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Minister focuses on ‘intensive care unit’ schools

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IN A BID to support the government’s Thailand 4.0 vision, Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin has set his sights on upgrading older elements of the educational sector.



“I have recognised that there have been wide gaps among schools. I have noticed that so many schools will fall into the Thailand 1.0 version, if a categorisation were made,” Teerakiat said during an interview with Suthichai Yoon.
Suthichai, a former adviser to Nation Multimedia Group’s editorial board, conducted the interview for Suthichai Live Anywhere Anytime programme on NOW26. The interview took place after Teerakiat was named the new education minister in the middle of last month.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has been pushing for the Thailand 4.0 goal for a long time. The Thailand 4.0 vision has even been integrated into the 12th national economic and social development plan, which is scheduled for implementation between 2017 and 2020.
According to Prayut, Thailand 1.0 refers to the time when the country was still primarily reliant on agriculture while Thailand 2.0 refers to the time when the country started using machines and engaging in labour-based industries. Thailand 3.0 is when the country developed heavy industries and attracted foreign investment. 
“But all those versions are models requiring us to work real hard to gain so little. If we successfully change to Thailand 4.0, our economy will be innovation-based. We can work less and earn more,” Prayut said. 
Before his promotion, Teerakiat served as a deputy education minister in the Prayut-led government since August 2015. During his tenure, he secretly inspected various schools in the country, discovering some distressing facts, including that hundreds of thousands of students study at schools that lack specialised teachers for every subject. 
At a school in Pathum Thani province, which is a short drive from Bangkok, many of the Mathayom 3 students were found to be addicted to drugs, which was seen as an indication that teachers were not looking after the students very well.
So no matter what prestigious awards Thai “whiz kids” have earned at international contests, Teerakiat is acutely aware that too many children do not enjoy quality education and good opportunities. 
“I don’t think we can improve the academic performance via a STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] focus, if we ignore the fact that so many schools lack proper teaching staff,” Teerakiat said. 
So after being installed as the new education minister, Teerakiat announced that he would first focus on about 3,000 so-called “ICU schools”.
He regards these schools in being in such poor condition that they need a response akin to intensive care because they are in such poor condition. “This is an urgent mission. I also think we should be able to improve the conditions of all these 3,000 schools within one year,” he said. 
He said that he believed that when the government reached out to grassroots communities regarding the educational sector and invested in human-resource development, improvements could be made. 
“If the efforts prove successful this year, we will expand our efforts to 3,000 more schools next year,” he said. 
Teerakiat said he would engage stakeholders in the process with local communities. “I won’t prescribe one-size-fit-all solutions. I will let each ICU school find the best solutions via contributions from parties concerned,” he said. 
The minister also planned to push ahead with his policy to boost English-language skills among students, which he had tried to implement since he became deputy education minister. 
Teerakiat, who studied overseas in his younger years, said that English proficiency increased work efficiency, enhanced a person’s communication skills and raised their competitiveness. 
Another urgent mission Teerakiat hoped to push forward involved the development of pre-school children.
“We should invest in children at this age, too, so that they have all the necessary skills to fully develop their potential as they grow up,” he said. 
Under Teerakiat’s leadership, the Education Ministry is also set to improve budget efficiency in the educational sector and take action against anyone trying to embezzle money. 
“Corruption has taken place in many construction projects at educational institutes,” Teerakiat said.
He added that he would not tolerate such practices and would take necessary measures.
“Don’t steal children’s money,” he said.
The Office of the Higher Education Commission (Ohec), the current version of the old University Affairs Ministry, will probably have its ministry status restored if Teerakiat remains in power. 
He had already assigned the current chair of the University Presidents Council of Thailand to look into the issue, he said.

Published : January 08, 2017

By : Chularat Saengpassa The Nation