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Raising teacher salaries is not the answer to Thai education failure

Oct 25. 2018
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Re: “Spend more on the schools – and more wisely”, October 18

The budget of the Thai Education Ministry is huge and has doubled in the last 10 years alone. And yet Thai education is still in decline according to the PISA rankings, O-Net results and the “invisibility” of Thai universities in global rankings. Most observers assume the budget is sufficient but is being used ineffectively.

According to Education Ministry analyst Pumsaran Tongliemnak, much of the budget went on raising teacher salaries over the past 10 years. Pumsaran notes that teachers are now paid more than many other government officials – him included. This information from the horse’s mouth nullifies the argument that offering teachers higher pay would improve academic performance. That policy has been tried for the past 10 years, without success. Nowadays, university faculties of education have become quite popular, but seemingly for the wrong reasons. 

Pumsaran suggests that instead of education budget, a better gauge is expenditure per student (EpS). Thailand’s EpS falls in the lower end: its annual US$20 EpS leads to an average science score of 420 (OECD data). Top-performing countries in, for example, science, have scores of about 500 and an EpS of $100, five times higher than Thailand. 

Pumsaran states that the EpS data provides the “real picture” since it correlates to academic scores – a high EpS means higher scores. 

Thailand should look to its neighbour Vietnam for clues on how to maximise performance gains from student expenditure. Vietnam has a similar level of EpS to Thailand but has leapt ahead in the academic rankings.   

The message for Thai education policymakers seems to be, it’s not how much you spend but how you use it.

Dirk Sumter

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