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Myanmar

Poor Rural Students Want To Go Beyond 9th Grade Not Just For University

Updated: September 19, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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Poor students at a Catholic school in northern Thailand would gain a few options if it could extend its high school classes, but ´prolonged´ schooling is an end in itself.

Ninth-grade student Sathit Phusenglan says students who cannot continue studies will end up as hired helpers or maybe engage in "wrong business" such as girls becoming prostitutes or boys selling drugs.

Nuchanat Anusorn School in Wiang Pa Pao, 635 kilometers north of Bangkok, has 1,403 students, boys and girls, about 100 of them Catholics. More than one-third of them pay no tuition to attend the Chiang Mai diocese-run school in the hills of Chiang Rai, Thailand´s northernmost province.

"We are proud of our accomplishment providing free education to many hilltribe and other poor children up to 9th grade," Idente Missionary Father Komkrit Anamnat, the parish priest and school manager, told UCA News Sept. 15.

Nonetheless, Father Komkrit said the Church wants to do more for these children and is now raising funds to extend existing school buildings toward offering full secondary education by 2006.

"We should try to help children further their education opportunity, if we can, because we want to ´prolong´ their schooling from age 14-16 to 18-20," he said, noting that few rural students who finish 9th grade at age 14-16 go on to high school. Many end up farming with their family or working as laborers.

If employed, they make less than 3,000 baht (US$75), "but if they finish high school, they may make 4,000 baht," he said. The school also intends to offer vocational training for students who do not want to go on to 12th grade.

The Thai priest pointed out that in rural areas, especially among hilltribe communities, it is common for young people to marry at 15 or right after 9th grade. "It is not that we are against the tribal custom of marrying young," he said, "but if we can give young people a chance to continue secondary education or vocational training, we can help them with better opportunity, more moral teaching and higher learning."

His Association Id of Christ the Redeemer, known as Idente Missionaries was founded in 1959 in Spain. Members came to Thailand in 1980.

Many 9th grade students at Nuchanat Anusorn UCA News they share the hope that the Church will upgrade the school to 12th grade.

Kannika Kantama said her parents want her to finish high school, but if she has to go to Chiang Rai, 100 kilometers to the north, her parents must work hard to support her and her siblings plus grandparents who are in ill health.

Ahu Semu said that after this year, "if my parents don´t have money, most likely I must stay home to work to help them." He said support he gets from the priest and nuns enables him to study at Nuchanat Anusorn.

Vasana Boonprakrob admitted she hoped to go to a city school to study, but she acknowledged that city life would be different and that tuition, travel and dormitory expenses would be a burden to her parents.

Vasana also realizes many classmates will not go beyond ninth grade but will stay at home raising pigs or buffalo, or working in rice fields.

Sister Benedatte Canovali, a Sisters of Charity of Milan missioner in her 80s, said St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish, which runs the school, and her order provide more than 500 students with free education, some with room and board. The rest come from families that can afford to pay the school fees.

Among those who get free tuition with room and board are 130 Akha, Karen, Lahu (or Musor), Lisu and Mon hilltribe children from distant mountains, she told UCA News. Their parents cannot pay tuition or other expenses, but try to contribute rice, chickens or other products from their farms, she added.

The school also gives free tuition to about 300 majority Thai children from the Wiang Pa Pao area whose families lead a hand-to-mouth existence.

The Italian nun said the school also gives free education to 50 children whose parents died of AIDS and 50 others whose parents are separated or divorced. Many of them live with elderly grandparents or other poor relatives.

Helping poor or disadvantaged children get an education and training to improve their future is the Sisters of Charity of Milan´s calling, the nun explained. Members expelled from Myanmar came to Thailand in 1966 to work with hilltribe people.

END

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