A huge number of children are being denied the right to go to school despite cash being poured into the system; it's time the authorities delivered on pledges made in the Constitution
It is alarming indeed to learn that the Thai school system has failed to include more than 5 million children over the past decade. The Quality Learning Foundation has recently revealed that around 500,000 children are left out of the education system every year.
This issue must be urgently addressed. So far, the Education Ministry and related agencies have focused only on children in the school system. They have not paid sufficient, if any, attention to those who, for one reason or another, are left out. This is a massive number of children outside the system and it means a great loss to the nation every year.
The loss of opportunities caused by failing to educate these children is estimated at Bt37.5 trillion, or five times the GDP, according to the Quality Learning Foundation.
Nonetheless, the issue here is not just the loss of economic opportunity; a developed society has an obligation to ensure that every child has access to a decent education.
The massive number of children outside the school system shows that the authorities have failed to provide the necessary tools and support to reach these children.
Of the total, 3 million are reported to have dropped out of school at some point. This figure is in line with an estimate by the Office of the Education Council, which indicates that around 20 per cent of students drop out of primary school every year. Another 30 per cent drop out before finishing high school. In short, only one-third of students go on to college.
With figures like these, it appears that our education policy is been biased against disadvantaged students. Not enough effort has been made despite the fact that every child is entitled to education according to the Constitution.
Money, or lack thereof, is not an excuse for parents and schools to fail our children. The education budget accounts for 20 per cent of the government’s total spending, and is the highest proportion allocated to any category of public expenditure. But the quality of education and the results achieved by Thai students are deteriorating, as evidenced by many international ranking systems.
The question is thus less about money but more of how the authorities allocate available resources and personnel to create a good learning environment for all students.
For disadvantaged students, the challenge is how the authorities can help keep these children in school, or bring them back to the classroom if they drop out. The school system must also provide financial and material assistance to address the special needs of every child.
A breakdown of the number of children outside the school system shows that disadvantaged children are excluded for various reasons. These include 50,000 who are juvenile offenders; 30,000 homeless children; 100,000 teenaged mothers; 300,000 non-citizen children; nearly 3 million “very poor” children; 160,000 children living in marginalised areas; 1.7 million autistic children; 250,000 children whose parents are migrant workers; 50,000 children with HIV; 88,730 abandoned orphans; 10,000 forced labourers under 15 years old; 25,000 children forced into the sex trade; and 10,000 drug-addicted children.
Obviously, many of these disadvantaged children struggle with poverty. To our shame, our society has no system to help children who have committed juvenile offences, or for teenage mothers to return to school.
These statistics should be a wake-up call for the authorities to create special support systems to help disadvantaged children cope with the challenges they face. If we can help these children overcome adversity, they will have the opportunity to repay society by becoming productive citizens who can contribute to the development of the country.
All children are entitled to education regardless of their circumstances. This is our obligation and it must be fulfilled.