Friday, August 14, 2020

Teerakiat steering Thai education away from iceberg – but election looms 

Jan 02. 2019
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Reforms come and go with dizzying pace at the Education Ministry, where the revolving door has seen no less than 21 ministers in 18 years.

Each new minister has cancelled previous policies and launched new initiatives, creating a bureaucratic nightmare for an already bloated ministry of 30,000 civil servants (lack of budget has never been a problem at the ministry). Meanwhile Thai students’ scores have dropped to near the bottom of global rankings. 

Yet now, finally, we have some stability of leadership plus a scientific approach to tackling the crisis. Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, a child psychiatrist who practised in the UK, took office in 2016. 

Having myself worked as a Department of Psychiatry biomedical engineer for many years, I can sense that Dr Teerakiat’s drive and dedication is bringing positive change, guided by his mantra for the job – “Example, Expectation, Consequence”. 

Immediately seeing the “big picture”, Teerakiat had all 40,000 Thai English teachers tested using Cambridge English standards. The results were shocking. Only 6 scored as fluent and only 350 as intermediate level. This left nearly all teachers as advanced beginners at best.

Along with problems of the quality of Thailand’s 400,000 public-school teachers, Teerakiat identified quantity as a serious problem with over 200,000 teachers set to retire in the next 10 years. His remedy was to scrap the rule that prevents the brightest graduates from becoming teachers if they don’t have a teaching degree.  

 However, the plans for unlicensed teachers caused panic among the long-established networks and hierarchies of the Thai-education Titanic. Adding to the tumult was Teerakiat’s new teacher training programme, involving “homework” that the majority of teachers found too burdensome. In other words, the ideas for reform are good but the execution lacking. Part of the problem is a reluctance to look for models of excellence abroad in, for example, shorter and more efficient teacher training programmes.

Education expert Professor Rattana Lao has pointed to the historic absence of a “data collection attitude” in Thai policymakers as a contributing factor to the lowly status of Thai universities in the global rankings – despite those universities having originally been founded using data from foreign models.

At least the shorter (four-year) teacher training programme has been given the government nod. Teerakiat could now take another leaf out of Western education systems by allowing professionals to switch to teaching via a short “lateral teacher training programme”. Our students need the 21st-century-focused teachers and skills that such reforms would provide!

Dirk Sumter

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