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Education for all in name only

Last Wednesday, members of parliament in the Lower House shot down the proposal by Move Forward Party MPs to form a sub-committee to help migrant and stateless students gain access to education.

The vote was seen as political gamesmanship. Regardless, it should not have happened at all as it affects rights of stateless and migrant children to gain access to the Educational for All (EFA) policy which took effect on July 5, 2005.

The EFA policy allows non-Thai children to attend public schools for free from preschool until high school. The education ministry gives a per-student fund equal to the amount allocated to each Thai student to public schools.

The policy looks good in principle but has been hit with problems.

According to the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia at Mahidol University, 61% of migrant and stateless students do not receive an education. Thailand is home to between 400,000 and 500,000 migrant children.

Only 34% attend Thai schools under the special quota known as the G-Code system, and 5% can access learning centres in their communities.

The ministry for several years compelled all educational outlets to admit migrant, undocumented, and stateless children and provide them with educational certificates upon graduation.

It set up a special system to give children without official identification papers and ID cards ad hoc student identification numbers starting with the letter G. This G-Code system lets them enrol, attend school, access services, and receive funding.

Last year, there were 134,812 G-Code students — 25,000 more than 2021.

In 2013, there were only 67,433 G-students, half the current amount. Despite the increase, the percentage of migrant and stateless children in the education system is still less than 50% of the total.

The education ministry’s record of G-Code students is not realistic. The latest figures show number of migrant children enrolled in schools has fallen, with only 43,318 in 2021 compared to 86,562 in 2017, a sharp 50% drop.

That raises the question that bureaucratic registration and red tape may trapping children in the G-Student system partly because the Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA) is tardy in issuing civil registration numbers for undocumented and migrant students.

DOPA under the Interior Ministry has the responsibility to issue official ID cards to everyone in the country. Thai nationals will receive 13-digit ID cards created for Thais. The undocumented, which includes migrant children, will get numbers created for their groups. With ID cards, these migrant and stateless students then can pursue higher education and enjoy other benefits.

Only when these students have already graduated or when these children receive their ID cards and civil registration numbers from the DOPA will the Education Ministry remove their names from the G-Code system.

A backlog in the G-Code database means a number of migrant students are deprived of opportunities to get an education and join the workforce.

This problem needs to be solved as Thailand’s ageing population needs all hands to contribute to the economy. Only a skilled, educated and taxable workforce can help Thailand exit the middle-income trap.

The Education Ministry must collaborate more with the DOPA to issue civil registration cards on time, allowing these vulnerable children get ID cards to pursue higher studies and job opportunities.

The ministry also needs to be maintain an accurate count of G-Code students for effective budgeting. But clearing the backlog is far from enough.

The ministry also must decentralise its budget by allocating per-student money to private schools, and give financial help to individuals, communities, NGOs, and homeschools that educate these underprivileged children.

Providing education for all is still not enough. Education must also fit students’ needs and align with cultural diversity. The ministry must design courses in bilingual education and multicultural education and teachers trained accordingly. Enforcing nationalism and a central government-dictated curriculum must come to an end.

The government, state sector and our elected representatives have a duty to make EFA reality.

They must work together to fast-track problem solving and remove obstacles, ethnic discrimination, or even bureaucratic red tape to guarantee that every child has the opportunity to learn, regardless of his or her background or legal status.

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