|Migrant children at a UNICEF-supported orange orchard school in Chiang Mai's Fang district. © UNICEF Thailand/2010/M. Thomas|
By Patima Klinsong
CHIANG MAI, Thailand, 17 February 2014 – More than 130 education experts and businessmen gathered in Chiang Mai last week to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation on promoting more education opportunities for migrant children.
A steering committee was set up at the end of the “Education Opportunities for Migrant Children” forum organized by UNICEF and the Chiang Mai Primary Education Service Area Office (ESAO) 1 last Wednesday at Chiang Mai’s Khum Phucome Hotel. The meeting, attended by members of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce and other local business owners, was aimed at promoting improved access to education for the growing number of migrant childrenliving in the province
Bijaya Rajbhandari, the UNICEF Representative for Thailand, said a large number of migrant children are not in school even though Thai law states that all children in Thailand- -- including migrant, non-Thai and children without legal status -- have the right to an education and are eligible to attend state schools.
“The impact of children not being able to receive an education is devastating for both each child and society as a whole,” Rajbhandari said. “All children must be given the opportunity to go to school so that they can develop to their full potential. Ensuring an education for migrant children needs additional effort. It requires support from everyone, including those in the business sector.
Sin-ard Lampoonpong, director of Chiang Mai ESAO 1, said local authorities are seeking cooperation from business operators in organizing education opportunities for migrant children. Chiang Mai alone has more than 124,000 migrant workers, but only some 24,000 migrant children are attending schools. Limited financial resources, difficulties in traveling to and from school and negative attitudes towards migrants are among the problems preventing more migrant children from being able to go to school.
Chalermchart Nakarangkul, president of Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, said migrant workers are important members of the Thai workforce. Providing the children of migrants with an education, including enrollment in vocational schools, will benefit the country as a whole in the future.
Some local business owners already have started supporting education for migrant children. For example, the Mae Taman Elephant Camp in Mae Taeng District has donated money to a school attended by the children of its migrant workers. In Mae Ai district, the owner of an orange orchard has been organizing free transportation to and from school for children of migrant workers.
The Thai government also allows a tax deduction for business operators that support education, including for donations to schools, provision of transportation to school for employee’s children, and providing buildings, land or other facilities for education activities.
At the same time, UNICEF has been working with Chiang Mai ESAO 3 and the non-government organization Group for Children to provide an education to hundreds of migrant children in orange orchards in Chiang Mai’s Fang district. Orchard owners provide free facilities for seven schools in the orchards, while while local education authorities handle schools’ curriculum, learning materials and training for teachers. In Chiang Mai city, Chiang Mai ESAO 1 is working with Wat Papao School, to ensure that migrant children from the Shan ethnic group who move to the city from rural areas such as Fang can continue their studies.
“There are already some good practices that show how cooperation among local authorities, NGOs and business operators is key to providing education for migrant children,” said Rajbhandari. “Children are everyone’s business. This is a win-win situation for everyone.”