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Bridge to a Brighter Future: The Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Programme

  • Grace Dodge Hall Rm. 449 (map)

Thailand has made great strides in education, achieving near 100% primary enrollment and a 98% youth literacy rate. Yet one third of ethnic minority teens are still illiterate in Thai, despite 6-8 years of schooling. The problem is most acute in the Deep South, among Patani Malay speaking youth. The Deep South is also the scene of a long-standing insurgency, pitting Patani Malay Muslim separatists against the Thai Buddhist state. Since 2004, over 7000 have died, including 180 teachers—some killed in front of their students—as the insurgency views the Thai education system as a threat to Islam and the Patani Malay language/culture.Since 2006, linguists from Mahidol University have cooperated with UNICEF Thailand and the Patani Malay community to pioneer mother tongue based multilingual education for children in grades K-6. The results have been overwhelmingly positive; the program received both the 2016 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Award and the 2017 UNESCO Wenhui Award for Innovation in the Professional Development of Teachers (honorable commendation). This lecture will examine the structure of the programme, detail student and community assessment methods employed, and discuss the implications for education and peace building in Thailand and beyond. Full copies of UNICEF Thailand’s just-published project documentation (175 pages) will be available free of charge in limited quantities.

Speaker Bio

Kirk R. Person, Ph.D. (University of Texas, Arlington) came to Thailand in 1988 as a volunteer English teacher—and stayed! He works with SIL International, an NGO focused on minority language issues. He has conducted linguistic fieldwork in Thailand, Myanmar, and China (PRC), taught graduate linguistics courses at several Thai universities, represented SIL International to the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group (hosted by UNESCO-Bangkok), served on the Royal Institute of Thailand’s National Language Policy Drafting Committee, and contributed to the British Academy’s language policy recommendations for Myanmar. 

Hosted by Columbia University Teacher’s College.