Taking learning outdoors
Despite COVID-19, where there are teachers, there is learning
On a hot Saturday afternoon, 20 children run around tirelessly in the open field across from the migrant worker flats on a street in Bangkhunthian District in Bangkok. They are waiting for their first lesson outdoors with teachers from the migrant learning centre run by the Foundation for Rural Youth (FRY). The centre has been closed for several months due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon Province nearby.
COVID-19 impact on the community
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak since mid-December, many migrant workers have not been able to return to their home country. Children have had to stay home following the closure of schools and learning centres, and not all families have been able to support their online learning.
FRY Assistant Director Yanini “Kru Aor” Khumkhiri explained, “When their parents leave for work, children are left at home. Some are lucky that their parents work different shifts so that when one leaves, the other can take care of them. But many are single parents and must, for example, rely on their eldest child, an 8-year-old, to babysit the youngest, a 3-year-old, with no adult supervision. No adult supervision means that these children may be unsafe and not developing properly. For some families, technological devices and therefore online learning for their young children also remains inaccessible.”
Children from the most vulnerable groups and those without access to online learning face a higher risk of dropping out and not returning to school than their peers. Some are forced into marriage or engaged in labour. Given the significant impact of prolonged school closures on children’s lives, UNICEF is working with FRY to find ways to keep children learning and developing.
Developing the skills and ensuring the well-being of migrant children during COVID-19
“We didn’t know whether schools in Bangkok would reopen or not but were sure that the opening of our learning centre was delayed. We couldn’t leave children’s learning at a halt, so we visited the community and worked with UNICEF to organize learning activities for children,” said Kru Aor.
The Skills Development and Well-being of Migrant Children to Mitigate the Effects of COVID-19 project is a collaboration between UNICEF and FRY, implemented in seven communities that are densely populated by children, including six communities in Bang Bon and Bangkhunthian districts and one community at the Torwin learning centre in Rangsit district. Teachers and staff visit these communities on Sundays so that all children and parents may have a chance to join. Each session allows for a maximum of 20-25 people, usually 10 young children and 10 older children and parents.
Each session, children start with an ice breaking physical exercise called “Chicken Fight,” a traditional game that is adapted to observe physical distancing. In this version, players will squat, put their hands under their knees and see who can sit “like a chicken” for the longest time and win.
After exercise, young children learn about ways to protect themselves from COVID-19 with the help of teachers and older children in their community through three activities. The first activity is to colour in a COVID-19 activity booklet created by I Am UNICEF volunteers, the second is to string beads onto a mask chain accessory, and the last is to play with dough. There are also small exhibitions for children to study on their own as well as COVID-19 story time.
“Children love listening to stories, it helps them feel that even if learning centres are closed, teachers are still here taking care of them. It’s a joyous and calming feeling for them to come together as a group and meet their friends and teachers. They ask me every day when they can go back to school. But parents ask about this more often, since they have to pay for babysitters when they leave for work. This is costing them thousands of baht.”
Meanwhile, older children learn how to make liquid soap, the importance of hand washing and proper hand washing technique. After this activity, there is enough soap for everyone to bring back home.
This project has been running since February. Learning centres are expected to reopen in June, but if closures are prolonged, UNICEF and FRY will aim to provide further support for children’s learning and development in the seven communities.
Opportunities through education for all
Kru Aor, who has been working with FRY for more than 30 years, shared an inspiring story of a family from Myanmar that were able to access better opportunities through education in Thailand. Upon moving to Bangkok, the parents enrolled in non-formal education, gained fluency in reading, writing and listening in Thai and were promoted in their jobs at a factory and later a visa agency. Their two children first studied in a learning centre and then entered a Thai government school. The migrant workers who have knowledge in Thai language, have better opportunities to earn a living. From doing manual labour alone, they can get promoted to check stock inventory, or become a QC worker to control product quality. Now back in Myanmar, the family owns a business and are able to send their children to private schools.
“I think that many people aim to go back to their home country, if they are given an opportunity and once they have the job skills,” she said. “They went back to start their own businesses and have a better future now. Education has helped them get to where they are. Thai-language literacy has given them a choice.”
“Children are very fast learners when it comes to picking up a language. Especially younger children, who are able to listen and speak to the teachers within three months. They are very bright. But if they are stuck at home, they won’t be doing much. By learning Thai, wherever they go, it will be easier for them to communicate, buy things at the shop and enter schools. It will also help them feel that living in a foreign country doesn’t have to be a difficult experience.”
Despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, communities across Thailand are finding creative ways to help children continue learning in these challenging times. The government’s decision to vaccinate 600,000 teachers nationwide before schools reopen will be a crucial and timely step for them to teach in person, keep schools open and ensure learning continuity. After all, where there are teachers, there is learning.
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