Minmahaw School is a boarding school based in the town of Mae Sot, Thailand 500 km NW from Bangkok on the Thai/Myanmar border. The school offers intensive English immersion programs for disadvantaged Burmese aged between 17 and 23 years old that have completed compulsory aged education and have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to studies and leadership. The students do not pay for their accommodation or tuition.
Originally, (in 2007) the school was established with a single purpose – to prepare students to attend Tertiary Institutions (Universities) and the students were the children/grandchildren of political prisoners. Minmahaw worked then and still works now on the principle of Intensive English Language immersion; i.e., all lessons and conversations during school hours, which includes Night Study five nights a week, are in English.
The MEF Board recognised that not every student at Minmahaw School could, or needed to, attend University and so Vocational Studies was introduced as one of the core subjects. All students attend at least one Vocational Studies as well as a Careers lesson each week.
In response to needs changing over the years, Minmahaw School has incorporated three areas of learning:
- An Applied English program. This caters for a group of students with very little
English who have come straight from Myanmar or from small border ‘Organisations’ to Minmahaw School. They have indicated that they do not plan a Tertiary Education (this sometimes changes with the increased English skills as the year progresses). The School Board has requested they be given a program to enable them a better chance of employment when they return to their Burmese home towns/villages by having improved English and a broader educational experience. This group begins its’ program by attending the Summer School and continues until the end of the Academic year in March (i.e. a full 12 month program). Students for the Applied English stream are selected through an application process.
- Minmahaw School has retained and extended the Secondary /Post Ten academic
program to help prepare students seeking Tertiary Courses. The Secondary/Post Ten students are admitted through an Entrance Exam, which includes English, Reading and Writing components. Those selected must have demonstrated high academic achievement (not necessarily high levels of spoken English) and through an interview process, one in English and one in Burmese, are deemed to have ‘good attitude’ and meet expected criteria.
- A full year Teacher Training Course – unlike other Teacher Training programs on the
Thai/Myanmar border, the Minmahaw program is in English. Approximately 15 students who successfully apply to attend the Teacher Education (Training) program will have a second year at Minmahaw. The program is also offered as a one-year program throughout the Migrant schools network. This program is also by Application.
Due to the success of the Teacher Training course, Minmahaw School provides teachers to 1) an outlying school Min Thoo Wuun – a Burmese school catering for 4 to 13 year olds and 2) the Hospitality and Catering Training Centre (HCTC) – catering for Thai Karen young adults
The students’ educational background is varied:
- From the bigger Refugee Camps, they will come from highly structured, well-organised and supported programs focusing on English Structure and are mostly ‘ready’ for pre University study
- From small village schools with little or no structure, consistency and limited ‘teaching’ – at times the school just doesn’t operate for extended periods of time. Students continue though with ‘self study’
- From many of the Migrant Schools within the Myanmar/Thai border (there are over 70 ‘official /’recognized ones as well as ‘not-recognized’ ones). These have huge variety in organisation and curricula – rarely long term planning or with international focus
- From having attended up to 2 years in Burmese Universities. These are rarely in Minmahaw ‘top’ English speakers groups, as the university level is relatively low
The common factor is that almost all teaching has been based on rote memory learning.