The Need for Education
“….education is a prerequisite to building a food-secure world, reducing poverty and conserving and enhancing natural resources. In many instances a major proportion of the population struck by poverty is rural, illiterate and undernourished. Poor people are caught in the vicious cycle of being unable to access the very services and opportunities, such as education, gainful employment, adequate nutrition, infrastructure and communication, that might contribute to alleviate their poverty. While there is no single solution to the alleviation of rural poverty, education, whether formal or non-formal, is one of the most critical elements. With basic education people are better equipped to make more informed decisions for their lives and communities, while being active participants in promoting the economic, social and cultural dimensions of development. It is equally accepted that without basic literacy and numeracy, people face limited employment opportunities, except for basic wage labour. Promoting education and training opportunities is therefore essential for poverty alleviation and sustainable rural development.” (Case study on Education Opportunities for Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand, FAO Corporate Document Repository)
Hilltribe literacy is well below the general Thai population adult literacy rate of 94% (Thai Govt official figures, 2008). Hilltribe middle aged and older people are mostly uneducated; including a widespread lack of ability to speak Thai. It is estimated that less than 30% of hill tribe populations are literate (UNESCO 2007), with some tribal groups less than 10% literate (Lahu, Akha).
Many hilltribe children do not attend school regularly, due to a number of factors. This includes the cost of schooling and materials, the distance from the closest school, lack of birth registration or citizenship, and often being required to work to help support families that struggle to make a living. This includes very young children from age 3 and up. In rural areas this is usually agricultural work. In cities, a popular form of labour is using children to sell flowers in city areas – busy day time locations, and restaurant and bar areas at night. This exposes the children to abuse and exploitation.
Even if attending school, there is also a huge disparity between the quality of education in private and government schools, with 15,000 schools in Thailand considered to be below par (UNESCO). This affects 4.5 million poor and disadvantaged students (including hill tribe children), who while attending school, are still not receiving a satisfactory education.
Most children that are cared for in the BW members children’s homes arrive with very poor academic scores and abilities. Some have never been to school. The house parents’ aim is to enrol the child in a local school, assist them to upgrade their academic rates and skills, and enable them to continue and complete their school education.
On-going Education and Training
“..There has been growing recognition of the role of education for children, youth and adults to contribute to sustainable rural development. While an increasing number of hill tribe children attend primary schools at the initiative of their communities and of the Thai government, access to higher education and to post-study employment are still limited. In terms of vocational knowledge and life skills learning, training programmes provided by various governmental and non-governmental organizations conventionally tend to be short-term in nature. Moreover, due to limited funds, non-correspondence with existing skills, and low market prospects, hill tribe people have difficulty in sustaining the skills acquired.” (Case study on Education Opportunities for Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand, FAO Corporate Document Repository)
The school drop-out rate for tribal students in Thailand is high. Less than 50% of enrolled students complete school. Factors include child abandonment, migration, lack of parents’ motivation, discrimination by teachers and peers, poverty and parents’ separation. (ADB. Combating Primary School Dropout in South East Asia. Manila Philippines: 1998)
Furthermore, tribal school leavers are subject to many social problems – drug addiction, trafficking, commercial sex, youth gangs, and many of them end up as AIDS victims.
Results of a Tribal Research Institute survey in 1995 show that only 0.08% of total tribal students study at university level, 0.6% at college, 9.94% at high school and 89.31% at kindergarten and primary school level. (Tribal Research Institute, The Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Tribal Student Education Report, 1995).
For the children who have completed an appropriate level of schooling through the assistance of a children’s home, the options are very limited. Most children’s homes do not have the resources to help the young people in furthering their education or acquiring vocational training. Furthermore, many tertiary training facilities do not accept hill tribe students, and traineeships are scarce, with a high level of discrimination by employers.
One of BridgeWorks Goals is aimed at developing programs that equip and empower the children and young people to build a foundation for productive and meaningful adulthood. Projects that are being developed or considered include a Youth Transition Program, Homework and Tutor Centre, Vocational assistance and training, Income generating Projects for training and employment.