Diverse and Included, Not Divided

There is a need to promote inclusive education, particularly towards migrants and enhance student’s skills required for global citizenship and respect to diversity

Heamakarn Sricharatchanya
Two young male and female students are shaking hands
UNICEF Thailand/2019/Roengrit Kongmuang

27 May 2019

Watcharapong, 16, lives in a small wooden hut on the bank of the Moei River along the Thai-Myanmar border in Mae Sot district of Tak province. His Burmese father and mother work on the Myanmar side as a wage worker while his younger sister, 15, works as a waitress at a casino there.

Every day, Watcharapong and his other sister Araya, 12, walk on an earthy pathway for about half an hour to Baan Ta Art school, which is a buffer school, in the district. A buffer school provides knowledge about ASEAN, and teaches one ASEAN language depending on the country where the school is close to – in this case, Burmese.

What is special about this school is that even though it is situated on Thai soil, about 88 per cent of its students are Burmese nationality.

“My family moved here 14 years ago because of the bad economy in Myanmar,” says Watcharapong, who is much smaller comparing to his peers at the same age. “I still remember the first day I went to school. I put on a casual outfit because I had no school uniform. And I did not understand a word that teachers said because I did not understand Thai.”

Watcharapong is among more than 13,600 non-Thai students enrolling in public schools under the Education Service Area Office Tak 2 jurisdiction. Non-Thai students account for 28.5 per cent of total students there, according to government statistics.

A young male student is sitting cross-legged, smiling.
UNICEF Thailand/2019/Roengrit Kongmuang

Tak is one of the provinces where many migrants live and work because it shares its west border with Myanmar. In 2016, out of about 632,000 registered population in Tak, some 102,000, or about 16 per cent, do not have Thai nationality, according to the Department of Provincial Administration.

Considering cultural diversity in school communities and educational challenges that migrant children face, it is important for all students to recognize and appreciate diversity and multiple identities, such as cultural, language, religion, gender and embrace their common humanity.

“UNICEF feels that there is a need to promote inclusive education, particularly towards migrants and enhance student’s skills required for global citizenship and respect to diversity, especially now that we are part of the ASEAN Community,” Rubkwan Tharmmapornphilas, Education Officer at UNICEF Thailand, says.

Global citizenship refers to a sense of belonging to a broader community and common interconnectedness between the local, the national, and the global, according to UNESCO. It includes openness toward people from other cultures, respect for cultural otherness and global-mindedness. Global citizenship is an essential part of 21st Century skills for young people who have to navigate their lives in an increasingly inter-connected and diverse world.

A group of students sitting in a class. One boy is looking at something while taking notes.
UNICEF Thailand/2019/Roengrit Kongmuang

With financial support from the European Union, UNICEF has worked with the Education Service Area Office Tak since 2018 in designing activities, developing and integrating skills required for global citizenship and respect to diversity into lessons in Social Study subject for students in Grade 1 to Grade 9.

This initiative is part of a larger multi-year partnership between UNICEF, the European Union, the Government of Thailand and civil society to protect children affected by migration, which aims to strengthen policies, services, as well as societal attitudes and practices for migrant and stateless children in Thailand.

Five pilot government schools in Mae Sot, Mae Ramad, and Ta Song Yang districts – namely Baan Ta Art school, Baan Huay Muang school, Baan Mae Gu Nuea school, Baan Ton Pueng school, and Baan Mae Salid Luang Wittaya school, which is another buffer school – have been on the forefront in enhancing student’s skills on these topics.

The implementation of the activities has begun in the 2018 academic year and the result has been satisfying.

“With good knowledge, skills, values and attitudes in global citizenship and respect to diversity, students from different culture and background can live harmoniously together without any discrimination,” says Warraput Intasuk, 40, who teaches Social Study for students in Grade 1 to 3 at Baan Ta Art school.

A group of students are interacting with each other in the class.
UNICEF Thailand/2019/Roengrit Kongmuang

Nerisa Pasukolamas, the teacher at Baan Mae Gu Nuea school, says incorporation of the concept into lessons will be very useful not only for schools in Tak, but they will also benefit other schools where there is a mix of Thai and foreign students in the society.

“The lessons will be of use to schools in provinces where there are diversities, differences in culture, nationalities, and social background,” she says. “They will help bridge differences and create a harmonious society.”

To Thanakorn Buatoom, 14, a student at Baan Huay Muang school, the activities have helped him understand one important value – equality.

“I think Thai and Myanmar students are the same – we are human beings. There is no point to discriminate against them,” says Thanakorn, who is in Grade 8. “Just like the rich and the poor. They can be friends.”

UNICEF is now working closely with the Office of the Basic Education Commission to explore the possibility of implementing the programme in other provinces, including in the capital or its vicinity where there are schools enrolling migrant children.

“This will help create a harmonized atmosphere in school settings which make the integration of new students including migrants easier,” Rubkwan says. “This will also help create a peaceful society.”