By Chularat Saengpassa
THE Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) has intensified its defence of the proposal to offer the 12 years of free education until Mathayom 3 level in a bid to prevent it from becoming an explosive issue.
The charter clause has already drawn opposition from parents and academics.
Article 54 of the charter draft, which will be decided in a public referendum in August, stipulates the state shall provide 12 years of free education starting from pre-school, instead of at Prathom 1 of primary school as is now the case.
If this stipulation comes into effect, children would only be guaranteed free education until they complete Mathayom 3, or junior secondary school, and not senior secondary school as it currently stands.
Parents have come forward to challenge the move. Critics have even labelled the article a violation of international declarations on children’s right to education.
“The allegation is untrue,” CDC spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said yesterday.
He also dismissed suggestions that if the charter draft came into effect, Mathayom 3 graduates from less privileged families could lose their chance to further their studies.
“The charter draft does not bar the state from providing help and support to children who wish to further their education,” Norachit said.
He said if the current charter were promulgated, the state could focus its resources on helping students in need when they wanted to continue studying after completing Mathayom 3.
“Instead of paying for all Mathayom 3 graduates’ further studies, the state may then need to help just half of them,” he said. “These students will as a result likely receive not just free tuition but also help with other educational expenses such as lab fees.”
Udom Rathamarit, who chairs a CDC subcommittee on educational reform guidelines, said his panel had sought to address Thailand’s educational problems when preparing Article 54.
“We aim to reduce the gap among the rich and the poor, which stems from the provision of kindergarten education,” he said.
The CDC plans to distribute a document on the charter draft’s educational clause to rebut claims the draft will hinder children’s rights to education.
A part of the document says the charter draft will immediately benefit about 3 million children, ensure continuity in national educational plans and increase teacher efficiency.
The CDC also emphasised that educational services for pre-school age children was important because children developed significantly during that period.
Dr Pumsaran Tongliemnak, a researcher at Thailand Development Research Institute, said the country should be able to provide 15 years of free education because it was a middle-income nation.
Pumsaran also underlined the fact that the government had provided subsidies in support of pre-schools and provided the total resources were well managed, there should be no need to stop free education at Mathayom 3.
“If the country has some budget problems, it should improve budget-management efficiency,” he said.
In regard to the CDC’s suggestion that a fund should be set up to help Mathayom 3 graduates from less privileged families further their studies, Pumsaran said he was afraid children would have limited access to the fund.
“I also hope that the fund won’t be extended in the form of student loans,” Pumsaran said.
He believed that political will would ultimately play a major role in determining the country’s educational future.
“Judging by the content of the draft, the new government can decide whether to give more than 12 years of free education,” he said.
Athapol Anunthavorasakul, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said children’s educational future should not be at the mercy of politicians.
“Children have the right to education,” he said.
He also believed that as a middle-income country Thailand did not need to lower the level of free education it provided.
“Also, I must reiterate here that if the free education really ends at Mathayom 3, a huge number of students may lose the chance to further their study,” he said.