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A new primary school for migrant children is set to open near Bangkok next month, where students will be able to study their native curriculum in the Burmese language for the first time, according to local sources.
The school will open in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon’s Mahachai district on 1 July as part of a non-governmental initiative to improve education for Burmese migrant children and help prevent the use of underage labour.
Classes will be taught exclusively in the Burmese language using Burma’s national curriculum in a bid to expand educational opportunities for migrant children, who otherwise may not attend school.
The project – a joint initiative by the migrant rights advocacy group Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), local religious groups and NGOs — is expected to boost school attendance among Burmese school children in Thailand’s swelling migrant population.
“We aim to improve education for migrant children in Thailand by officially teaching in the Burmese language,” said U Toe from HRDF. “[We] also [want] to prevent them from becoming child workers.”
Although there are a number of other NGO schools for migrant children in Mahachai, none of them offer the Burmese curriculum taught in their national language, said U Toe.
Burma’s labour attaché in Bangkok, Kyaw Kyaw Lwin, told DVB they were planning to negotiate with the Thai government to obtain official recognition for the new school.
“We gave social assistance for the school’s foundation but it requires negotiations with Thai authorities to become official – we see potential for the meeting [with the Thai government],” said Kyaw Kyaw Lwin.
In May, the Burmese embassy announced that it would begin issuing passports for migrant children in a bid to grant them legal status in the Kingdom. Although Thai law stipulates that all children, regardless of their status, are allowed to attend school, migrant children are often excluded for practical reasons, such as financial or language barriers, and forced to start working instead.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), over 200,000 Burmese children under the age of 17 live in Thailand. Less than 20 percent are estimated to attend school, mostly through specialist programmes set up by local NGOs.
Migrants in Thailand make up about five percent of the county’s workforce, and provide a crucial pool of labour for low-skilled, often dangerous, industries such as fishing and construction. Up to three million people, or about 80 percent, are estimated to come from Burma.
There are around 60 migrant schools along the Thai-Burma border in western Thailand’s Tak Province, while around 15 at Mahachai in Samut Sakhon near Bangkok. None are formally recognised by the Thai Ministry of Education.