Tomorrow's citizens

Why funding the education of migrants helps all of Thailand


Young students in Chiang Mai. Most of them are from families whose parents relocated from Shan State to work in pepper farms in Thailand. Sukhum Preechapanich


Two years ago, when Nao Lungwi was sitting for the Onet (Ordinary National Education Test) exam in her last year of primary school, the young student thought her ethnic background was a weakness and she didn't expect to be among the top students.

"The others [Thai students] seemed very smart," said Nao, an 8th-grade ethnic Shan student from Buak Krok Noi School.

When the results came in, Nao Lungwi, now 15, discovered she had scored 95 out of 100 on the mathematics portion. That's unusually high for students, including those of Thai nationality.

"There has always been a misconception that migrant children will underperform in school," said Damrong Matee, director of Buak Krok Noi School in Muang district, Chiang Mai, adding that ethnicity and a mother tongue other than Thai are often seen as weaknesses by many teachers and parents.

But students at Buak Krok Noi School have proved that perception wrong. The school, which now consists of the main complex and a mobile learning centre at Pa Pao Temple, has 480 students altogether, 450 of them children of migrant workers. In the past few years, those migrant students have achieved the highest scores in Onet among the schools under the Chiang Mai Primary Education Service Area Office 1.

Last year, Nao's Tai Yai schoolmate, Buaphad Lungsor, 14, scored 70 in both science and Thai, while some of her classmates managed to achieve only 40 for the Thai-language portion.

According to the National Institute of Education Testing Service, some 700,000 students sat the Onet exam at primary school between 2013 and 2016. Mean scores for the Thai-language component were between 45 and 53%, while for maths, it was around 37-40%.

Commenting on the perception that migrant children have lesser learning capacity, Juan Santander, deputy Unicef representative for Thailand, said that positive narratives, such as that of the high Onet scores by migrant children, only prove such a perception is wrong.


Most students at Wat Pa Pao School in Chiang Mai are migrant kids. Sukhum Preechapanich


Santander added that he is impressed at how the Thai government accepts any child, regardless of age or nationality, into its educational system, living up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every child has the right to education, and in Thailand, migrant children are being subsidised for education and also meals.

The exam results of Nao and Buaphad provide proof that all children have the potential to learn and excel in the subjects for which they show aptitude. Opportunities should be given to everyone regardless of gender, religion, nationality or race. Equality is vital in all services, including education.

As an educator, Damrong said that it's not acceptable to deprive children of their right to education. Every child has that right even if they don't have a birth certificate. Under the scheme, schoolchildren are eligible to receive free textbooks, uniforms and equipment as well as take part in extracurricular activities.

Buak Krok Noi School registers a rising number of migrant children every year. It all started in 2007 when a series of land expropriations took place in the North, forcing many orange orchards in Fang district to close down, pushing hundreds of migrant people to move to Chiang Mai city in search of construction work.

In 2009, Pa Pao Temple's abbot, who is also an ethnic Shan, turned the temple into a camp for ethnic Shan families. The temple later became a learning centre when Chiang Mai Primary Education Service Area Office 1 and 3 and Unicef launched the "From Orange Orchard To The Concrete Garden" project, to enable migrant children to continue their education.

In 2011, the centre was upgraded to a mobile branch of Buak Krok Noi School. However, the mobile branch, which is located about 7km from the main school, is only able to provide basic primary-school-level classes in such subjects as Thai language and maths. Many activities and extra-curricular studies, like computer classes, are held only at the main school, which also offers education up to Grade 9.


Far left A novice monk student. Sukhum Preechapanich


According to the Office of Basic Education (Obec), more than 150,000 of the 6.6 million children enrolled in schools operated under Obec are non-Thai. The Thailand Migration Report by the International Organization for Migration revealed that about 200,000 migrant children in Thailand are out of school despite the fact that a birth certificate isn't required to enrol.

Concerns have been raised in certain circles that too much of the education budget is being spent on providing education for migrants, rather than to improve it for the locals. But Damrong said the budget allocation will not only allow migrant children to be educated, but also integrate into society and eventually contribute to the country as a whole.

Both Nao and Buaphad, and many other Shan migrants, have visited their hometowns in Shan State, but the majority have no plans to return.

Pirkka Tapiola, the European Union's ambassador to Thailand, noted that migration has today become a way of life, with numbers increasing every year. But the old perceptions persist and children are the most affected group.

Every organisation should work together for the best interests of the children so that no child is left behind, he added.

The EU and Unicef have been working with the education authorities to support the provision of classes such as Chinese, English language and computer classes.

Through the partnership, a minibus was also donated to Buak Krok Noi School in August to allow more migrant children to access education.

This support not only benefits the migrants and offers more future job opportunities for them, it is also good for the entire community, Tapiola said.

Schooling, Damrong added, will not only allow child migrants to be educated, but also to integrate into the larger society. They will befriend Thai children, pursue higher education at vocational school or at the tertiary level, and eventually enter the local job market.

Nao has been taking Chinese lessons since last year and hopes to become a tour guide for Chinese tourists in Chiang Mai. Buaphad, meanwhile, dreams of studying business administration, which will pave the way for her to own a pet cafe where customers can enjoy drinks and time with animals.

With migration more common than ever before, Tapiola says countries must start thinking of migration as wealth and migrants as assets for society. "Today's migrants are tomorrow's citizens," he said.



Sources :

Bureau of Information and Communication Technology Office of the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education E-Mail :