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A season to enrol every child

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December is a month of numerous auspicious occasions. There are days devoted to greeting friends and loved ones as well as days for celebration and spreading of good cheer. It is also a month when many of us begin to form the resolutions we want to keep in the new year. For some institutions, December is a month busy with the rush of unfinished business. For one of our key ministries, December should be the month for reminding the public that it is time to enrol a new generation of students.

Enrolment policy 2011

Early in December, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced its new school enrolment policy, which emphasizes three main practices: all children have the right to be enrolled in school; secondary school graduates should enrol in a local technical, vocational or general education school; and parents should not have to pay "tea money" in order to enrol their child in school.

Unfinished business

It is not news that net enrolment at the primary level in Thailand is about 95 percent (EFA Monitoring Report, 2010), as net enrolment has been at that percentage for several years now. The unchanging 5 percent or about 600,000 children, means that conventional methods used to reach all children have not been successful.

Ensuring that our education system proactively tries to reach every child is essential for the future development of the country. According to thematic papers on the Millennium Developmental Goals (by United Nations Development Group, 2010), experiences over the past decade demonstrate that setting carefully derived targets and focusing on the outcomes of education development programmes, including holding organisations or individuals responsible for reaching them, are strong determinants of success. This is particularly true for enrolment and school retention targets. These targets need to be set for each social group - rural children, children of poor families and urban slum households, members of marginalised ethnic or language groups, pastoralists, the disabled, orphans, migrants, and so on.

Let's rock'n roll

It is essential that every child is given the opportunity to enrol in a quality school. The new enrolment policy is the first step towards demonstrating the country's full commitment towards ensuring the right to education for all children.

However, for the policy to be successful, it will require collaborative efforts, willingness and actions on the part of a vast number of stakeholders and members of local communities. To ensure all children can access the education system requires not only responsive policies but also practical strategies, commitment and the dedication of all in society.

For the MOE, the policy is clearly a guiding framework. For some schools, there needs to be a much stronger commitment and a willingness to reach out to more children and to bring them into the education system.

I can think of no better way to start the new year or to celebrate the new education policy than ensuring that the remaining 600,000 children - the missing 5 percent - are enrolled in school and receive one of the greatest gifts that life has to offer: the opportunity to learn.

Dr Rangsun Wiboonuppatum is an education officer at Unicef, Thailand. He earned his PhD in international/intercultural development education from Florida State University and has been engaged in the education profession in Thailand since late 1980.


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