08 March 2009

The University of Life: Empowering a Community Through Alternative Education

In Thailand, the privatization of land has been the cause of difficulty and a prohibiting factor in access to resources, including education, for many people. However, in some cases, it has been a prod for marginalized villagers to create their own access.

Many children in the slum communities located near the railroad tracks on land owned by the State Railroad of Thailand in Khon Kaen are not granted the opportunity to go to school. While elementary school is free, there is tuition for junior high and high school. Moreover, the costs of transportation, books and uniforms are often more than the families in the slums can afford. Furthermore, in order to have a valid ID card, one must have a valid housing registration. A child born to a parent without ID will not be granted a birth register, and therefore no right to education (along with health care and voting rights). For those living illegally on SRT land, a lease agreement, either temporary or permanent, must be gained before receiving a house registration. These factors have all contributed to the fact that the majority of slum dwellers do not attend school past fourth grade despite the fact that school is legally mandatory through ninth.

In the sala of Theperak 5 slum community, the villagers have decided to take matters into their own hands. With the aid of professors from Bangkok, funding from Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI) and the municipality and donations from all communities in the Khon Kaen Slum Network, the University of Life was founded. At the University of Life, also known as the Learning Center, villagers can receive primary, secondary, undergraduate or masters degrees. The diplomas come from a university in Bangkok and are a widely recognized degree, though a student who gets their primary and secondary education from the Learning Center could not attend a state university like Khon Kaen University. This is because the Learning Center is strongly rooted in community education rather than public curriculum.

A primary and secondary education is free of charge except for books and extracurriculars due to the funding from CODI, the municipality and the donations; however a bachelors or masters degree generally has tuition of about 700,000 Baht. There is a standing government policy which states that any university student under 45 years old can take out a student loan. However, since the change of government earlier this year, this program has been dormant. Nevertheless, the municipality does provide funding for books, notebooks, chairs, projectors and computers. Student loans through private banks are also hard to get due to the low income earned by the students at the Learning Center and thereby no regular bank statements. The irony lies in the fact that were a student able to get a degree, they would have an easier time finding a higher paying job and would be able to pay off the loan they cannot get in the first place. The university in Bangkok that helped to organize the program at the Learning Center, though, is also helping to organize students to take out group loans with low interest.

The students getting their degrees at the University of Life have a choice of three majors within the realm of social studies, humanities, social science, liberal arts and local development. Various other universities are taking a cue from the university in Bangkok and opening up informal branches such as this one. The goal is for a community as a whole to become educated to further sustainable community development and to provide new opportunities to community members who were not granted access to education due sometimes to the privatization of land.

--Margo Silverman, Bates College


Cortney Ahern said...

The University of Life was one of my favorite elements of Unit 2 that was almost a side-note during one of our exchanges, but such a powerful ideology.

In my exchange in Samakee Pattanna community, we asked community members why education was so important. They said that it was about development. First, it was important for students to develop themselves. Second, it was important for them to develop their communities. And third, it was important because it could develop the outside perceptions of what a "slum" is.

The University of Life seems to be a powerful way to develop all three of these goals. Emphasizing the importance of community growth and progress through individual educational interests and pursuits is such a refreshing and accessible approach to education for these communities, who are so often shut out of higher education opportunities.

We also heard from the Mayor during this unit that children from slum communities who received education would take the opportunity to leave their homes. I cannot say I agree with that, but the University of Life's educational program for adults from slum communities promotes and gives resources for residents to work within their communities towards the kind of development that works on the ground, for the people.

SLR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SLR said...

Education. Such a complex issue for something that seems so simple. In addition to living in a slum community, we also lived and worked in a landfill community in Khon Kaen for three days. The community members explained that most people there also do not attend school past the 6th grade. Some do attend through 9th grade, which is the national law for education attendance. Public education is free, but there barriers. For example, transportation, book, uniform, and food costs are often not taken into consideration. When a family makes 100 Bhat per day, one must choose whether to feed the family or go to school. A majority of villagers emphasized the importance of a good education. My paw works very hard in order to ensure that his children can attend school. Moreover, the Mayor of Khon Kaen thinks children do not attend school because their parents do not value education. “They don’t believe that education can help that much. They are scared kids graduate with bachelors and enter the selfish capitalist system.” How can the education issue be solved when the person who is supposed to help blames the community members?

--Sarah Robinson
CIEE Thailand Spring 2009

student loan calculator said...

I cant afford to pay my bills. i cant go back to school because of my student loan is n the default. i need help. i just dont want my kids to suffer cause we are struggling, we just want a better life and im interesting in advancing my career so that me n my children can have nice life.please help us if its just helping me getting back in school.my interest rate is over three thousand dollars which is more than what i old on my student loan.and we dont want to settle for less and we want something better n life.the child support system is messed up single parents have no justice.