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Effective education key to escaping middle income trap, ADB says

Apr 20. 2017
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The Nation

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THAILAND faces more challenges as it strives to improve the economy and people’s incomes for the long term as it struggles to move up from being a middle-income country, the Asian Development Bank says.

For the short term, the ADB has predicted that Thai exports will expand by 3 per cent this year, following zero growth last year.

Luxmon Attapich, senior economist at the ADB Thailand Resident Mission, said yesterday that rising demand overseas would allow exports to play a significant role in driving economic growth here, with gross domestic product forecast to rise by 3.5 per cent this year, up from 3.2-per-cent growth in 2016. 

GDP growth next year is expected to be 3.6 per cent.

She acknowledged concerns about trade protectionism as the United States under President Donald Trump reviews its policy with an eye to reducing trade deficits. However, she said she did not expect Washington to adopt severe measures against Thailand or 15 other countries carrying trade surpluses with the US.

Key factors contributing to Thai economic growth this year include farmers’ rising incomes and private and public investment in infrastructure projects, she said.

For the long term, the ADB has predicted that if Thailand could increase its scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment to meet the benchmarks of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it would lead to a 60-per-cent increase in GDP per capita between 2015 and 2045, Luxmon said.

A study by the ADB showed that education can promote growth effectively only if it is of sufficiently high quality to raise cognitive skills significantly – that is, the thinking skills that enable individuals to learn, solve problems, and create new knowledge.

Growth would be more rapid if economies focused on achieving basic cognitive skills that are comparable with the average in OECD economies, in which 85 per cent of students score at least 400 on international tests of cognitive skills for mathematics and science. Scores around 400 indicate that a student has reasoning skills and can do simple mathematical or science procedures. 

Economies with higher cognitive skills, in which 85 per cent of students achieve at least 400 and 15 per cent achieve at least 600 in the tests, achieve even faster growth when compared with growth obtained from raising basic skills.

These economies are considered to have a critical mass of students who possess top-level skills and demonstrate the ability to solve complex problems, reason and strategise, and thus would likely become innovators.

“Only a small number of 15-year-old Thai students meet OECD standards,” Luxmon said.

Only students from demonstration schools and schools focusing on teaching science, mostly based in Greater Bangkok, have performed well.

On average, Thai student scores in science were 421 and 415 in mathematics, compared with OECD average scores of 493 and 490 respectively.

The ADB study also indicated that the additional growth obtained from raising the average years of schooling to 11.6, the OECD average, would lead to an increase in GDP per capita by 20 per cent for Thailand. Currently the average for schooling in Thailand is seven to eight years, she said.


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