Written by Michou Tchana-Hyman
BEAM Education Foundation
Children of a Broken Educational System
I arrived in Thailand last year and became aware of the startling number of children working on the streets and at home during normal school hours. In Chiang Mai, a bustling city nestled in the foothills that continue into Northern Thailand, many migrants come seeking work. Here, I joined The Bridging Educational Access to Migrants (BEAM) Foundation and focused on the Migrant Education Integration Initiative (MEII) where we work to fill the gaps, providing access to educational programs for the thousands of migrants and refugees living in the area struggling to survive in Thailand, and to find a sustainable way home to Myanmar.
Today it is estimated that there are well over two million Myanmar migrants and refugees living and working in Thailand. Approximately 400,000 are under the age of 18, and less than 20 percent are involved in accredited educational programs, leaving over 300,000 youth who either are not receiving any kind of education, or are receiving an education that will not be recognized by any official system. Without a diploma, students cannot continue on to higher education and better economic opportunities.
If these migrants and their children ever return home, reintegrating these children into the Myanmar education system is extremely difficult. And, the current state of migrant education places this population at a serious disadvantage when it comes to the labor market and social mobility. BEAM Education Foundation refers to this as ‘the legalization of human trafficking’.
The purpose of MEII is to help alleviate the disparity in opportunities in education for migrants and underprivileged people. A committee of 20 organizations leading the way in supporting Myanmar migrants was founded by MEII in early 2013. The main goal of this organization is to create a standardized migrant education system that is officially recognized by both the Myanmar and Thai governments. A recognized education system would allow the migrant student populations the ability to easily continue their education whether they relocate inside Thailand or return home to Myanmar. MEII is integrating existing official curriculum of Thailand and Myanmar to develop a flexible curriculum that will meet the needs of this diverse community.
This year, MEII is collaborating with the Thai Non-Formal Education (NFE) branch to introduce an English program that allows students from marginalized populations access to a high school diploma that is officially recognized throughout Thailand. In the coming months, MEII plans to collaborate with the Thai NFE to implement an integrated non-formal education system, which nine refugee camps and the surrounding communities along the Western Thai-Myanmar border can access.
During 2013 MEII adopted a three-phase plan. During the first-phase researchers identified the current needs of Myanmar migrants and migrant learning centers throughout Thailand. Phase-two consisted of analyzing the current curriculum and accreditation systems of formal and non-formal education in Myanmar and Thailand in order to find the commonalities and possible ways of integration for mutual recognition. Migrant learning centers located across Thailand were also approached, to better understand the opportunities for integration, and address the needs for differences. In the third-phase a Curriculum Standards Framework was developed and discussions between Myanmar and Thailand government departments and migrant learning centers occurred.
Final discussions and the launch of the MEII Myanmar Project are currently underway. The goal of MEII Myanmar Project is to integrate migrant education located in Thailand within the Myanmar State Education System, helping migrants move from migrant schools in Thailand into the education and vocational systems of Myanmar. MEII will partner with the Myanmar education systems to create suitable curriculum and standards for returning migrant students, creating a formal bridge between Thailand and Myanmar education departments and migrant education working groups to facilitate a successful educational process.
It is anticipated that an increased number of migrant students will return to their home country and be integrated into the Myanmar education system. MEII wants to support this process in an effective and culturally appropriate way for children in need of an educational system that meets their challenging world. By empowering schools, teachers, and students in both Thailand and Myanmar, MEII hopes to help facilitate sustainable change by providing recognized education on both sides of the border, a path to success for students and the region.
In the video, Migrants Voice, Myanmar migrants seeking education in Thailand speak about their struggle to have their education efforts recognized.