By Chularat Saengpassa
“I am afraid we are going to repeat the mistake of the United States,” said Asst Professor Athapol Anunthavorasakul, a lecturer at the Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education and director of the Thai Civic Education Centre.
He said he suspected that the government’s definition of public schools would be similar to charter schools in the US.
A charter school receives government funding but operates independently of the established state school system in which it is located.
“But charter schools have finally become more like private schools and they can charge parents for services. In the end, their presence turns state schools into educational institutes for second-class citizens,” Athapol said.
He added that he feared the introduction of something like charter schools in Thailand would only widen the educational gap in the country.
Athapol said policymakers should have consulted all relevant parties before pushing ahead with the public school policy.
“Why don’t you ask teachers, school executives, students and parents first?” he said.
The respected education expert was speaking in response to the Education Ministry’s recent announcement that it would introduce public schools at the start of the coming academic year or within the next two months.
Athapol said the use of the term public school was in itself confusing.
“In fact, a public school is a state school,” he said.
According to the Education Ministry, public schools will have greater independence than other state schools. The boards of the public schools will comprise members of the public, private, civil and university sectors.
Athapol said it was not clear how much independence public schools would enjoy.
“Will the Office of the Auditor-General be able to investigate public schools? What if a lack of transparency happens at public schools?” he asked.
He said the powerful boards of public schools, or the so-called “super-boards”, could be a double-edged sword.
“If the wrong people get on to super-boards, public schools will be profit-seeking zones,” Athapol said.
He also asked whether the Education Ministry had already prepared a monitoring system and proper implementation guidelines.
Deputy Education Minister Udom Kachintorn has said public schools would be by status state schools and receive government subsidies.
“But they can raise funds from the private sector. They can also design their curriculum based on a central curriculum,” he said.
According to Udom, public schools could, for example, choose 40 per cent of their senior secondary-education curriculum’s content. He added that the super-board of a public school could also manage its own recruitment and even pay higher wages to teaching staff when compared with teachers at state schools, judging that their mission might require greater job responsibilities.
He said his ministry initially planned to set up just one public school per province in the first phase of the initiative.
“But we may consider more if more schools are ready to transform,” he said, adding that vocational schools were also welcome to join the programme.
Mechai Viravaidya, who heads the public school implementation committee, said the Office of Basic Education Commission and the Office of Vocational Education Commission were welcome to submit lists of schools they believed were suitable for transformation into public schools.
“Private firms that support Pracharath schools can also propose schools for the transformation,” he said, referring to the government’s Pracharath, or “state of the people”, initiative.
Schools that believed they were ready for transformation could also apply to join the public school initiative, he added.
“Then, we will choose the qualified ones. For example, executives, teachers, students and local communities must really share the determination to pursue the public school concept,” Mechai said.
He said his committee would also take into account schools’ performance as assessed by Connext Ed, the public-private initiative for sustainable education under the government’s Pracharat, or “state of the people”, programme.
Assoc Professor Prapapat Niyom, who heads the Arsom Silp Institute of the Arts and founded the Roong Aroon School, said she believed public schools would be like an exemplary school in Buri Ram’s Lam Plai Mat district.
“I think it is a good idea if the initiative has consistency and continuity,” Prapapat said.
She added that the public school initiative was going to provide new constructive input, while the chance of success was related to collaboration among all parties involved.
“If all parties involved develop clear key performance indicators and work as a team with children’s interests at the heart of their efforts, the initiative should be able to deliver good results,” she said.