‘Education for all’ policy falls down

Last month, the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) issued an order to prohibit non-Thai children from attending learning centres and homeschools. This is a blatant violation of children’s right to education.

OBEC claimed the move is mandated by the Office of the Education Council (ONEC), a state agency in the Education Ministry in charge of the country’s educational policies and directions. This is a lame excuse. As educators, they should have known this move breaches the “Education for All” philosophy.

Thailand adopted the Education for All philosophy in 2005. Since then, it has won international praise for giving all children in the country free universal education regardless of nationality. OBEC and ONEC have to explain why they are taking the country backwards.

The Thai Alternative Education Council Association blasted the OBEC policy to turn away non-Thai children as discriminatory, and rightly so.

More than 200 learning centres and homeschools now have been disrupted by this policy. Education authorities have also turned down requests to set up new learning centres.

The Border Patrol Police run most learning centres for non-Thai children. Situated in remote areas beyond OBEC’s reach, these learning centres are royally endorsed by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to help needy, ethnic children along the borders who otherwise would not be able to get an education.

Will OBEC and ONEC get tough with these Border Patrol Police schools from now on? Or just with the small-scale learning centres?

Before 2005, public schools were only for Thai students. Stateless and migrant children were left out of the school system and trapped in the poverty cycle. That changed with the government’s decision to adopt the “Education for All” philosophy in 2005 by allowing all children, including non-Thai youngsters, to have a free universal education in public schools.

Thai and non-Thai students in public schools also get equal per capita financial support from the government. The rationale is simple. Thailand’s inequality is among the worst in the world. And education is the most cost-effective investment to develop human resources and bridge disparity.

From that time on, stateless and non-Thai children were able to attend public schools. For those who cannot — because of a lack of schools in the area or if the children have special needs — learning centres and homeschools are available. Thailand’s comprehensive efforts to answer children’s diverse needs have made Thailand a shining example in the international community.

Ours is not a homogeneous society. Communities in various regions have different cultures, languages, and beliefs. Children also have different needs, physically and mentally. A top-down, centralised education system cannot answer their varied requirements for healthy child development.

The Education Ministry must change its mindset and give up central control. In a democratic system, communities and private citizens should have the right to provide an education for their children’s best interests. The government must facilitate their efforts, not suppress them.

The policy of OBEC and ONEC to prohibit stateless and migrant children from attending learning centres and homeschools not only breaches the children’s rights to education but also violates the laws and regulations that allow non-Thai children to attend all forms of educational institutions in Thailand.

The Thai Alternative Education Council Association recently petitioned the Education Ministry to revoke this discriminatory policy that hurts vulnerable children. Their voices must be heard.

The Education Ministry must revoke this OBEC and ONEC policy that hurts stateless and migrant children. In addition, the Education Ministry must give support to the students in homeschools and learning centres.

At present, the ministry gives financial support to every student in public schools under the country’s education scheme. But their peers in learning centres and homeschools have not received similar assistance. This must change; not doing so is injustice and discrimination.

Education authorities in previous administrations have worked hard for two decades to make “Education for All” a reality in Thailand. Unfortunately, their achievements — as well as Thailand’s international reputation — will be tarnished by the policy…

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