able to enrol in the primary and secondary schools free of tuition expenses as Thai pupils.

But not every family is lucky and able to send their children to schools. Plenty of migrant workers and their families live in the remote areas, while some illegals hide themselves from police officers, pushing them further away from the outside world and the public service including education.

Chumchon Ban Buak Krok Noi School, which is situated in the Nong Pa Krang district of Chiang Mai province, has gained a reputation for its effective educational management for ethnic diversity. More than 70% of students are Tai Yai and of hilltribes. Jidapa is one of them.

This 80-year-old school offers education from kindergarten to Grade 9 as well as the Mini English Programme. Good at mathematics, it has adopted the Japanese-style open-approach teaching with a focus on mathematical problem-solving activities, resulting in its Grade 9 students getting the highest scores on the math exam among schools under the Chiang Mai Primary Education Service Area Office 1 (ESAO 1).

“First, many parents believe that migrant children might bring our school rank down. But in fact, most migrant students are more ambitious and assiduous than Thai students, because they want to escape from poverty,” said Dumrong Matee, director of Chumchon Ban Buak Krok Noi School.

To learn the basics of the Thai language, all fresh migrant students start from Grade 1, so it’s a common sight to see seven-year-old Thai kids sit alongside some 15-year-old migrant teenagers in the same class. They are allowed to take the qualifying examinations to jump up to a higher level once they have better literacy skills.

Aiming to enhance vocational skills, the school teams up with Unicef to provide special instructors to train the secondary students in Chinese, English and computer literacy. It has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Saraphi Technical College to arrange several training programmes for students interested in mechanical engineering.

“I used to work at a private school in Chiang Mai, in which its teaching programmes centre on academics. At Chumchon Ban Buak Krok Noi School, we highlight practices so that our students can adapt knowledge in daily life,” said math instructor Supakan Siriwichayakul.

Tai Yai locksmith Jing Lungsa, 27, also sends his son to Chumchon Ban Buak Krok Noi School. Having moved to Thailand a decade ago, Jing said that he now gives priority to his son’s education.

“It’s impossible to have a better life if we still stay in Shan State. I want to stay in Thailand as long as I can. Here, I can earn more income and there’s convenient transportation. It’s different from Shan State in that we have suffered from violence for decades,” said Jing, father of a third grader.

“I realise that English language is important, so I’m willing to pay extra on English training for my son. I want him to become a mechanic. I’m trying to find a job close to the school so that I can send and pick up my son,” he added.

In 2009, Pa Pao Temple was turned into a camp for Tai Yai migrant workers after the closing of many orange farms in Fang district. To continue education for migrant children, Chiang Mai Primary Education Service Area Office 1 and 3, in collaboration with Unicef, launched the Orange Orchard to the Concrete Garden project to set up the learning centre in Pa Pao Temple. In 2011 the government upgraded it to the mobile branch of Chumchon Ban Buak Krok Noi School.

The government of Japan also gave funds to construct two buildings that now accommodate more than 150 migrant students from kindergarten to Grade 6. Under a limited budget, the two schools have to share teachers, school supplies, instructional materials and other educational facilities.

“I retired in 2016 but a school director asked me to help teach students at this mobile branch. I’m happy that I’m still useful for children,” said Uraiwan Emsarutai, a Grade 5 instructor. “The school budget is not enough for two properties. Sometimes we need to spend our money buying school supplies and making textbooks. Here there are only 11 teachers, so we have to teach all eight subjects.”

Around 7km away from Pa Pao Temple, the distance and transportation costs become significant barriers for migrant students to continue their education at the secondary level at Buak Krok Noi School.

This year, the European Union and Unicef are providing a minibus to transport children between the two properties, while the school will absorb the transportation cost.

“Buak Krok Noi School shows the spirit of rights by accepting migrant children. Immigration happens around the world and this is one of the reasons why children can’t get access to the education system,” said Pirkka Tapiola, ambassador of the European Union to Thailand.

Efforts to encourage migrant families to send their children to school can also been seen in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district. There, Ban Pa Bong School has worked with garlic and chilli-farm owners in persuading migrant workers to send their children to school. Occupying 7 rai, the school now has 95 students — mostly Tai Yai and other ethnic groups — and offers education from kindergarten to elementary.

“The challenge is that children have different languages and we need funds for creating instructional materials. There’s the similarity between Thai and Tai Yai languages, so it’s not hard for Tai Yai students to improve their literacy skills. But students from other ethnic groups will struggle to pick up Thai language,” said Sudaporn Wittaya, director of Ban Pa Bong School.

“Most students live on farms and we need to educate them and families about hygiene. Besides, they are often absent because they either take care of their siblings or have health problems,” she added.

Living in a deep chilli farm, Tai Yai migrant worker Ing Lunglu, 30, believes that education is a passport for her daughter to escape from poverty. And like Jidapa’s parents, Ing said she’s happy to support her child’s education. Now she pays 300 baht a month for a school-bus service to transport her daughter to class.

“I never put pressure on my daughter to get good grades,” Ing said. “I just want her to be in school but she is at the top of her class. I’m so proud of her. I want to see her have a good job and a better life.”

Written by Pattarawadee Saengmanee
Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 2 September 2019
Link: https://www.bangkokpost.com/life/social-and-lifestyle/1740914/a-better-life

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