Thai education reform to benefit Burmese migrants

June 26, 2009 (DVB), Burmese migrants and refugees living on the periphery of Thai society could benefit from the Thai government's new plans to strengthen its education policy for migrant and stateless children in the country.

Thailand hosts some 3.5 million stateless persons, the majority of which are Burmese who have fled conflict in the country or who come to Thailand to find employment. Around 80 per cent of labour migrants are Burmese.

Currently all children, except those living in refugee camps, are ostensibly entitled to be educated in Thai schools regardless of their nationality.

The cost of schooling and transportation can often prevent migrant children from attending, and poses particular problems for the estimated 500,000 children born to Burmese parents in Thailand.

Speaking on the World Day Against Child Labour earlier this month, Thailand's deputy education minister, Chaiwut Bannawat, spoke of the government's plan to improve its 'education for all' policy to better include migrant and stateless children.

Problems with the feasibility for migrant children attending school are compounded by the transient lifestyle of their parents, who often move from place to place in search of work.

"Some migrant communities are very mobile; construction site workers don't stay in one place, they work on a construction site for three months and then move to another area, so it is difficult for the families to put the children to school, " said Jackie Pollock, director of the Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP) Foundation.

"Many migrant parents are afraid to put children on a school bus or something, because they have heard about trafficking and they are scared they won't see their children again."

In areas of northern Thailand, such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Sot, active NGO's and departments of education mean migrant children have a good chance of accessing education.

In Bangkok, however, where only an estimated 200 registered migrant children are studying, the problem becomes more worrying.

"There are areas where thousands and thousands of children are falling through this system," said Pollock.

It remains unclear what exactly the government is planning to do, but, said Pollock, officials may look into giving some legal status to the migrant learning centers while improving the current system for migrant children in Thai schools.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith

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