Education crisis impacting disadvantaged youth and migrant learners in Asia and the Pacific addressed by UNESCO’s ‘Learning Coin’ initiative
New open-access publication, Inclusive Innovation (Routledge, 2022), highlights ‘Learning Coin’ as exemplary lifelong learning initiative in South-East Asia
By Sowirin Chuanprapun
Project Officer, Literacy and Lifelong Learning Team,
According to data gathered by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, 128 million children and young people in Asia and the Pacific were not enrolled in primary or secondary school. These numbers have doubtless increased since that time, given pandemic-induced school closures throughout the region since early 2020.
Currently throughout Asia and the Pacific, education systems are being transformed to catch up with lost learning, as well as to provide more innovative solutions to some of the most disadvantaged populations. This is in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which sets out to ensure, by 2030, ‘inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’
It is a daunting ambition, as UIS now estimates that, as we enter upon the post-pandemic era, 6.7 million students from pre-primary to secondary levels are at risk of dropping out, the poorest and most deprived children proving at the highest risk among them. The rising dropout rates, estimated to be as much as 4 per cent in a region, include many learners of secondary school age, as these students are under the most pressure to earn money to help support their families, or – as is commonly the case with young girls – to engage in household chores and provide much-needed childcare for younger siblings.
Turning to Thailand, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has pointed out that more than 800,000 upper secondary school-aged Thai youth are out of school in 2021. Amidst the pandemic, migrant children and youth continue to face barriers to accessing education due to recent school and learning centre closures, thus needing special support for learning recovery.
While motivating these children and youth to return to their learning pathway is crucial, it is also indispensable to provide such learners in their teen years the support necessary to prevent those in the education system from dropping out altogether, a risk already presaged by their lower literacy skills and learning achievements. Migrant children face their own extraordinary challenges, given their societal status putting them at the very margins of traditional school systems.
In response to this urgent situation, UNESCO Bangkok, with the support of the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) of the Government of Thailand, and POSCO 1% Foundation of the Republic of Korea, has been implementing the ‘Learning Coin’ initiative since 2018, which expressly assists out-of-school and marginalized children and youth with improving their basic literacy skills via the cultivation of good reading habits – all the while economically supporting their families. In brief, Learning Coin participants are eligible to earn monthly scholarships accounting for 10 per cent of the average family income based solely on their daily reading efforts. The programme promotes digital learning skills as well, as Learning Coin scholarships are earned on a monthly basis by learners who regularly read and log into a monitoring and tracking application ‘LearnBig’ on the provided tablets, which keeps track of their progress and calculates their monthly reimbursements.
In collaboration with King’s College London, innovation agency Nesta, and Circular Design Lab, UNESCO is delighted to announce that the reading to learn and earn model of the Learning Coin programme has been cited as an exemplary education innovation in the open access book, Inclusive Innovation, just released by Routledge Press (2022) to promote access to education for vulnerable children and youth, including ethnic minority, migrant and stateless children. The Inclusive Innovation project from which the book issues has gathered the latest emerging trends, examples and personal stories related to inclusive innovation contributed by 30 global practitioners promoting innovations for environmental and social aims addressing inequality.
UNESCO Bangkok, together with EEF, the Ministry of Education Thailand, and additional partners, will expand the Learning Coin initiative in 2023 in 6 provinces throughout the country, namely Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Mae Hong Son, Nakhon Nayok, and Yala. The project will support at least 500 children and youth of non-formal education, including migrant learners.
Sowirin Chuanprapun is a Project Officer of the Section for Educational Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, Bangkok. With UNESCO Bangkok since 2011, she currently acts as Team Lead for Literacy and Lifelong Learning (LLL). She has been promoting access to education for out-of-school and marginalized children and youth, as well as adult learners, in Asia and the Pacific for the past 10 years. Sowirin has also been implementing various initiatives to provide learning opportunities through flexible learning programmes and educational innovations for vulnerable groups, including migrant, ethnic minority and stateless children along the Thai-Myanmar border areas. Sowirin holds a Master’s degree in International and Comparative Law from University of Toulouse, France. She has been a Special Lecturer at Khonkaen University and Naresuan University International College, Thailand.
Watch the video depicting the story of Pyo Ma Ma Soe, one of the most successful migrant learners under the initiative:
Download the Inclusive Innovation Book (open access) at: https://inclusiveinnovation.gumroad.com/l/inclusiveinnovation
For more information about the Inclusive Innovation initiative, please visit: https://www.inclusiveinnovation.io/
For background on International Migrants Day: https://www.unesco.org/en/days/international-migrants
For further information, contact Sowirin Chuanprapun, Project Officer, Literacy and Lifelong Learning, Section for Educational Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), s.chuanprapun(at)unesco.org
 School Closures and Regional Policies to Mitigate Learning Loss due to COVID-19: A Focus on the Asia-Pacific. UIS. 2021.