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History of BMWEC
The situation we faced

The year 1988 was a time of crisis in Myanmar, then called Burma. In particular, the students rose up against the military government in a struggle to create democracy. Civil wars took place between the ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar (Burmese) military army.  Human rights violations, military conflict and lack of economic or other opportunities led hundreds of thousands of people to flee their country and settle in Thailand. An estimated 160,000 people were granted temporary asylum to live in refugee camps along the border. Others settled in towns so that they could work.  These refugees and migrant workers came specifically to try to find a safer life.

During the 1990s, there was no educational opportunity for the children who followed with migrant parents. Attending Thai government schools was very difficult. However, there were some educated persons who migrated to Thailand, and with their help and some migrant parents’ assistance, informal education for the Burmese (Myanmar) migrant children began.

The beginning of organization
Late in the 1990s, home education became common in Burmese (Myanmar) migrant communities on the Thai-Burmese border as well as inside Myanmar (as it was now called) in villages of internally displaced persons (IDPs). As the number of students doing home education increased, organisers, students and teachers, most of whom were undocumented, faced security issues. Thus the organisers of home education met together and decided to establish a community-based organization to insure the safety of these home education centers. They named this CBO the Burmese Migrant Workers’ Education Committee (BMWEC).  It was founded by Naw Lay Lay Phyu and a few colleagues in Mae Sot, Thailand. In 1999, the BMWEC, as an umbrella organization, started implementing its programs for migrant and IDP schools as well as creating learning opportunities for teachers and administrators. Its goal was to promote a higher quality of education for both migrant and internally displaced children. In 1999, there were seven home education centers under BMWEC. In 2000, the founder, Naw Lay Lay Phyu, resettled to a third country, and the members of BMWEC selected Naw Paw Ray to lead the organization. By 2007 the number of member schools had grown from the original seven to 45.

Development over the years

Improvement of educational standards, teaching skills and school conditions has always been the main focus of BMWEC’s interventions. Since 2001, we have seen great advances in migrant education with the training of hundreds of teachers and collaboration with NGOs and the MOE (Thai Ministry of Education) for curriculum development. Improvements in school conditions and support with running costs and teaching materials have also been priorities for BMWEC.  In 2005, BMWEC with World Education founded the Burmese Migrant Teachers’ Association (BMTA) to take responsibility for improving the migrant teachers’ skills (by organising trainings) and look after their security on behalf of BMWEC.

In 2005, the Thai government began a policy of “Education for All”, thus recognizing the right to education for migrant children.  Since then, co-operation with NGOs, international organisations and Thai authorities has led to rapid changes in educational development, which in itself poses new challenges for BMWEC and for migrant children. As more children come forward to be educated, more learning centres and teachers must be provided. To respond to these needs, more funding must be found each year.

In 2009-2010, BMWEC established a 10-year plan to ensure quality education for the children in migrant areas that would have the recognition of the local government. Because of the interest and involvement of international organisations in Burmese IDP and migrant children’s education, the Thai Ministry of Education now recognises the positive and necessary contribution that BMWEC and our migrant schools are making in providing education for a large number of migrant children. Migrant schools in the Tak area are now able to register as legitimate “learning centres” in Thailand.

BMWEC today
Over the years, the BMWEC continued to gain credibility at the local community level as well as nationally and internationally. It has a constitution that was written with participation of all the BMWEC member migrant teachers.  Today, it oversees 25 migrant learning centres serving approximately 3400 students and 241 teachers. It has a staff of 31 and is the main organization dedicated exclusively to migrant education in the Tak area.  It also acts as the official representative for dealing with migrant educational issues with Thai authorities and NGOs.
Learning Centers under BMWEC’s umbrella along the Thai-Myanmar border in Tak Province, apply Myanmar curriculum and the students have to learn following subjects:
  1. Myanmar
  2. English
  3. Mathematics
  4. General Sciences
  5. Social Study
  6. Geography
  7. Thai language and
  8. Language of Myanmar tribes (this tribal language study depends on the student population; i.e if there are many Karen present, students have to learn Karen language)

Today, we can say proudly that there are migrant students who have finished their education in Tak and pursued university education in Myanmar as well as students who have been able to transfer to official government schools in Myanmar or to continue their education in Royal Thai schools. Collaboration with both the Thai Ministry of Education in Tak and the Myanmar Ministry of Education is ongoing.

2019 marked BMWEC’s 20th anniversary.  In October, 2020, we began work on a new10-year plan for migrant education. The new vision will strive to put migrant standard education on a par with ASEAN standard education through educational capacity building that includes teacher training, engagement of parents through Parent Teacher Associations, and coordination with other education organizations through the Migrant Education Coordinating Committee (MECC). As part of this development, in 2020, BMWEC created a new coordination structure that includes a Board of Trustees and Patrons and an Implementation Office. Going forward, the Board of Trustees and Patrons will guide the Implementation Office which will realize our education goals on the ground level.  Since realization of our new vision is an ongoing process, we need support and guidance from different education organizations and partners to improve the current education standards. Thus the BMWEC invites all who are interested in migrant education to share their ideas and strategies with us.