Since 1966, members of the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) have celebrated International Literacy Day on the 8th of September. In Thailand, the 8th of September is referred to as Non-Formal Education Day. On this day, public and private agencies organize a variety of activities to promote the benefits of learning and to underline the importance of literacy and life-long learning.
According to the World Bank, Thailand is classified as an upper-middle-income country, which is defined as a country with a Gross National Income per capita between $4,125 and $12,746. The country has achieved an overall adult literacy rate of 93.5% (2005 census) and a primary school net enrollment rate of 89.7%. These are similar to the average rates for countries with a comparable economic status. However, literacy skills and educational opportunities are still not distributed equally in Thailand.
Ethnic minority groups in Thailand often struggle to receive adequate education and, particularly in combination with statelessness and severe poverty, these children typically lack opportunities to enter and/or to stay in school. Until the late 1950s, school education in Northern Thailand was offered only in the river basins. There were no schools available in the mountainous regions where most ethnic minority peoples inhabit. During that time, the Border Patrol Police opened the first schools, thereafter offering education for people living in remote areas. In the beginning, these projects had to struggle with a great deal of problems – severe lack of qualified teachers, a lack of funding, and a curriculum only appropriate for Thai government schools, not for these non-formal schools that served minority children.
Throughout the late 1970s, the Hill Area Education Project (HAEP) organized the implementation of education and schooling to cover nearly all remote mountainous areas in northern Thailand. This was with cooperation and aid of Thailand’s Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Non-Formal Education. The Project offered at least 6 years of basic education for children and vocational training for adults. In 2000, this policy included 648 villages, where 1,236 teachers taught approximately 97,000 persons. The Project improved the education level of the ethnic minorities in northern Thailand and along the Myanmar border for the first time. Watch a short video about one Hill Area Education Project school located in Mae Hong Son Province, along the Thai-Myanmar border.
Today, the education level of ethnic minorities in Thailand is, unfortunately, still far below the country’s average, and not all children are able to attend school, especially those without citizenship or the means to pay for school fees and supplies. Thus, there is still much to be done, and the DEPDC / GMS is doing its part to make education available for these children in its Half Day School (HDS), Community Learning Center (CLC), Mekong Child Rights Protection (MCRP) Center, and Mekong Regional Indigenous Child Rights Home (MRICRH) projects.
This 2014-15 school year, the Half Day School (HDS) Program offers pre-school and primary level education to a total number of about 70 children from Pa Tak Village and surrounding villages in Mae Sai, and to children who cross the Thailand-Myanmar border every day to have a chance to receive free education. Nearly all of these children are ethnic minorities and often suffer from statelessness, and are therefore at a severe sociopolitical disadvantage. In the morning, the children study academic subjects, which are as closely aligned to the official national curriculum as possible. In the afternoon and on occasions during school breaks, Half Day School teachers provide students with vocational and life skills trainings.
The Community Learning Center (CLC) Project targets youth and young adults throughout villages in Mae Sai District. Currently, the CLC Project offers ongoing Thai and English language literacy training to improve young people’s ability to compete in the labor market and even to enter higher education. In addition to these regular courses, the Project sometimes holds special seminars and trainings in the following fields: Prevention of Human Trafficking and Child Labor, Drugs Prevention, Nationality and Immigration, Environmental Issues, HIV/AIDS Prevention, First Aid, Mental Health and Ideology, Thai and Hill Tribe Cultural Exchange, Traffic Rules and Regulations, Computer Training, Carpentry, Culinary Arts, Flower Arranging, Hygiene, Agriculture.
To learn more about and how to support these literacy development efforts, please visit our Community Learning Center project’s Global Giving donation page.