BENEFITING: BURMESE REFUGEE PROJECT INC
We seek funding to construct the Banyan School, a not-for-profit preschool and elementary school that strives for academic excellence, independent intellect, and compassion among Shan Burmese refugee and other students in northwestern Thailand.
The school seeks to provide a comprehensive, high quality education program using a Montessori approach, under the leadership of a Montessori-trained educator and administrator with decades of experience. Courses will be taught in English, Mandarin Chinese, and Thai, with an emphasis on Mandarin and English. The school will be located in Maehongson province.
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Presently, only a small number of Shan people in the world hold college diplomas. There exist refugee camp schools and vocational programs for refugees along the Thai-Burmese border, but undocumented Shan refugees remain underserved by most of these resources. Those who attend Thai public schools often face severe discrimination and sometimes do not receive a diploma or certificate of completion when they complete high school, rendering them ineligible for university or jobs outside of the informal sector. (In the community we serve, even children who were born in Thailand are sometimes told that they will never be accepted in Thailand, and that they should be sent back to Burma.) There remains a desperate need for secular, high-quality, academic venues for Shan refugees and migrants in Thailand (especially those without rich social networks) hoping to attend university or garner competitive scholarships.
One mission of the school is to provide a high quality education to Shan refugee children who have migrated from Burma to Thailand. It is our hope that these students may later contribute to the building of a peaceful, diverse, and democratic Burma. As such, we will reserve roughly half of student seats for non-paying Shan refugee children. The remainder of the student body will consist of Thai and foreign students who live in the area. These students will greatly broaden and enhance the learning experience of the Shan students and non-Shan students alike. For instance, foreign and Thai students will improve the English and Thai fluency of the Shan children. Likewise, the other children will greatly benefit from a culturally diverse classroom. An economically, nationally, and culturally diverse student body allows students to intermingle, combating racism and cultural isolation. All students’ families will pay according to financial ability; tuition payments by more advantaged families will help to subsidize the substantial number of scholarships provided by our school in perpetuity.
The Banyan School fills gaps left open by local Thai public schools in several ways:
1. It will provide multi-language instruction, so that students can achieve multi-language fluency at a young age.
2. It will ensure a diverse, integrated student population, so that the children may broaden social ties and experiences and learn from each other in a multi-cultural setting.
3. Students without Thai citizenship will face no discrimination or barriers to entry.
4. The school will adhere to academic standards much higher than those currently met by the public schools. (Presently, many of the public schools’ elementary school graduates cannot pass the national secondary school entrance exam, and the top students at the local high school have had low passing rates for university entrance exams.)
5. Students will not only learn advanced math and science skills; they will also learn to critically engage one another in constructive discourse.
6. The school’s tri-lingual instruction is consistent with other academically rigorous schools throughout Thailand. This will help students to meet requirements (and garner scholarships) at a much wider range of secondary and post-secondary schools, both in Thailand and abroad.
The school will open in a local area that brims with diversity. Locals identify themselves as being of Thai, Chinese, Malay, Burmese, Shan, Lisu, Akha, Hmong, Karen, and other racial/ethnic backgrounds; they adhere to Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, animist, and other faiths. There is also a significant minority of foreigners in the area. Presently, foreign and wealthier Thai families tend to move out of the province when their children enter first grade; local hilltribe, Burmese refugee, and poorer Thai children remain in Thai public schools largely segregated by race/ ethnicity. These school populations report high drop-out rates by 9th grade.
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