Poverty Barrier

Economic Migration

For children who are swept along with their families, they leave the place where provision may have been made for them to access primary schooling, and settle temporarily in a place where there may be no such provision.

How does migration for work become a barrier to primary school access?

For children who are swept along with their families, they leave the place where provision may have been made for them to access primary schooling, and settle temporarily in a place where there may be no such provision. Supply of education services by local governments does not usually take into account the children of temporary migrants. This applies both to mass internal migrations and to international migrations.

How pervasive is it?

Thailand provides an example of an international labor migration. The country hosts around 5 million migrant workers from neighboring Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries who have come to Thailand with around 200,000 children. Statistics suggest that only a small proportion of migrant children in Thailand attend Thai schools. In 2003, for example, only 13,500 children of Cambodian, Lao or Myanmar nationality were reported as attending schools in all of Thailand, under 10% of all migrant workers’ children. One of the main reasons for migrants not attending school at that time was schools refusing entry.

Even with the best intentions of a host country, policies to assist child migrants are difficult to implement. Providing education or health care to migrant children is a challenge, particularly when the children are undocumented, or irregular migrants. Children’s parents may fear that they will be detained or deported if they enroll their children in school or seek medical care without the proper documentation.  Also, in Thailand different ministries, or even schools or clinics under the same ministry, have taken different approaches to dealing with migrants.

Schools’ admission policies are not the only barrier to children’s attendance. Beyond this example, many poor migrants find the costs of uniforms, books, transportation, and food prohibitively high. To enroll their children in school, migrants must deal with Thai bureaucracy, which, given their often insecure legal status, many migrants are reluctant to do. Finally, migrant children themselves often have difficulty learning because instruction is in the Thai language and not their mother tongue.

The problem is pervasive for large cities and countries that host mass labor migrations, as many children will migrate with their families and do not have automatic right of access to the host country’s schools, nor do they have fluency in the local language of instruction. These children may be denied access, discriminated against, and may even fail to complete a full course of education when they are enrolled.

Example of EAC partners who are addressing this barrier

In response to the barriers described migrants in areas with large migrant communities set up their own rudimentary schools, often teaching in the migrants’ home country language(s), and funded by donations and migrants’ contributions. These education centers often combine wide age and grade level ranges in the same classes, and struggle to cope with the diversity of languages among the children.

EAC partner Save the Children Thailand contributes to the provision of education for children on Myanmar migrant workers in eastern Thailand through a range of strategies to increase supply of and demand for education in their own languages at non-government migrant learning centers. Activities include identification of migrant OOSC, promoting education, and increasing the supply of and access to education through incentives, teacher training, materials and improved management for the learning centers them in Mae Sot and Bangkok.

Further reading