Public-private partnership educating migrant children

More than 5,000 children of foreign and Thai migrant laborers are studying instead of working under a government project launched in partnership with the United Nations, Microsoft and Thai corporations, while Canada is helping train Thai police cadets in how to detect people smuggling.

The ‘Mobile Literacy for Out-of-School Children in Thailand’ program is providing services to children in 60 migrant learning centers around the Kingdom. The partnership has donated over 700 tablets loaded with over 1,000 learning materials in Thai, Myanmar and the Karen languages contained in an application named “LearnBig.”

The program was launched in 2014, and the Ministry of Education said last week it had improved learning outcomes for over 5,500 migrant children. The program is a collaboration involving UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Microsoft, Thailand’s True Corporation and CP Group, the Help without Frontiers Foundation and the Ministry of Education.

Thailand’s healthy economy and its opportunities for work make the Kingdom a magnet for migrants from neighboring countries, especially Myanmar. The Karen people are an ethnic tribe who live in both Thailand and Myanmar, and some of them migrate back and forth across the porous border region. Thais, especially agricultural laborers, also migrate to different parts of the Kingdom in search of work.

Reaching migrant children, however, requires more than tablets and technology. Teachers and volunteers sometimes have to visit and persuade migrant parents to allow their children to enroll and attend. In low-income families, parents often need their children to work to make ends meet. As a country, Thailand has made great strides in eliminating child labor and earned praise from the U.N. and the United States Department of Labor for its progress, but the practice still exists to some degree.

“When we use ICT devices, the students get excited. They have so many questions about the lessons. They even read ahead in textbooks by themselves,” Khamar Chain, a teacher, told the Bangkok Post.

UNESCO’s monitoring of the program found that the students’ overall learning achievements have improved: 84.2 percent of learners have higher scores in Burmese, 56.3 percent in Thai and 52.3 percent in math.

Not all migrants come to Thailand willingly. Some are victims of human trafficking. The numbers, however, have declined because of comprehensive efforts on the part of the government to fight the problem.

Last week, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) lent more help to that fight. The Organization gave the Royal Thai Police Cadet Academy an online learning portal to better train cadets on how to spot human trafficking when the join the police force. The portal was provided under a Canadian-funded program named “Strengthening Border Management and Intelligence Capacity of Thai Government Officials.”

“Cadets who go on to become police officers will be well placed to intercept and intervene to ensure the safety and protection of vulnerable migrants,” said Dana Graber Ladek, the IOM chief of mission in Bangkok.