What just happened to education in Thailand?
Something big happened to the Thai education system this week
However, it is rather difficult understanding exactly what happened and the impact it might have.
A non-descript article on the changes published on Tuesday is now the most read news article on the Bangkok Post website with 57,413 page views as of 12:39 25/03/2016 (see Regional education authority restructured here).
Today’s editorial in the Bangkok Post explains what happened and provides much-needed background information and some historical context to help understand the change.
Thailand’s education system needs drastic reform which demands nothing less than decentralisation. Yet the system is gearing up for even more top-down control and worsening education disparity.
On Monday, the military regime used the special powers under Section 44 of the interim charter to change the recruitment and chain of command of the publiceducation system back to the old top-down hierarchy of yesteryear.
DECENTRALISATION AFTER 1997 PEOPLE’S CONSTITUTION
Before the 1997 charter, the structure of the regional education administrationcorresponded to that of the Interior Ministry. District, provincial and regionaleducation bosses were appointed by the education permanent secretary. In the provinces, they reported to the governors although governors complained they were often ignored.
This centralised system, dictated by security concerns, was blamed for the poor quality of education. Subsequent pressure for reform resulted in a more decentralisedstructure which allowed education regions under the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) to recruit their personnel and administer local schools.
NEED FOR MORE DECENTRALISATION
The new system fails to deliver. Teachers remain paralysed by excruciatingpaperwork dictated by central authorities. Regional offices have transpired into another top-down body. Teacher training and innovative classroom teaching are ignored. Local schools cannot initiate change or even hire their teachers. Rote – learning continues. The disparity is aggravating because rural students cannot compete with their urban peers.
To fix the problems, the current education administration needs to be trulydecentralised to empower schools and local communities. Schools should be able to run more independently so they can meet local diversity and demands. More importantly, schools must help students find their interests and fulfil their differing potential instead of trying to fit the rigid mould set by Bangkok.
BACK TO THE PAST: OLD HIERARCHY OF TWO DECADES AGO
Instead, the government has turned back the clock by reinstating the old hierarchy in the education system that was debunked two decades ago.
The government insisted the change will improve efficiency, policy integration, and make the education system more responsive to national goals. It will not. Old-style centralisation will make the problems worse, not better.
CUTTING FREE EDUCATION FROM 12 YEARS TO 9 YEARS
And if the Charter Drafting Committee (CDC) has its way, the situation will be even more grim. At present, all children are entitled to 12 years of free education until high school. The drafters want to cut it down to nine. This means that students would get free education up to only Mathayom 3.
Confronted with fierce criticism, the drafters argued the 12 years of free education remains, but that it would start from pre-school instead. They also argued that the current system gears students too much towards university education, resulting in a glut of poor-quality university graduates when the country needs skilled technicians. Cutting free education to Mathayom 3 would help reverse this trend, they said. It won’t. Instead education disparity will get worse.
WOULD PUNISH THE POOR & WORSEN SOCIAL INEQUALITY
At present, local governments and communities have largely taken care of pre-school development. Moreover, more support for pre-school children should not come at the cost of underprivileged students in middle schools.
There is already a high rate of drop-outs among rural students. If state support is cut, even those who can continue to high school will have to quit. Most cannot afford a more expensive vocational education. Social problems from drop-outs will surely rise.
The Section 44 order cannot be reversed until the next government is in power. But the CDC can still change its stance to support free education until Mathayom 6. If not, they will be remembered for an ill-conceived policy that punishes the poor and worsens social inequality.
Source: The Bangkok Post. Date: 25 March, 2016