Migrant children need education

Migrant children need education

The Covid-19 outbreak has deprived students of their brick-and-mortar schools, including about 500,000 migrant children in Thailand, who live among the most vulnerable.

The increasing financial burden and emotional distress linked to families losing jobs and school closures for migrant students have put children at risk of losing opportunities.

For many migrants, the accompanying economic crisis posed by Covid-19 means even more children have to contribute to help their families survive by earning income.

Because of this, child labour further adversely affects learning loss and makes students fall behind.

"Nowadays, 65% of migrant families have only one earning member," said Siraporn Kaewsombat, director of the Help without Frontiers Foundation.

"These vulnerable populations are being more isolated from society and assistance from the government due to the stigmatisation labelling migrant workers as carriers of Covid-19," Ms Siraporn noted.

A digital divide, language barriers and limited personalised learning support hinder migrant students from participating in online lessons and distance learning. At the same time, migrants receive inadequate emotional support during a very difficult time.

"According to our survey, migrant students do not have their own mobile phones to watch online lessons via DLTV, and incurring debt forces students to leave school to help their families earn money. And, they are at risk of being victims of domestic violence," said Tanaporn Ormtavesub, director of advocacy and corporate engagement at the Baan Dek Foundation.

Building on pre-pandemic initiatives, UN agencies, the private sector and NGOs are working to meet these challenges and re-establish education opportunities for the most vulnerable.

Unesco Bangkok, in collaboration with NGOs and the private sector, recently organised an online meeting focusing on migrant children and education in Thailand under Covid-19 conditions. The virtual meeting was held to build collaboration to transform education and call for concrete and immediate action.

Meeting participants raised issues highlighting the lack of teaching and learning materials, budget to provide education at all educational levels and financial support to ensure migrant students and families' basic needs were being met.

During the discussion, Unesco Bangkok and its partners decided to continue to support the LearnBig initiative, an open digital library platform for underprivileged students offering more than 1,000 educational resources in Thai and Burmese languages.

As schools and migrant learning centres are able to partially reopen, ICT-related strategies will complement remote learning methods as well as social distancing measures. Similarly, migrant learning centres and multilingual teaching materials will supplement state schools to strengthen the national education system.

"According to our experiment, a four-by-four-metre space can accommodate up to nine students in the case of the implementation of a half [capacity] model for returning to school guidelines," said Pongsakorn Thongkom, director of the Migrant Education Coordination Center.

"The students who can study online would use the LearnBig application and website developed by Unesco for their studies," Mr Pongsakorn added. "Those who cannot access the internet will be provided with learning kits such as printed materials and textbooks."

From the private sector, True Corporation is focusing on bridging the digital divide and maintaining migrant workers' contracts. It is also providing scholarships to students and funds to rural schools and learning centres.

In addition, Help without Frontiers Foundation needs assistance to feed 2,164 migrant families in Mae Sot and the Baan Dek Foundation requires backing to provide mental health support to students and their relatives.

Meanwhile, NGOs, such as the Migrant Education Coordination Center, are seeking help to secure electronic tablets for teachers in Mae Sot and Tak provinces.

Distance learning is transforming the education landscape, but access to lessons is disproportionately more available to higher-income or urban families.

As schooling shifts to distance learning as part of the blended education option, migrant students, who are at risk of creating even more inequalities in society cannot be excluded.

This work depends on extensive partnerships and policy integration between the government, UN agencies, NGOs and the private sector.

The welfare of migrant workers and education of migrant learners are fundamental human rights and critical to the social and economic welfare of communities and the country.

Peerapas Ratanapaskorn is a recent graduate from Chulalongkorn University and intern for Educational Innovation and Skills Development Section at Unesco Bangkok.

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