By The Nation
The 2019 Gem Report, released at a regional event in Bangkok on Tuesday, marks a shift away from exclusionary education policies towards refugees. It notes that in Thailand, despite policy shifts to expand access to migrants regardless of nationality, there is still an urgent need to improve their inclusion in the education sector.
The report, entitled “Building Bridges, Not Walls”, documents efforts made by the government to improve education for refugees and migrants, notably through the 1999 Education Act and a 2005 Cabinet resolution, which grant access to schooling for all regardless of nationality or status.
Yet, the report also shows that, as in Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Nauru, asylum-seeking children and youth in Thailand are often detained with limited or no access to education. For asylum seekers from Myanmar, Pakistan and Somalia, their detention can be indefinite. In addition, most Karen refugee children do not attend Thai public schools, often due to language barriers; the schools that they do attend follow the Karen rather than the Thai curriculum.
“There is no doubt that Thailand is taking steps to include refugees and migrants in its education system, but it cannot be called fully inclusive until they are following the national curriculum and are helped to overcome language barriers,” Manos Antoninis, director of the report, said.
The report also said monitoring of school decisions is weak, which means that many schools still resist enrolling undocumented immigrants, citing the cost of providing them with education and a higher rate of dropouts.
Thailand has not ratified the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Frequent crackdowns on undocumented workers as a result have negative consequences on education. In Tak province, for example, most immigrant teachers lack residency documents, and undocumented immigrant parents are less likely to send their children to schools for fear of being arrested.
“Thailand is signing up to the two new global compacts on refugees and migrants, which shows that it recognises education as an opportunity. We hope this will be a much-awaited turning point away from discrimination in education,” Antoninis added.