Anand flags serious inequalities in Thailand’s education system

SATURDAY, MAY 25, 2024

Thailand needs to urgently deal with rampant inequalities, especially those that exist in the Thai education system, as people feel “hopeless” about their future, former prime minister Anand Panyarachun told a seminar in Bangkok on Friday.

Anand, who took the country's helm from 1975 to 1977, and from June to October 1992, said the Kingdom’s education system was beset with “inequality of opportunity”, explaining that people were often given opportunities due to their economic or social backgrounds. 

“Education is an urgent matter in Thailand as the inequality exists soon after birth. Generally people are born equal, but after the age of three or four, there is no equality. Rich people send their children to kindergarten, while the poor raise their children by themselves or send them to their grandparents to bring them up,” the ex-PM said at the opening ceremony of a seminar titled "Scenarios for the Future of Thai Society: How Can We Change Society?", organised by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).

According to a report from Equitable Education Fund (EEF), more than 1.8 million students risk being left out of the education system in 2023, 55 per cent of whom (roughly 1 million people) are from families that have income below the poverty line  – 2,803 baht.

The report also shows that 24 per cent of income of the poor is spent on educational expenses, which is four times higher than that of the wealthy, who spend only 6 per cent.

The EEF defines students from families that have an average income of less than 3,000 baht per month, or less than  36,000 baht per year, as poor.  The number of such people exceeded 20,000 in 2023, EEF’s data shows. 

“Inequality appears at all levels, from primary schools to careers. This issue is overlooked, and there is no magic spell to eradicate it. Only the correct solution can do so,” Anand said.

He said that many people from the younger generation were unwilling to remain in the country because they cannot see a future for themselves here, largely due to the several problems faced by Thailand, including the inequality issue and the legal prosecution of teenagers, pointing to the imprisonment of young protesters. 

During the seminar, PDA founder Mechai Viravaidya urged the business sector to help tackle the problems of communities, like education, by engaging in corporate social responsibility. 

Mechai said his school, Mechai Bamboo School, could be a model, saying that it aims to equip students with necessary financial literacy, occupational skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset, and raise awareness about inclusivity, including for people with disabilities.

He said aside from being a school, Mechai Bamboo also serves as a learning centre for local communities, adding that he believed education was the key to addressing social issues.

Mechai Bamboo School is located in Buri Ram province and has 127 students, running classes from Matthayom 1 to 6 (Grade 7 to 12).