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The rampant custom of 'tea money' persists, and where has it got us?

May 27. 2012
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By The Nation

For the first time in Thailand's history, parents and students staged a hunger strike in protest against what they perceived as unfair school admissions earlier this month. But looking back into history, schooladmission scandals have emerged every now an

So, when a group of students cried foul at the immensely popular Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) school this year, where should we expect their action to lead? A true revamp for the schooladmission system or another effort to play down the scandal?

Education Minister Suchart Tadathamrongvej stepped in fast when he saw the hunger strike. Even though he was in South Korea, he arranged a video conference with the protesting parents and representatives of relevant authorities. However, when he returned to Thailand, he simply attended a press conference to announce the establishment of committees tasked with looking into the schooladmission complaints. He advised the protesting Mathayom 3 graduates of Bodindecha (Sing Singahaseni) to contact the committees. If they had solid evidence to back bribery claims against the Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) school, they could show it to him, he said.

A student said she had heard many allegations against her school director, but she did not have any evidence to offer. She said parents of friends who allegedly paid bribes were not happy about the school director’s demands, but would not stand up to accuse him.

The student is among more than 200 at Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) who found they had lost their right to continue their studies at their old places at the end of the 2011 academic year. All these students were Mathayom 3 graduates and the school offered many seats to new students who wished to receive a senior secondary education at its facility. Many of these students suspected school executives had taken away their seats to give to children of parents willing to provide a huge amount of ‘tea money’ or bribes.

According to many informed sources, ‘tea money’ in exchange for seats at a famous school is a big sum. Each seat can cost up to seven figures. The tea money is paid to the popular schools when they offer seats in Prathom 1 and Mathayom 1. The problem has now spread to Mathayom 4 seats too.

In the past, schools were instructed to allow all their old students to move from Mathayom 3 to Mathayom 4. But late last year, new schooladmission criteria were announced. In line with this new criteria, only 80 per cent of Mathayom 3 graduates could further their study automatically at their old place. The rest have had to compete with new applicants.

Suchart has tried to blame the regulations introduced before he came to the helm of the Education Ministry.

However, no one should forget that he has favoured the acceptance of financial donations from parents. When he first took the post of education minister earlier this year, he publicly talked about how financial donations from wealthy parents could be used to improve educational quality for all.

Donations are often paid to famous schools through associations of students’ parents or alumni. Many famous schools may not directly ask for bribes or receive tea money, though. Still, pressure on parents is huge because these schools openly ask what donation amounts they are willing to give to the schools at the time their children submit applications.

The greater the competition, the higher the amount of donations the parents believe they have to offer in exchange for their children’s chances to get a good education at a quality school.

Like many of his predecessors, Suchart has vowed to provide quality schools for all children. He has talked about how prestigious schools will help develop other schools and extend quality educational services to more children – and in the end all children – in the future.

But the truth is that more it’s more than one decade since the country embarked on socalled educational reform, but the quality of education is still dubious and the custom of teamoney for school seats still rampant.

Chularat Saengpassa

The Nation

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