Education has been advocated as one of the best ways to improve the situation in the southern border provinces, according to several reports in which various groups of people had come up with the conclusion that problems in the southern border provinces could ease with better education.
Mr. Aziz Pitakkumphol, the Sheikhul Islam of Thailand (Chularajamontri, or the State Counselor for All Islamic Affairs, in Thailand), has also suggested that the Government improve education in the deep South, as it is a sustainable solution to the southern conflict. Mr. Aziz pointed out that many young people have been misled because of the lack of educational opportunities. So he called on the Government to upgrade education in the southern border provinces.
The education system in the deep South differs from that of other parts of the country, since many local residents have opted to send their children to receive Islamic education at tadika and pondok schools. A recent survey, conducted in the three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat, shows that 253,532 schoolchildren attend primary schools and 209,017 are in secondary and vocational schools. Only 36,541 students have opportunities to continue their studies at the bachelor’s degree or higher vocational level. Around 9,000-11,000 students have pursued their studies abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Kuwait. There are currently about 2,000 Thai Muslim students in Egypt, and the majority of them are women. Statistics show that the number of schoolchildren dropping out of their basic education in the five southern border provinces, namely Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat, Satun, and Songkhla, is about 3,000.
Since a number of schoolchildren completing compulsory education have not continued their studies, the unemployment rate in the deep South is relatively high when compared with the rate in other areas. Reports from security agencies indicate that the unemployed youths have been misled to join the movement of perpetrators and illegal businesses, such as drug trafficking and the smuggling of oil and other goods.
Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana stated that educational development in the South must emphasize efforts to provide greater employment opportunities for local people to help develop society. He pointed out that people in the southern border provinces have several strengths. For example, they can communicate in the Malay language and Arabic, and many of them speak English. With this advantage, they have good opportunities to work in various countries, such as those in the Middle East, which is now in need of foreign workers. He called for the use of education to promote the role of women in the South, so that they would be able to move forward together with their male counterparts. It is through education that the potential of women will be fully tapped.
A special education curriculum has been introduced to state schools in the deep South to integrate Islamic studies into the general curriculum. By so doing, young people will be equipped with both vocational training and religious study, thus enabling them to find jobs after completing their studies.
Private schools teaching Islamic religion in the deep South called on the Government to provide subsidies for teachers in Islamic studies, upgrade the quality of education to reduce disparity, and offer assistance in terms of educational media. In response to the strategy for developing the quality of education in the five southern border provinces, the Ministry of Education has received a budget of 286.4 million baht in the 2013 fiscal year. As for the 2014 fiscal year, it has set a budget of 628.8 billion baht for the purpose.
The Ministry of Education has also offered annual scholarships, from kindergarten to graduate level, for those whose lives have been disrupted by the unrest.