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Reforming Thailand’s Education System: Where To Start?

 Video:

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Program

 

09.00 – 09.30 a.m.          Registration and Coffee

 

09.30 – 11.30 a.m.           Speakers:

 

Dr. Kirida Bhaopichitr

Research Director for International Research and Advisory Service

Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI)

 

Dr. Pumsaran Tongliemnak

Policy Analyst at the Bureau of Policy and Strategy

The Office of the Permanent Secretary

Thailand’s Ministry of Education

 

Dr. Rattana Saelao

Instructor of Thai Studies Program  

Pridi Banomyong International College (PBIC) Thammasat University

 

Dr. Kevin P. Colleary

Adjunct Professor

Graduate School of Education, Curriculum and Teaching Fordham University, New York

 

Mr. Markus Hoffmann

Director of the German Thai Dual Excellence Education Project

Thai-German Chamber of Commerce (GTCC) 

 

Mr. Stephen Holroyd

Principal of Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok

Former Housemaster and Deputy Head of Shrewsbury School in the UK

 

Moderator: 

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Director of ISIS Thailand

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

 

11.30 a.m. – 12.00 p.m.   Open Forum

 

Moderator: Thailand is not the only country that has education problems, but for Thailand, our educational shortcomings are now at a critical stage, because they are now holding back a number of fronts, ideas, issues and policies that we need to move ahead on. 

 

 

Dr. Kirida Bhaopichitr

Research Director for International Research and Advisory Service Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI)

 

Education is essential to achieve inclusive growth. An educated labour force promotes growth through highly skilled labourers and it promotes equity among the citizens of the country. Equitable education is not easy to achieve. In many countries, including Thailand, there are disparities in the quality of education, especially among the different regions of the country; one of the main challenges we face is to find ways to bridge those gaps. If we look at the PISA grades for students Thailand, the scores for students in Bangkok are equivalent to the United States. However, it’s the rest of the country outside of Bangkok which really lags behind and pulls the average down.

It is especially important to focus on improving Thailand’s education sector now, as our workforce has already started to age and to fall. In 20 years, we will have a 10% decline in our labour force. Either we import more skilled labour into the country, or we improve the quality of the existing and incoming labour force, otherwise it will be very difficult to grow if we are old and unskilled. Thailand’s productivity, whether it be in industry, services or agriculture, is quite low. This is most pronounced in agriculture. Services and industry are a little better, but it is still way below Singapore or Malaysia. It is concerning because Thailand will have fewer people to work and productivity is not improving; this is a huge constraint to growth in the future.   

One of the factors that contributes to the divides in quality of education between students is the number of small schools, meaning those who have fewer than 20 students per grade, in Bangkok compared to other parts of the country. The reason this is a problem is because small schools receive small budgets, they can only hire a few teachers, purchase one or two computers, and have limited means to update textbooks or facilities, which feeds back into the quality of education being provided. A third of all classes in Thailand (primary and secondary) have fewer than 1 teacher per class, meaning 1 teacher will have a responsibility to teach multiple disciplines or over a number of grades. The reason why we have so many small schools is that the number of students has been falling but the number of schools has not followed suit. This is really costly for the Ministry of Education. One of the quick wins that research from the World Bank and TDRI has pointed towards is that there would be benefits for merging these schools. There are many small schools close to each other that could be consolidated, or there are many small schools which could merge with nearby bigger schools. This could allow more students better access to quality teachers and facilities, and provide significant savings for the government.

Pre-school education is also incredibly important for young students’ development. Research shows that if a child does not go to pre-school, they tend to perform less will than those who did. The gap in pre-school attendance is very different between families who are rich and poor, which affects the performance of poor children and their ability to perform later in their lives.

16% of Thai children under the aged of 5 can be considered ‘stunted,’ while in some parts of Thailand, like the Northeast, the rates are even higher. This is important because being classed as stunted implies they have had malnutrition or they have had a disease in the first 1000 days of their lives. This really impacts their ability to learn as they get older because their IQ and EQ are lower than their peers. It is thus important to give information to parents on the nutrition requirements and necessary care needed for their children.

 

 

Dr. Pumsaran Tongliemnak

Policy Analyst at the Bureau of Policy and Strategy

The Office of the Permanent Secretary

Thailand’s Ministry of Education

 

The Ministry of Education has been pinpointed for criticism in parts of Thai society. Over the past decade, the Ministry has received annually nearly 20% of the national budget, more than any other in Thailand. However, despite the increase in budget every year, it does not seem to correlate with increased domestic or international test scores among Thai students. The PISA 2015 scores showed that average grades have dropped since 2012.

One of the main factors that has contributed to the increase in Ministry of Education budget has been the rise in teachers’ salaries, which is now quite high when compared to other civil servants. 20 years ago, not many students were interested in taking entrance exams into Universities’ Faculty of Education, because of low prestige or poor salary, but since teachers’ wages were boosted, it has become more popular among prospective university entrants.

 

Although Thailand has increased its education budget significantly over the past decade, when we look at the average expenditure per student adjusted for PPP, it is still quite low when compared to other countries. There is a direct correlation between the amount spent per student and high test scores, so this data shows refutes the commonly held perception that Thailand overspends on its education budget.

 

There is a great disparity in in the ONET test scores in the Southern and Northeastern provinces when compared to Bangkok or other parts of the country. Also of note is the number of students in the vocational track keep dropping: Thailand especially needs more vocational students to be able to fill skilled positions in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. The government is thus trying to promote vocational education among students in lower-secondary schools.

One other complaint that has been raised towards the Ministry of Education is that it has had rapid turnover of Ministers over now a long period of time, no matter the government that is in power. In the 17 years since the first Thaksin administration to the current government, there have been 18 Ministers of Education. 

Under the 2017 Constitution, there will be some changes in the Thai education system. First, the importance of early childhood education will be noted by the government’s pledge to increase education for children as young as three years old until they finish school. The government also aims to establish an education fund to help the poorest students be able to afford to go to school. There is also a plan to relax the admission of new teachers to try to attract those from outside the Faculty of Education; this has created some uproar, confusion and discontent from certain sectors. However, many also support this plan as it may make it easier for professionals or experts in particular fields to become teachers after 12 months of additional training.

 

 

 

Dr. Rattana Saelao

Instructor of Thai Studies Program 

Pridi Banomyong International College (PBIC) Thammasat University

 

Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University, Mahidol University, Chiang Mai University and Kasetsart University are the apex of Thailand’s public university system. Thai students spend 16 years preparing themselves at school preparing themselves to get their foot in the door of the elite universities in the country.

One of the supposed panaceas to problems (and one of the great controversies) in the Thai university system is the ‘autonomous university policy.’ According to the Ministry of University Affairs, becoming an autonomous public university will make it become “more flexible, have greater freedom, there will be less or minimal control by the state. The responsibility of the state will be limited to the direct policy, allocated resources and quality assurance. The state will focus on monitoring and following up in order to ensure transparency in the process.” In this short paragraph, there are many promises being made, promises which have been used repeatedly in the autonomous university debate over the past fifty years in policy papers and dialogues. The argument in a nutshell suggests that every problem will be solved if universities are given greater autonomy away from the red tape and overbearing watch of the state.

For the past 100 years, Thai universities, their norms, regulations and policies, were created for and by the state. Chulalongkorn University was created precisely to train civil servants for the state. Thammasat University was created, with a less direct mandate, to create a new kind of citizen who would serve the democratic state. Kasetsart University was created to serve the Ministry of Agriculture. Mahidol University was created to serve the Ministry of Health. The major public universities of Thailand were created as state apparatuses. They were not just controlled by the state, they were the state. The number of students who were taken based on the number of civil servants required by the Ministry. Rectors and lecturers are considered civil servants.

There has now been a five-decade push to separate these universities from the state, however over that time the impetus for this separation has shifted from political independence to commercial opportunity. Universities now want to become more flexible in order to allow them to become more commercialized and more market-driven.

Many organizational aspects are problematic to universities when they are part of the state apparatus. For example, should a lecturer want to propose teaching a new syllabus, in the old system, the syllabus would have to go through the entire bureaucratic process right up to the Ministry of University Affairs or the Ministry of Education. Budgeting would need to be approved by the Ministry of Finance. It is understandable that to escape this seemingly ‘draconian’ bureaucratic control, and try to find some freedom through becoming an autonomous university. However, does escaping this government control really solve all of the problems facing universities? Now we have 19 universities which are autonomous, but without competent leadership in these universities, the same problems will remain endemic. Having good leadership is at the crux of the problems facing universities.

When universities become autonomous, everything becomes more independent within the university. All requests for new syllabuses or courses, instead of having to go through the slow bureaucratic process in the Ministry of Education, now just has to be approved by the University Council. However, the right to approve these courses or syllabuses comes with responsibility. For universities like Chulalongkorn, which has a very competent University Council, they understand this responsibility – the Chulalongkorn University Council is composed of the best and brightest people. But this is not the case for all 160 universities in Thailand; in smaller, less-known or regional universities, the Councils tend to be composed of local politicians, ‘influential individuals’ and businesspeople. University Councils are led by the powerful rather than the bright. Courses are simply approved rather than their merits and composition debated intellectually.

When universities become autonomous, they need (and have the right) to earn their own money. 50-70% of operation costs need to be independent of the state. They tend to generate this income through international programs, events, special lectures and seminars, consultancies, projects and labs, for example. However, without good leadership with and intellectual infrastructure behind it, universities will simply end up with commercialized courses, short courses for MBA and executive weekend courses for the “children of influential individuals.” These courses make a large amount of money. Universities without good leadership will opt into these courses rather than focusing more on providing quality education and good facilities.

 

 

Dr. Kevin P. Colleary

Adjunct Professor

Graduate School of Education, Curriculum and Teaching Fordham University, New York


When looking at a question like, “Reforming Thailand’s Education System: Where to Start?” it is sometimes simpler to first break it down into simpler questions; the ‘what’ of education reform, the ‘how’ of teaching, and the ‘why’ of teaching. What do we do, how do we do it, and why do we do it?

The question most relevant to us today is the ‘how’ of teaching. Something that is under discussion at the moment in the United States about how we teach our students, what are the processes that happen within our classrooms. One of the big issues that is under discussion are “21st Century skills,” or the “Four Cs,” which are critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication. These are the skills identified by employers, businesses and academics as the skills which students will need going forward.

Critical thinking is about being able to analyse, evaluate, interpret across multiple sources in an objective and systematic way. Teachers have to understand that for students to be successful in this century, these are the skills that they’re going to have to need. There is the content, of course, the ‘what’ which is important, but the ‘how’ of teaching towards 21st Century skills can be worked into any curriculum. It is important to get students practiced from an early age to understand what it is to evaluate, analyse, interpret and use multiple sources when they are posed with a problem. It is about helping students to learn how to ask questions all the time, all day long, about everything. Building that capacity for good questioning is a critical component for success.

This is ever more important in a world where there is more data, more information, more facts and more ‘answers’ out there every day. It isn’t possible for all of us to know everything, so this ability to keep asking and keep questioning is critically important.

The second of the Four Cs is creative thinking; students have to learn how to be divergent and own the emotional part in themselves. Academia is not just intellectual, it is also emotional. How we react to problems or understand information comes from who we are as a part of our own creativity. Again, in the 21st Century, creativity is crucial. 65% of 5-year-old children will be employed in jobs that have not been created yet. If we are going to get our students ready, we have to promote and train creativity in our children.

In a professional setting, it is very rare for people to spend time alone. We are usually working in teams or collaborating on projects together. Thus, it is very important to build these skills in students as well. Students should be practicing collaboration, producing content and deciding together.

Schools have always taught the basics of language, reading, rules of grammar and writing skills, usually in the national language. But now we also have to think more about digital literacy, the importance of helping students to know how to manage the plethora of information on their smartphones and computers. We also need to focus on our multilingual capacities. None of us should be multilingual, especially our students. Research also increasingly shows that multilingual brains have abilities that monolingual brains do not. Working in multiple languages is an important skill when we are talking about 21st Century skills.

Those four skills are challenges that many schools, universities and teacher training programs are trying to promote in education systems across the United States and indeed worldwide. 

 


 

Mr. Markus Hoffmann

Director of the German Thai Dual Excellence Education Project Thai-German Chamber of Commerce (GTCC)

 

The German-Thai Chamber of Commerce launched a programme in 2013 called “German-Thai Dual Excellence Education” sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany. The target of this project is to implement dual vocational education in eleven different countries, including Thailand. There are currently 10 companies and colleges participating in the programme covering 11 different professions, with a total of 239 apprentices.

In Thailand, vocational education is a two-year programme, usually starting from the age of 16; if it were to match the A-levels of the German curriculum, it would have to be extended to three years. In Thailand, there is poor coordination between companies and vocational colleges’ curriculums. There needs to better alignment, especially when students are doing their training on-site in the company.

Vocational colleges still have some problems with students fighting. Sometimes students fear coming to the college in the morning and they fear heading back home in the evening. Parents are apprehensive about enrolling their children in vocational schools. Moreover, some teachers adopt very authoritarian punishments for their students, such as giving them embarrassing haircuts. Such violence between and against should be abolished and outlawed in vocational colleges.

 

 

 

 

Mr. Stephen Holroyd

Principal of Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok and Former Housemaster and Deputy Head of Shrewsbury School in the UK

 

International schools in Bangkok, such as Shrewsbury, are somewhat isolated from the problems which are endemic in the Thai education system. We are not particularly engaged with the local schools and students in our communities. One of the prevailing narratives explaining the problems facing the Thai education system is the lack of English proficiency among Thai students and teachers. This is a myth. It is a falsehood.

Recently, we have reached out to some of our Thai language teachers and in our community at Shrewsbury to try to find ways to explain and prevent this decoupling between the Thai and international sectors. What we have found is that the reason why there is such a wide division between the two communities is that there is such poor comprehension of the Thai language in the international sector.

On reforming the Thai education system, the place to start is celebrating, honouring and respecting the beautiful, lyrical, historic Thai language with its Tai, Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer roots. Thais tend to spend much time apologizing for their language. Rather, celebrating the language is the place to start for any reform of the Thai education system. 


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