Thailand’s Educational Crisis: Addressing the Struggles of Myanmar’s War-Displaced Children

The fighting in Myanmar resumed this week after a fragile five-month ceasefire brokered by China between the junta forces and ethnic minority insurgents apparently unraveled. Ironically, the renewed strife erupted mere days after the global community marked World Refugee Day last Thursday.

By the end of 2023, there were a staggering 117.3 million forcibly displaced people globally, according to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Of these, an estimated 47 million (40%) were children under 18. Moreover, between 2018 and 2023, 2 million children were born into refugee status, with an average of 339,000 refugee births annually.

Thailand, sharing its longest border with Myanmar, has been a sanctuary for refugees. The escalating conflict in Myawaddy since 2024 has driven tens of thousands, primarily women and children, to seek refuge in Thailand. Given the dire and unwavering situation in Myanmar, these refugees are poised to remain in Thailand for months, if not years. The challenge confronting Thailand and aiding organizations extends beyond merely providing food and shelter; they must also equip these refugees for future resilience. For young refugees, the need surpasses sustenance and safety—education is paramount.

Thailand’s policy of “Education for All,” outlined in a cabinet resolution passed on July 5, 2005, grants all children within Thailand, regardless of legal or national status, access to the education system up to the doctoral level. This laudable policy promises 15 years of free education, from kindergarten through Mathayom 6 (Grade 12), to all migrant children, with per-student budget allocations equal to those for Thai nationals.

This policy has garnered accolades globally, yet ground-level execution remains riddled with challenges. Numerous schools still deny entry to these children or impose prerequisites such as Thai language proficiency tests and additional fees.

Data from the Coordination Center for Education of Migrant Children and the Tak Primary Education Service Area Office 2 as of March 2024 indicated at least 64 learning centers catering to over 15,139 migrant students. However, this number falls short of addressing the burgeoning influx.

In addition to insufficient support, migrant learning centers face the threat of raids. Last year, migrant primary school students in Ang Thong and Lopburi provinces were sent to Chiang Rai for repatriation, blatantly disregarding their safety and right to education.

In February, the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) issued a directive mandating all state primary schools to enroll migrant children irrespective of documentation. Nevertheless, the regional education office in Tak defied this by continuing to bar migrant children from attending school.

This defiance not only contravenes the “Education for All” policy and directives from their superiors but also opposes Thailand’s highest law. According to Section 54 of the constitution, the government is obligated to provide education for every child within its borders.

Denying children their right to education renders them susceptible to labor and sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and juvenile delinquency. The Education Ministry and OBEC must ensure that renegade education officials are held accountable for exacerbating the plight of these vulnerable children and worsening social issues.

Moreover, there must be increased support for migrant learning centers to ensure that both migrant and war-displaced children receive an adequate education. Only then can these children hope to carve a brighter future amidst the shadows of conflict.

THAI.NEWS – Thailand Breaking News

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