By The Nation
Every Thai government arrives behind a pledge to lay a solid foundation for improving the educational system so that young people can meet the shifting challenges of the modern world. In most cases, however, the politicians are squeamish about tackling this admittedly daunting task and instead are focused on the enormous Education Ministry budget, third in scale only to those of the Defence and Interior ministries.
What is plainly lacking is the necessary political will to overhaul the entire system – from teaching methods to teacher selection. Schools meanwhile are saddled with too many teachers for whom teaching college was the imperative choice once their universities of choice spurned their applications.
Without the strong foundation that is forever being promised and yet never materialising, Thailand faces a grim future. At worst we will experience economic disaster, at best a suffocating blanket of mediocrity.
It is not as though we the recipe for a good education completely eludes us. We do have excellent educators and commendable schools, and students at every level have excelled in international academic competitions overseas. Unfortunately these are the exceptions rather than the rule.
And too often, as well, a good education is reserved for students from moneyed families. The politicians who talk about moving the nation forward through better education seem to forget the fact that society can walk only as fast as its slowest member. Access to a good education should be regarded as a birthright, not a privilege. Every school should be nurturing competitive students – and that means having the financial wherewithal to hire the best teachers. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure they have it.
The current mindset will be hard to overcome. Many educators admit that our teaching system is teetering on the brink of breakdown because budgets are misspent. The most worrying immediate result is that our teachers are themselves poorly taught. A participant at the recent First Thai Teacher Education Forum lamented that stinginess about recruiting talented teachers meant low-quality candidates dominated the classrooms. “Frankly, we recruit every applicant these days,” said the lecturer at a Rajabhat university. “Forget about recruiting only those with the talent and determination to serve well as teachers.”
The officials charged with dividing up the budgets are instead too concerned about student numbers. Some institutions recruit more teachers than they need in the hope of a larger slice of the budget pie, ignoring the likely negative impact on the quality of their graduates.
It is widely believed that the quality of teachers determines the quality of the students they train. The reality is not so straightforward. Thailand’s teacher training institutes are inadvertently being discouraged from embracing modern developments in teaching and the classrooms and from appreciating the relevance of teachers in the context of the country and the world.
Hannele Niemi, a professor of educational sciences at Helsinki University in Finland, said teaching colleges tend to follow without question whatever rules the authorities decree. “We are like foremen,” he said. “We have not played a role in designing the rules or the criteria for teacher production.”
A sound beginning would be to make the teaching profession more appealing by offering better pay.
If a tax hike is necessary to finance this, then so be it, but our feeling is that the money is already in