04 December 2009

UNICEF Youth Ambassador says all children “should be able to get an education”

Story by Nattha Keenapan

MAE HONG SON, Thailand - After visiting hill tribe children and schools in Mae Hong Son province, UNICEF Youth Ambassador Ann Thongprasom said every effort must be made to ensure that all children are provided with access to an education.
Ann, who made a three-day mission to Mae Hong Son last month to visit UNICEF-supported schools for hill tribe children in remote and mountainous areas of Pang Mapa and Khun Yuam districts, said “all children in Thailand, regardless of their sex, religion, legal status or ethnicity, should be able to get an education.” 

During her mission, Ann met and talked with children from different ethnic minorities, including the Karen, Shan, Lahu and Lisu hill tribes, and learned of the difficulties the children faced in the past in accessing an education. 

The route to Ban Mae Laga School In Mae Hong Song's Khun Yuam district. UNICEF helps bring school in children who live in the remote area. © UNICEF Thailand/2009/Athit Perawongmetha  
A 2004 survey carried out by the Mae Hong Son Education Areas Service Office 1 (MHS-ESAO 1) with UNICEF support found that more than 1,000 children in just one district of Mae Hong Son were not receiving an education because existing schools were too far away from their homes. The remoteness of the hill tribe villages and poor roads in some areas also made it difficult to build standard education facilities in these communities or find enough qualified teachers willing to teach in them.
The hill tribe school project was started by UNICEF and MHS-ESAO 1 in 2005 to give children in these remote villages the opportunity to receive at least a primary education.

Ann Thongprasom, UNICEF Thailand Youth Ambassador visits Karen-ethnic children in Ban Maelaga School in Mae Hong Son Province. © UNICEF Thailand/2009/Athit Perawongmetha 

“I was surprised that there are still so many people living in such remote areas that are so difficult to access,” said Ann. “But I was really impressed to see the work that has been done to establish these small schools in these faraway villages.” 
Ann noted that the hill tribe schools differ from traditional schools in many ways.

“Many of these schools were built by the communities themselves, using local resources such as bamboo to construct the small school buildings. Some have children from different grades learning together as there are not enough classrooms, and older students help teachers with the care of the younger students,” Ann said.

Ann holds small Lahu-ethnic children in Mae Hong Son's Dong Mafai village. © UNICEF Thailand/2009/Athit Perawongmetha 
The main education goals for the hill tribe schools are to ensure that all the students are able to read and write Thai and do basic math. In addition, they are also taught how to make the best use of natural resources and to preserve their local culture and wisdom.

There are now 631 primary school students attending 23 local hill tribe schools supported under the project. The students are taught by 41 teachers, 17 of whom are from ethnic hill tribes and speak both Thai ethnic languages.

Despite the expansion of the hill tribe school project to new areas in Mae Hong Son over recent years, children from ethnic minorities are still among those most likely to be excluded from receiving an education.  According to a national survey conducted in 2006, about 900,000 primary school-aged children in Thailand are still not in school or enroll late. Many of the excluded children are from ethnic minorities, migrant communities and impoverished families or are living with HIV.

“All of the children I met said they almost never miss a day of school,” Ann said. “They obviously treasure the education they are receiving. The number of hill tribe schools like this certainly needs to be expanded.”

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