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Research Universities and Ethnolinguistic Minority Groups: Preserving the Pattani Malay Identity and Promoting National Reconciliation in Thailand’s Volatile South



Prof.Suwilai Premsrirat

Research Institute for Language and Cultures of Asia

Mahidol University, Thailand

Asia is the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse continent, with 3.6 billion people speaking 2,322 languages (Ethnologue 2009). While Asia as a whole is thriving, many of Asia's ethnolinguistic minority groups are falling behind. Not only are these communities losing the language and traditional wisdom acquired through the centuries, but in many cases they are unable to benefit from social and educational opportunities. UNESCO and UNICEF have pointed out that many Asian countries will not meet their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) unless the unique needs of these minority communities are seriously addressed.

Prof. Suwilai Premsrirat, Research Institute for Language and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University, has pioneered in using mother-tongue-based and multilingual approach in education to address language identity issues and resolve socio-political conflicts in the country’s southernmost provinces, where more than 80% of the population are ethnic Malay Muslims who speak Pattani Malay as opposed to Thai, which is the official language and used as the only language for instruction in schools. This action-participatory research has been undertaken with the participation of members of the local Malay Muslim community in all stages of the development of the program including designing curriculum, drawing up teaching plans and preparing class materials. By taking advantage of students’ mother tongue and cultural knowledge, the program uses bilingual techniques and various forms of class materials as a bridge to the learning of Thai language.

The project has gained international recognition and received regional attention for its applicability. Indonesia, Malaysia, Lao and the Philippines have shown interest to apply the approach in providing education in areas populated by different ethno-cultural groups.

Also, the institute’s Resource Center for Revitalization and Maintenance of Endangered Language and Cultures has been implementing projects to revive indigenous languages and knowledge in education, known as “Mahidol Model”, for youths in more than 20 ethnic groups nationwide.


A research university can play a role in enhancing the “Wisdom of Asia” that is to be found in Asia’s ethnic minority communities through both preserving their unique cultures and languages and building bridges to empower them to benefit from the opportunities of education and social development.

Mahidol University’s cooperation in pioneering mother-tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim, Pattani Malay speaking-southern provinces will be presented as a case study illustrating how an internationally-recognized university can cooperate with local communities, government ministries, and international organizations to address a range of social issues, including quality of education, cultural preservation, and conflict resolution. Key topics to be covered include community participation in writing system development, training of local teachers, cooperation between governmental and non-governmental sectors, and the development of class materials in minority languages. Initial results from the project, now beginning its fourth year, will be presented as evidence for the validity of the MTB-MLE approach.

Post Date : May 9, 2011

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