Dozens of children and adults have taken Myanmar-language courses at an Asean Studies Centre in this province to the west of Bangkok where many migrant workers from the neighbouring country are concentrated.
“The more languages you know, the more advantages you have,” Zaw Zaw Oo, a teacher, said yesterday.
All 10 Asean nations are committed to establishing the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by 2015, when the free flow of labour and products will bring more contacts among their peoples.
Located at Samut Sakhon’s Ekachai School, the centre has a good reason to launch Myanmar-language classes first. Businesses here have hired over 200,000 Myanmar workers.
It is the only one of four centres set up by the Quality Learning Foundation and the Romchat Foundation to prepare Thais for the AEC that is not on a border.
“We are aware that many Myanmar migrants work here,” said Wasana Lertsilp, director of the centre.
The centre also focuses on correcting Thais’ prejudice against Myanmar people, which partly arose from some history textbooks relating the wars between the two countries.
“It’s important to learn the Myanmar language for communication and working [with those in factories]. So we should support Thais to learn the Myanmar language,” said Apichit Prasoprat, president of the Samut Sakhon chapter of the Federation of Thai Industries.
About half of the Myanmar workers in the Mahachai seafood market area can speak Thai, but only 5 per cent of Thais can speak Myanmar.
Wasana said the response to her project’s Myanmar course was overwhelming.
“We have many people on the waitlist as we can take just 30 people per class,” she said.
Zaw Zaw Oo said many students in his class were executives or small business owners.
“They want to learn because they want to communicate with their Myanmar workers better,” Zaw Zaw Oo said.
Although the centre does not offer a Thai class for Myanmar workers, it has campaigned to add some traffic signs in Myanmar. “We noticed that more Myanmar people than Thais get into accidents in the area, so we suspected that the traffic signs in Thai might be a cause and decided to help,” Wasana said.
The other Asean Studies Centres are located at Baan Mae Chan School in Chiang Rai, which teaches Myanmar and Chinese; Tesaban 2 Phiboonwith-ayakan School in Ubon Ratchathani, which teaches Vietnamese; and Bannamkrachai School in Songkhla, which teaches Malay and English.