By THE NATION
Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana yesterday unveiled a policy in which educational zone directors will be asked to close or merge 14,816 small schools nationwide – especially those with fewer than 60 pupils and those deemed to be geographically unnecessary.
At a meeting at Bangkok’s Rama Garden Hotel yesterday, held to discuss educational zone directors’ readiness for the start of the upcoming school year, Pongthep told the directors to merge small schools with few pupils and poor standards with higher-quality schools nearby.
He said this would benefit both students and overall education management.
Pongthep added that in order to lessen resistance to the plan, authorities would need to establish good understanding with communities, explaining that the government does not have the funds to develop all existing schools equally.
He said that even in developed countries like the US – for example in Washington – small schools were sometimes closed down after being deemed unnecessary despite the fact that they had as many as 300 students.
SMALL IMPACT ON STUDENTS
Pongthep insisted that the impact on students would be small, because the Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) had arranged transport and earmarked funds to buy 1,000 vans.
He said that in some areas the private sector could bid for concessions to manage the vans, which would save the government money, especially on maintenance. In cases where students had to travel to new schools that weren’t too far from home, the government might allocate a budget to buy them bicycles, he added.
Small schools that authorities decide should stay open will be run using new management methods and share educational resources and teaching staff to ensure a better quality of education.
Obec chief Chinnapat Bhumirat said the agency would conduct a survey to determine the exact number of schools that should be immediately closed and merged.
Of the 30,000 Obec schools nationwide, 14,816 have fewer than 120 students and 5,962 have fewer than 60 pupils. Among the schools that have less than 60 students, 709 have fewer than 20, 2,090 have about 21 to 40 and 3,163 schools have between 41 and 60 students.
Pongthep also urged that schools undergo a curricular facelift, reducing rote learning and cutting down unnecessary content, while maximising the class period of 50 minutes because students had only about five months to study in each academic year.
He also urged an emphasis on academic subjects along with morality and democracy.
In this school term, Obec will cut down on the amount of homework by having teachers integrate their homework assignments. Obec has already completed a handbook on this method and will introduce it this month to educational supervisors and schools.
Obec will also implement the “Flipped Classroom” concept this year to help boost students’ academic achievement, the minister said.