Ban Muang Kud School has added practical career skills to its academic programme to enable its graduates to earn a living in their local communities
Is it necessary for students from remote schools in Thailand to throng into the larger cities to avail themselves of a means to earn a living? For Narong Apaijai, principal of Ban Muang Kud School in Chiang Mai province, the answer is absolutely not.
A student at Ban Muang Kud School gives a visitor a traditional Thai foot massage. The training scheme is part of the school’s goal to teach vocational skills.
"Students should remain here and be happy, and not have to venture into metropolises where they are forced to work as unskilled labourers at the minimum wage," the principal comments.
Committed to learning
Ban Muang Kud School is a small remote school of 168 students and 13 teachers. The school is located in a valley in Mae Taeng district, approximately 60km north of Chiang Mai provincial city.
Eighty percent of the students at Ban Muang Kud School live in remote mountain areas and have to travel up to 18km to attend school. Often students have to walk the entire distance, which can take up to three hours. Many students arrive at school on Monday, stay in the school's dormitory during the weekdays and return home on Friday.
Some families do not allow their children to attend school because the children are needed to help cultivate the crops and husband the animals. Parents with multiple children only let one or two attend school.
"Many students do not have a chance to continue on to higher studies," says Mr Narong.
To avoid students being forced to leave home for the major cities in search of labour-intensive, unskilled jobs, he decided to train students for employment in the local tourism and hospitality industries. In that way, children can earn a living within their own community, he says.
"We have to encourage students to love and preserve nature and our local ecosystem and teach them how to earn a living from these natural assets," says the principal.
Ban Muang Kud School is surrounded by natural beauty, which attracts tour companies to establish tour agencies in the area. Several elephant camps, for example, have sprung up along the route to the school. These sites usually welcome foreign tourists who provide tremendous advantages to the school.
As a consequence, Mr Narong integrated hospitality services into the school's curriculum. The school has clubs for children with interests in Thai massage, English conversation, brick making, traditional dance, handicrafts and homestay services.
Students prepare handicrafts to sell to visitors.
"Each term, students in Prathom 4 to Mathayom 3 [Grade 4 to Grade 9] have to join at least one club," says Winijta Chotwisitkul, the English teacher who sponsors the English Conversation club.
"If they don't like their preferred club, they can choose something else next term," the teacher says; otherwise, students can remain a member of their chosen club for as long as they like.
After the students are well trained, they will have a chance to welcome tourists and they can earn money for themselves.
Ban Muang Kud School has set up a compact souvenir store and massage parlour in front of the school, which allow student-members of the handicrafts and Thai massage clubs to showcase their skills.
The school networks with travel agents in Chiang Mai and ask the agencies to direct tourists to the school's shops. The tour agencies have been keen to cooperate. Many tourists stay at elephant camps for weeks. "Before the tourists leave, we ask the travel agent to bring the tourists to visit our training shops," says Mr Narong.
Currently, the community welcomes around 300 visitors daily.
Every Thursday, the school welcomes around 30 tourists. Students and tourists often form a symbiotic relationship. For example, tourists sometimes engage in lengthy English conversations with the students, enjoy Thai massages, and buy souvenirs; while students are able to make a little money and practice their English. Everyone benefits!
At a fee of 100 baht per hour, students often earn up to 500 baht a day for their traditional massage services.
Students are also sent to perform traditional dances and give Thai massages at the elephant camps. They also serve as tour guide assistants and help to guide tourists to the nearby attractions.
"We offer the students a vocation," says Mr Narong. "Students must learn how to earn a living and understand that our school does not ask for charity or donations. Students have to work by selling goods and services. They must also learn the value of money and where to find it," the principal emphasizes.
The money earned by students is put into a fund for students. They can use the money to support their further studies or other necessities.
The principal says that after three years of using this method, the savings fund is over 200,000 baht.
Some tourists are very fond of the idea. A tourist once said that he preferred the students to stay in this community and not flock into the cities. "Students should remain here and live a quality life," reports the principal.
Connecting with the community
One of the practices in the school, according to the principal, is to increase collaborations with entrepreneurs and members of the community as much as possible.
For example, parents with traditional massage or handicraft skills will help train the students. When students are not at the massage parlour, people in the communities can use the massage shop to offer massages. Part of the money goes to the students. "It's like we rent them the space," the principal says.
"When the parents earn money in the shops, they often give that to their children. It's like we are an alliance within the community," says Mr Narong.
Because students can join several clubs, according to Ms Winijta, "Students will have broader knowledge. After they graduate, they can be a tour guide at an elephant camp, or become masseurs or masseuses."