Crossing Borders With Children

As kids return to school across the US, there are some 200,000 youth not in school in Thailand, which is a destination for around 3 million migrant workers – many who fled Burma due to civil war and military oppression.

Multiple barriers prohibit the children of Burmese migrants from attending Thai schools: language difficulties, costs, and frequent relocation. Migrant Learning Centers have sought to fill this void, educating tens of thousands of children each year. Yet when long-term migrants return to Burma, parents are finding that their children’s previous schooling in Thailand—whether in Thai public schools or the Migrant Learning Centers—goes unrecognized. This leads to high dropout rates, as teens in particular see no future with an education that may not be acknowledged where they live.

Kyaw Kyaw Min Htut, one of Partners Asia’s Advisors, is a pioneer in the field of educational integration across borders. As the director of BEAM Education Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and a leading migrant education policy expert, he has spent years advocating for the rights of children to access education so that they are able to contribute to the society in which they live.

Kyaw Kyaw Min Htut

“These three education systems—Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and the Migrant Learning Centers—should be connected, so that these children will be recognized wherever they go,” Kyaw Kyaw explained. “Children from a Migrant Learning Center should be able to go to Thai school. Children should be able to go to Myanmar schools upon their return from Thailand. We want to facilitate the mobility of students from one area to another so that they can continue their education.”

At a landmark meeting in early August, there was a breakthrough. Seven years of effort by Kyaw Kyaw and his colleagues at the Migrant Education Integration Initiative—also supported by Partners Asia, the John P. Hussman Foundation and Washington Women’s Foundation—led to the establishment of the Joint Working Group between the Thai and Burmese Ministries of Education (MoEs) in Bangkok. The group, which has up to 10 members from each country, will meet annually to focus on improving collaboration and “facilitating a smooth transition” for children moving between the Thai, Burmese and migrant education systems.

At the national level, the Burmese MoE has now agreed to—upon testing—accept students who have attended Migrant Learning Centers using a Burmese curriculum into government schools.

Kyaw Kyaw, along with representatives of the Thai and Burmese MoEs, believes that this is an important step toward a long-term goal within migrant education: the establishment of an equivalency framework that would allow these educational systems to formally recognize one another.

“We are advocating for placement tests to be more responsive and customized so that they test the real needs and skills of migrant children,” Kyaw Kyaw said.

Well-educated children will, after all, benefit any society to which they belong when they grow up. We are committed to supporting a model of education that respects the rights of migrants, and that can be held up as an example globally.