Obec proposal would strike free education

A government plan to cut state educational support to migrant workers’ children has drawn opposition from a non-government organisation.
Cutting funding for foreign students would limit their access to education, undermining the principle of equal education, Migrant Working Group said, while acknowledging officials are concerned about the budget.

Earlier, Kamol Rodklai, secretary- general of the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec), said the government might be forced to slash funding for certain school expenses. His office is preparing to report to Education Minister and navy commander Adm Narong Pipatanasai.

Obec expects the number of foreign students could increase to 250,000 within three years, which has led the commission to re-consider the government’s policy of offering them free education.

He said help to these students might be limited to tuition and learning equipment, while their parents would be asked to pay for student uniforms, books and development activities.

Schools under Obec have managed to spend their budgets carefully to ensure foreign students pay nothing, he said. If their numbers increase, however, the schools may find it more difficult to plan their numbers increase, however, the schools may find it more difficult to plan their budgets, according to Obec.

The Migrant Working Group (MWG), however, says the number of foreign students is unlikely to balloon as much as Obec claims.

Last year there were only 113,067 foreign students, mainly from China, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, out of a total of 7.2 million, said Adison Koetmongkhon, of the MWG.

He believes Obec may be including both unregistered children born to foreign workers, whose numbers stand at 65,739, as well as children in ethnic minority groups, who number 29,252. But their proportion is still only 2-3% of the total number of students, he said.

If Obec eventually cuts spending, children from poor families could end up paying through poorer marks in their studies, Mr Adison said. Limited access to education will not only affect their learning, but such a policy would create an atmosphere of inequality between Thai and non-Thai students. This could lead to divisions among students which could also have impacts in wider society.

Obec must find a way to support the education of these students in a more sustainable way. It could urge parents to help schools shoulder some costs without causing trouble to their routine spending.

The government should also tackle the problem of unregistered children and work more closely with their home countries so they can resume their studies once they return home, he said.

Migrant children in Thailand face big hurdles already, including statelessness and poor access to basic needs.

In 1992, Thailand ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child requiring it to guarantee, among other things, education.

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