Bwe K’lar School

Bwe K’Lar Learning Centre is located in Mae Sot, a district right on the western border of Thailand. The Learning Centre itself is quite remote, and accommodates 85 passionate students who turn up day-in-day-out to further their education.

Bwe K’lar is a Karen community and has a population of 3,000, of which about 20% are from Myanmar. The school currently has seven teachers, most of whom have not received a university education.

What attracted Cotton On Foundation to Bwe K’Lar Learning Centre is the value placed on education – teachers are committed to providing quality learning for their students, parents are supportive and students are motivated to learn despite challenging circumstances. We began our partnership with the school in 2017,  with an agreement to improve facilities, provide teacher training, offer a recognised and broad curriculum, enhance educational opportunities, and seek sustainable ways to empower the young people of Bwe K’lar and mobilise the community to take ownership over their school.

Bwe K’lar is the first step on our journey in Thailand towards quality education. Our plan to see this realised includes:

  • Improved learning environments
  • Teacher training and capacity building
  • Providing the pathway to accredited learning
  • Offering access to a broad spectrum of learning including the arts and sport
  • Empowering young people through critical thinking and decision making opportunities
  • Working towards a sustainable future for the school and its staff
  • Mobilizing the community to take ownership of their school

With phase one renovations completed in August 2020, the new school features state-of-the-art undercover play and multipurpose areas, inspiring new classrooms, updated landscaping including interactive vegetable gardens, a staff office and new hand washing facilities.  The students who attend Bwe K’Lar are so excited to start learning and playing in their new and improved school!

The Area

Mae Sot is the main gateway between Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The closeness of the Myanmar border means that Mae Sot has a growing trade of items such as gems and teak.

Despite its remote location and relatively small size, Mae Sot is among the most culturally diverse cities in Thailand. Walking down the streets of the town, you’ll see a mix of Burmese men in their longyi (sarongs), Hmong and Karen women in traditional hill-tribe dress, Muslims, Thai army rangers and foreign NGO workers. The Burmese and Karen languages are spoken as much as Thai.

Challenges to the Local Community

Mae Sot is a hub for migrants and refugees who have come from Myanmar in search of a better life, more opportunities and freedom. Burmese migrants often work under poor conditions for less than Thailand’s minimum wage, and are separated from their families in order to find work. Workers frequently have their documents confiscated by factory owners and documents are regularly falsified in order for children under working age to work. Burmese migrants endure these conditions and lifestyle because the wage, whilst poor for Thailand, is better than what would be available to them in Myanmar. Many migrants living in Mae Sot do not speak Thai, making it difficult to improve on opportunities available to them and their children.

Education and Young People in Mae Sot

Poverty is the main challenge for young people in the area. Most of their parents work in agriculture, earning poor wages and often traveling long distances for work. Many families prefer their children work and assist in earning an income to support the family, rather than attend school. Young people may also stay out of school in order to look after their younger siblings while their parents are away working.

Children of Burmese migrants who are born in Thailand are often unable to have their births registered due to the illegal status of their parents. This leaves them in the precarious situation of being neither Thai nor able to claim citizenship from Myanmar if their parents left illegally.

Education is a basic right of child development, protected under the Convention of the Rights of the Child and under Thai law.  However a large number of Burmese children in Thailand are not enrolled in school. The learning centres available to migrant children are largely unrecognised and not accredited by the Thai government, limiting the future prospects of students.

Barriers to Education

As well as the challenges surrounding the learning centres themselves, there are other barriers facing migrant children enrolling and staying in school.

These include:

  • Language difficulties (Thai not being their first language)
  • Security concerns for undocumented students (and their parents)
  • Economic situation and cost of education and materials
  • The need to work to support family (locally or in Myanmar)
  • Orphaned, abandoned or separated from parents
  • Health issues
  • Discrimination from teachers, classmates and the school itself (illegally not granting access to migrants or making the process difficult)
  • Family breakdown
  • Uneducated parents who lack understanding of the benefits of gaining education.

Learning Centres

There are approximately 75 learning centres in and around Mae Sot. They are not accredited, monitored or supported by any formal education authority, and as a result students receive no formal recognition of learning. Many of the teachers in the learning centres have minimal formal education if any and may have received little training. Most often these centres end at the primary school level and children leave these centers to go into work.

Due to insufficient funding many of the teachers in these learning centres receive only half or less of their wage, and in some cases they are not being paid at all. Some learning centres in the Mae Sot area have already closed down and many more may face closure in the coming years.

Following the model we create in Bwe K’Lar, Cotton On Foundation will continue to develop a number of these learning centres creating a network of consistent, quality recognised schools!

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