Thai Education: Problems with the System

The Thai education system is seen by many American Chamber of Commerce member companies as inadequately educating students in two important areas: English and critical thinking. Science, math, and Thai language skills have also recently been dropping to levels below international standards and lower than its neighbors. Standardized national tests administered by the Ministry of Education show that these scores in Thailand are dropping, with neighboring Malaysia, and even Laos, faring better in English, math, and science. Traditionally, schools focus on memorization and classrooms are not interactive. Students subsequently learn to listen, memorize, and repeat information verbatim onto a test. This produces a student population lacking innovation, creativity, and critical thinking skills.

Thailand’s distinct hierarchical and class conscious culture provides little incentive to be innovative, according to the Dean of Public Administration at NIDA University. College degrees are in part an issue of social class, not education. A person with a college degree is considered a higher class than those without one, regardless of their thinking ability or actual knowledge gained. Many college students do not care about how or what they learn, as long as they do just enough to acquire a degree.

It is widely considered among the academic community that teachers in basic education are quickly becoming an educational liability. Poor salary and declining social class status are the main factors in deterring would-be high quality teachers. There are few incentives to become a teacher and the brightest students choose other professions. Consequently, much of the teacher workforce consists of average quality graduates at best. There are also no incentives for teachers to undertake continuing education or training and, subsequently, few do. To make up for the poor teaching and in order to do better on the standardized college admissions exam, students that can afford to do so take private classes after school hours.

The Ministry of Education is aware of these issues and is acting on it according to the National Education Act of 1999, which stems from the 1997 Constitution. The reform is outlined in the National Education Plan, which covers the period 2002 – 2016. Many academics believe that the National Education Plan is a good blueprint for successful reform. According to the Ministry of Education, it focuses on 3 broad objectives. First, balanced human development, Second, building a society of morality, wisdom, and learning. Third, development of a social environment. Through these objectives, it is hoped that the National Education Plan will 1) lead to a knowledge-based economy and society, 2) promote continuous learning, and 3) involve all segments of society in designing and decision-making concerning public activities. The Ministry of Education is currently trying to implement these changes by reforming the curriculum, basic education learning process, and admission processes.

The curriculum for basic and higher levels of education is set to accommodate each individual’s age and potential. The basic education curriculum is broken up into the national level and the institutional level. There is an emphasis on Thai identity and promoting good citizenship on the national level. Basic education covers 12 years and includes eight groups of subjects: Thai Language, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Religion and Culture, Health and Physical Education, Art, Career and Technology-Related Education, and Foreign Language. A new nationwide teacher training program for various levels of teacher personnel has also been organized. At the institutional level, educational institutions are required to develop a curriculum that “benefits the community and society.”

The learning process is supposed to focus on the individual student and the top priority is self-development. There are six steps to the basic education level: 1) teachers are encouraged to develop their own teaching materials, 2) teacher training about individual learning, 3)revising standards for disabled students, 4) “Learning Paths of Thai People” project that promotes learning methods, 5) “Education Improvement Model,” which incorporates teachers and learning technologies, and 6) strengthening the capacity of the Royal Thai Government to carry out education reform.

Source: Education Portal. Date: March 4, 2016

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