By CHULARAT SAENGPASSA
A KEY DRAFT law for reducing the country’s educational inequality has now sailed through the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
The NLA yesterday approved the Equitable Education Fund Bill with overwhelming support. Of 188 legislators present, 184 voted for the bill while the rest abstained.
Chalermchai Boonyaleepun, a member of both the NLA and the Independent Committee for Education Reform (ICER), said Thailand needed the Equitable Education Fund because it was now the world’s third in terms of educational and social inequality.
“We need to reduce the inequality because we need quality citizens,” he said.
He said investments in the country’s educational sector should not be seen as a budget burden because such investments would in fact help reduce the future state burden.
According to Chalermchai, the fund will help children in poor families from birth to ensure their proper development in their pre-school years. The fund, moreover, will reach out to school dropouts as well as children with disabilities for the purpose of providing them with proper care and educational support.
“If we don’t help them, they risk becoming unskilled workers or unemployed people,” he said.
He pointed out that when people were well developed, they would be able to earn a living, pay taxes, and contribute to the country’s development.
In Chalermchai’s opinion, the annual budget of Bt25 billion for the fund is not too high, given that it will help about 4.3 million people.
Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin said further discussions would be held with the Budget Bureau regarding the fund’s budget.
Teerakiat said the Budget Bureau still objects to allocating up to Bt25 billion yearly for the fund.
ICER member Kraiyos Patrawart, who is also an educational-economics expert at the Quality Education Foundation, said the Equitable Education Fund aims to close the educational gap within 10 years. He said the Bt25-billion yearly budget for five years would allow reduction in educational inequality. But he also said that they might get less than that figure, possibly Bt500 million or Bt1 billion, which would then affect the work to achieve the set goals.
“Middle- and high-class people have a small number of children while the country needs a large number of skilled workers whose parents were mostly poor and could not afford their education,” he said. “There are many poor children and the fund would help improve their educational and working skills so they could become quality manpower in the future.”
ICER member Prasarn Trairatvorakul said that Section 6 of the Equitable Education Fund Bill stipulates seven equality-promoting objectives as important and should not be cut when the lawmakers scrutinise details with an eye to effectiveness. As some NLA members had raised the issue of redundancy in the bill, Prasarn said measures such as setting up a teacher institute were just examples that could be adjusted.
He said the fund committee would have to consider what other existing agencies were already covering so they could eliminate redundancy but integrate cooperation among the public and private sectors and civil society.
Prasarn said there was also the need to conduct research to ensure the effectiveness of the government’s 43 measures to reduce educational inequality. The agency operating the fund would not be a big organisation but must have organisational knowledge or new mechanisms to propel work towards the set goals.
He also proposed that the management budget should be at 5 per cent, so as to avoid impacts to other parts of the budget.