Being lahu in a Thai school : an inquiry into ethnicity, nationalism, and schooling

Juelsgaard, Matthew Ryan
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2013]
At the heart of the transformation of Thailand from a Buddhist Kingdom into a modern nation state was the "invention" of a Thai national identity, which was spread throughout the country using a state-run education system. Some groups of people, however, were considered so distinct that they were unable to adopt the national heritage; as a result, they were regarded as 'non-Thai' ethnic minorities and occupied marginal positions within the nation. In northern Thailand, the Lahu are one such ethnic minority group. During the past 60 years, many Lahu have attended Thai schools. While scholars have noted that the primary aim of Thai schools has been the national integration of a diverse population, little research has been conducted on the experiences of ethnic minorities within this context. This study inquires into and describes their lived experiences of being ethnically Lahu at Banrongrian Secondary School in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Specific attention was given to participants' interpretation of the significance of their ethnicity during their time in secondary school. In order to achieve this purpose, a qualitative transcendental phenomenological approach was employed. From June to September 2012, I recruited and interviewed ten Lahu individuals who attended Banrongrian Secondary School. There were three common themes among most of the participants. First, most participants attended primary schools founded for ethnic minority students in the mountains. As a result, during secondary school, they were ill-prepared and saw themselves as having inferior knowledge as compared to their Thai classmates. Next, most participants spoke Lahu as their native language. As Thai was the language used in school, several participants experienced academic and social challenges. Lastly, all participants believed that their Thai peers looked down on them because of their ethnicity. The findings suggest two conclusions. First, being ethnically Lahu was a difference that made a significant difference in participants' experiences of school. Second, policies of national integration contributed to the marginalization of the participants as ethnic minority students in the context of school.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
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