Change through education

Jirada is a 6-year-old girl from a Black Lahu tribe who lives in the village of Pang Kham Noi in the in Northern Thailand, very close to the border with Myanmar. She has been going to school for 2 years and her favourite subject is Maths. When she grows up she wants to be a doctor.

In 2004 a UNICEF survey found that over 1,000 children in a single district of Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand, the most disadvantaged province in Thailand, were not in school. Among them were also hill tribe children.

Existing schools were too far away from their homes for them to attend, since most parents cannot afford to pay for them to live away from home. With UNICEF support, the hill tribe school project was started in 2005. 20 primary schools have been set up in remote and poor ethnic hill tribe villages to teach close to 500 students.

The project aims eventually to bring 5,000 pre-school and school-age children to attend school or another forms of learning. UNICEF funds teachers’ salaries, learning materials, classroom improvements, teacher training, skill sharing and integration of Child-Friendly School (CFS) practice.

The main education goals at the hill tribe schools are to ensure that all students can read and write Thai and do basic mathematical calculations. They are also taught to preserve their ethnic traditions and culture, and the use of natural resources wisely in order to protect their environment.

The schools are simple structures built from local materials with support from the community. The children clean the school every morning before classes begin and at the end of every day. They also take turn in cooking lunch.

As a result of the project more hill tribe children are finishing primary school and going on to secondary school. Their parents now also understand the importance of making sure their children receive a good education.

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