A Note on Migrant Education
There are currently 61 migrant schools or “learning centres” with about 700 teachers in Tak province where Mae Sot is located. They serve about 14,000 children (out of the 25-40,000 migrant children in Tak). Some offer primary grades only while others offer either secondary only or the entire ten grades, depending on their capacity. A few “LCs” offer “post-10” vocational or GED (General Education Diploma) programs for older youth. The schools vary considerably in size and in available resources, depending on funding from foreign donors, networking within the educational community, etc.
In recent years, Burmese educators have tried to standardize curriculum so that children moving from one school to another have similar experiences. This standardization relies heavily on the use of the Myanmar curriculum. At the same time, they have adapted their curriculum to meet the Thai Ministry of Education requirement that they offer Thai language. Thus migrant children often study three and sometimes four (Burmese, Karen, Thai and English) languages. Finally, conscious of the inadequacy of traditional Burmese education to meet the needs of people living in a 21st century democratic society, some schools have tried to integrate critical thinking pedagogy into their teaching, leading to development of curricula for new subject areas such as environment studies, social studies, and Burmese culture, history and politics in addition to traditional disciplines such as language, math, art, and natural sciences, Teaching in all subject areas depends on the availability of trained teachers and materials, both of which are always in short supply. Schools rely heavily on volunteer teachers to fill gaps in the curriculum. Until its departure from Mae Sot in 2017, World Education was instrumental in developing curriculum and in providing teacher training. With its departure, learning centres have felt the loss of an important source of pedagogical support. Since 2012 when discussion of possible return to Burma for at least some students began, there has been some collaboration with the Myanmar Ministry of Education; the migrant education community has worked to strengthen older students’ ability to succeed in the Burmese system and therefore now offers Burmese matriculation exams. At the same time, for those who see their future in Thailand, efforts are being made to provide children with the language and general knowledge needed to gain access to the Thai educational system. Funding is needed to facilitate both these efforts.
Migrant Learning Centre Partners
All of our six partner schools in Mae Sot serve the needs of children of migrant workers and people driven across the border by repression, conflict and economic hardship in Myanmar. All open their doors to children of all religions and ethnicities. Funding for the schools has come from a variety of sources. During the last several years, many donors have turned their attention elsewhere, and presently, many migrant schools are at risk of closing. All of the schools face constant difficulties finding sufficient funds to carry on with their work.
The Boarding High School for Orphans and Helpless Youth (BHSOH)
BHSOH is located in the countryside outside Mae Pa, near Mae Sot. It was founded in 1993 by U Khaing Oo Maung, an educator and democracy activist of the 1962 generation. Along with providing primary and secondary education, BHSOH boards and cares for orphans and neglected children. One of its challenges is to find educational options for students who have finished its G1-to-G10 program. To meet their needs, it prepares a small group of students for GED programs, offers a Kor Sor Nor (Thai Nonformal Education) program to help students (20 in 2019) transition into the Thai education system and is also the home of the Youth Connect Life Skills program. It has 18 teachers and staff. Its work is overseen by a School Management Committee, and its core funding comes from Child’s Dream and a Canadian donor (through MSEP). In 2019, 277 students with about 30 boarding at the school. Like most of our partners, BHSOH faces additional challenges related to student retention (about 30 dropped out last year) and land security as rental fees may increase when its contract expires in 2022.
Hsa Thoo Ley Learning Centre and Orphanage
Hsa Thoo Ley Learning Centre and Orphanage is situated on the outskirts of Mae Sot. It was founded in 1999 by Karen leader Naw Paw Ray as a school for children of migrant workers under the umbrella of BMWEC (Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee). The largest of the migrant learning centres in Mae Sot, it is divided into three “schools” (pre-school, primary and secondary) and has about 900 students (240 in the secondary program), including 106 boarding students, and a teaching staff of 42. It has a number of buildings built with funding from international NGOs including a boarding house, nursery and housing for some of the faculty. In the last years it has worked closely with the Myanmar Department of Education as well as the Thai government and has developed a program to prepare older students to take matriculation examinations in Myanmar. Funding for operating costs and salaries is a huge challenge for such a large school. It relies on international donors and increasingly on parents for basic funds. MSEP assists in teaching of grade 10-12 students and contributes a small amount financially.
Hle Bee Learning Centre
Hle Bee Learning Centre, situated in the heart of Mae Sot, was started in 1999 by headmistress Naw Tha Zin Htay Naing, a Mon woman who taught for many years in Burma/Myanmar. Over the years the school has had to adapt and rebuild, as some of the land it occupied was reclaimed by a Thai owner, and school buildings were destroyed in the process. It has grown so that it now has a number of sizable buildings but no outdoor play area for children. In 2019 it had about 186 students in primary grades (nursery to grade 6) but this number dropped to 168 during the course of the year. It has 13 teachers. Hle Bee recently launched a Thai nonformal education program in which 11 students are enrolled. Students also take grade 4 Myanmar exams. However, only a minority choose to return to Myanmar. Most school funding comes from an Italian donor and MSEP.
Parami Learning Centre
Parami Learning Centre began in a small house but moved in 2010 to a large piece of land – realizing the dream of the school organizers to make the school more self-sustaining through development of gardening and fish pond projects and to build a vocational education program for students who have outgrown its K to G10 program. It houses a Kor Sor Nor (Thai Nonformal Education or NFE) program. Parami also has a Montessori preschool program and a Myanmar-based Nonformal Education (NFE) program for students hoping to reintegrate into the Myanmar education system. In 2019 there were about 420 students ranging in age from 4 to 15 years of age and 26 teachers. A few children live at the school because of difficult family situations, but increasingly, the school is unable to support them because of funding cuts and increasing expenses. Parami’s rent quadrupled in 2018. Help Without Frontiers (HWF), its main funder, has provided partial funding for operational costs (including transportation and salaries for teachers) but has recently cut its funding by 50%. A registration fee and small monthly contribution from families that are able is making up some of the losses. MSEP and a number of other organizations also help.
Hsa Mu Htaw Learning Centre
One of our first friends in Mae Sot was the educator, Daw Htet Htet Aung. A number of years ago, she took responsibility for helping a very poor primary school that was in need of her organizational skills. Since her arrival at the school, it has blossomed. In 2019 it served 183 children ranging in age from 3 to 13 years and had 9 teachers. Along with a primary school program (nursery through grade 6), based largely on the Myanmar curriculum, it has a Montessori preschool program. It also has a dormitory for 36 boarding students. A mushroom growing project, initiated by another Canadian NGO, now provides a small income that Daw Htet Htet Aung allows the children to administer. In addition, the children undertake handicraft projects to try to raise funds for their school. In recent years, funding has been precarious. Parents are increasingly taking responsibility for keeping the doors open. A number of organizations including MSEP, the Suwanamit Foundation, Safe Child Thailand and TDH Netherlands as well as individual donors are helping.
Pyo Khinn Learning Centre
Pyo Khinn Learning Centre, our newest partner school, was started in 1999 by Muslim headmaster U Thein Tun. The school has 7 teachers, 1 staff and 100 students in grades 1-5. Most are Muslim and live in an extremely poor corner of Mae Sot. Some families contribute to school funds; most cannot. Pyo Khinn uses a Burmese curriculum but has recently introduced a Kor Sor Nor (Thai Nonformal Education) program in which 18 students were enrolled in 2019. Although Muslim in character, the school teaches about all the different religions of Myanmar. Given the situation for Muslims in Myanmar, there is little prospect of these children returning there soon. The school’s main concern is to keep children coming to school at present. The drop-out rate is fairly high because of the poverty these families face. It operates with few resources in a small space that often needs repairs. Its funding comes from the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee (BMWEC), Child’s Dream and MSEP.
Partners in Canada
Our Canadian partners enable our project. Our institutional partners provide use of their foundations to give receipts for charitable donations. They also provide printing, email and web services. We at MSEP extend a special thanks to Julie Fradette, Bishop’s University Webmaster, for working web design magic for us and to Bishop’s University for hosting and supporting the development of this website.
Members of our community along with local businesses, organizations and churches have facilitated fundraising and outreach in many ways. Their contributions, large and small, are invaluable. Over the years, MSEP has received support from a number of foundations. However, our core support remains local. Members of the Oasis Christian Centre in Lennoxville have donated their beautiful space for our Thai-Burmese dinner each year. Local nutritionist and chef, Veronica Kaczmarowski, has made sure that the dinner service unfolds smoothly each year. Burmese chef, Tala Rod and his mother Mi Sorn have provided our Burmese dishes. Friends in the community have donated their dining room tables for fundraisers. The University Singers at Bishop’s University have sung for us. Local artists have contributed their paintings and pottery (and galleries even!) for our art auctions. Steadfast supporters in the business and art community have contributed prizes regularly for our annual raffle. St. Mark’s Chapel at Bishop’s University and the Champlain College teachers’ union (SECCL) have made annual contributions, and other organizations and churches have made smaller donations. Students at local schools have held their own fundraising events and been part of our education and outreach projects. Individual supporters have made donations, attended our events enthusiastically and helped us spread the word about the importance of education for migrant and refugee children. We could not do this project without this support.