By Chularat Saengpassa
Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan from the coalition leader Phalang Pracharat Party has been quick to advertise his plans to ease the teachers’ debt woes and offer them lessons in the English language.
However, his deputy Khunying Kalaya Sophonpanich from the Democrat Party, is talking about bringing back rote learning, such as getting students to repeatedly chant multiplication tables and more.
His other deputy, Bhumjaithai’s Kanokwan Vilawan, has not said much, though her party has placed strong emphasis on solving student-loan problems and expressing their intention to make student loans interest free. Both Nataphol and Kalaya are also keen to promote classes on computer coding.
Nicha Pittayapongsakorn, a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), however, believes that the new individuals at the helm of the Education Ministry should focus on existing projects first.
“First check which of the many ongoing projects are doing well, then continue with what is good and scrap what isn’t or is redundant,” she said, adding that computer coding classes were introduced to schools nationwide in 2018.
Nicha also pointed out that new projects will only keep teachers away from their classrooms.
“Many projects such as the White School Project and the Integrity School projects can be merged. If you continue running them separately, teachers will have to work on each project separately and will obviously have less time for their students,” she said.
A teacher based in Nakhon Phanom, speaking on condition of anonymity, concurred, saying some projects required a daily report.
Nicha also recommended that the powers-that-be should continue working on decentralisation and education reform, adding that she is also concerned because Thailand as known for frequent changes at the top of the Education Ministry.
“Frequent changes mean the education minister will be prone to focusing on short-term policies,” she said.
Nicha also acknowledged the arrival of technological disruption in the educational sector, adding that she now pins her hopes on the educational innovation areas that have already been implemented in six provinces.
“Things may be unclear initially, but let’s continue experimenting until we can achieve something good,” she said.
Earlier this month, TDRI president Dr Somkiat Tangkitvanich expressed support for the introduction of educational innovation areas, and also advised the new government to allocate more resources for the Equitable Education Fund, which aims to help children in need and reduce educational inequalities.
“Equip school directors with leadership skills so they can lead professional learning communities,” he commented.
Sompong Jitradub, a prominent Chulalongkorn University lecturer, meanwhile, only gave a passing grade to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s choice of Cabinet members for educational affairs. “I give them 5.5 points out of 10,” he said, adding that these Cabinet members were not outstanding in any way, just acceptable because they have come from an election, and represent various fields. Nataphol comes from the private sector, Kanokwan from the local sector and Kalaya from the science sector.
“But their educational policies are not outstanding in any way,” Sompong pointed out. “Their parties have different educational policies, so we don’t know which direction they will go with Thai education.”
While campaigning for votes, the coalition leader Phalang Pracharat Party promised to help graduates struggling with student loans, come up with an education-for-all policy and even voiced the idea of having universities mentor schools.
The Democrat Party, meanwhile, announced that it will set good standards for early-child centres nationwide, offer breakfast on top of free lunch for students from kindergarten to Mathyayom 3, implement an English-for-all project, adjust the curriculum so students are prepared for the future, continue free vocational education and guarantee vocational students job. It also offered to ease the workload of teachers, establish a Smart Education Fund in support of education-sector social enterprises and start-ups and promote education technology.
The Bhumjaithai Party, meanwhile, offered a five-year moratorium on student-loan repayments, offer free courses online and create income opportunities for learners
Sompong said the best thing for now would be to have all ministers in the education sector to work together so they can achieve a synergy and improve education in Thailand.