Team: Michou Tchana-Hyman, Kamonchanok Konghahong, Tarie Phasomsap Caouette, Thaniya Theungsang, Atcharawadee Srinandphol
As graduate students in the Masters in Social Innovation and Sustainability program, we recognise the importance of the SDG Goal 10.2, which is “to empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.” We also recognise that Thailand is struggling to achieve inclusivity in many communities, including migrant youth.
There is an estimated 400,000 migrant youth below the age of 16 years-old living in Thailand. Among them, approximately 150,000 youth are in Thai public schools, with an additional 30,000 receiving education from migrant learning centres, which leaves over 200,000 school-aged youth without access to education.
Therefore, we brought together key stakeholders at SEA Junction for a night of reflection and learning about the challenge of creating a more inclusive education system for migrant youth in Thailand. We were joined by migrant youth and representatives from organisations supporting opportunities for migrants in Thailand. They included the Beam Education Foundation, Partners Asia, the Baan Dek Foundation and the Office of Non-Formal and Informal Education.
In an enlightening discussion, we learnt about the many challenges of migrant youth. Firstly, migrants do not necessarily have the language skills to enter the Thai education system. They may also have economic pressures that inhibit their ability to go to school in Thailand. Secondly, they have a transient status and often anticipate returning to Myanmar one day and therefore seek an education that is both relevant and recognised in their homeland. Thirdly, there is no shortage of passion and desire among migrant youth to learn and have the same opportunities as other young people.
We also learnt about the important role of Migrant Learning Centres in addressing the education needs of young migrants. For example, BEAM’s migrant learning programs include vocational training, cultural learning for integration into their host and home societies, and preparation programs for higher education. However, we also discovered that neither the Thai or the Myanmar government recognise the education students gain at these centres. Therefore, institutions like BEAM help prepare students sit the GED (General Education Development) exam. While it is widely recognised, including by Thai Universities, the exam language is English, and the content is designed for the North American context. Although not ideal, it represents one of the most available stepping stones to higher education for Myanmar migrant youth in Thailand.
The speakers noted the need for political action. After the culmination of grassroots efforts, a cross-border education working group consisting of members of the Ministries of Education from both Thailand and Myanmar was established earlier this year. The onus is on this working group to map out inclusive pathways for migrants and come to an agreement on how to support their interests and ensure they are not left behind.
As young researchers, we hope to learn more about how to safeguard and empower the future of young migrants. We appreciate the support of SEA Junction and the participation of the speakers who shared with us their valuable work and insights.