By The Nation
A political party not known for putting forward daring or revolutionary policies has proposed that online learning should be offered to every citizen for free and for life. It sounds like a pipe dream, but the Bhumjaithai Party’s idea does respond to the ongoing technological disruption that makes free online education a very realistic possibility.
The policy, which has yet to be clarified, would require a considerable expenditure, and of course Bhumjaithai would have to be part of the post-election government. Regardless, the suggestion is a progressive and creative one, and where education is concerned, the less politics involved, the better the outcome.
The next government should seriously consider the notion, whether Bhumjaithai is a component of that government or not.
The Internet is already facilitating online schooling around the world, but commercial interests have largely dictated what we’ve seen so far. Web teaching for people too poor or too geographically remote to attend schools has often had corporate-image building behind it, rendering it inconsistent, limited in scale and less conscientious than it needs to be. For Thailand’s underprivileged to truly benefit from the technology, the programme must be extensive, inclusive, effective, built to last and virtually free.
The key elements required are obvious. Students will need at least basic equipment and a decent Internet connection. If the government can spend tens of billions of baht on military gear, the same amount should be available for computer tablets and efficient networks. It should just as easily be able to finance the personnel at schools and universities needed to run the show.
For all the money and politics associated with the online evolution, better and broader education is a truly noble goal that ought to be pursued. The ways in which children can learn through online curricula seem limitless, and geographical distance – the historic bar to equal access to education around the world – falls from the equation.
People are already turning to the Internet for learning about an endless array of subjects. Millions on YouTube are teaching or learning how to cook, play piano, fly-fish, do calculus, ride a unicycle, understand Shakespeare, speak German, fix an appliance – you name it.
There are scores of helpful applications and software programs simple enough for anyone to use for conducting group lessons and sharing information in real-time. The fundamentals are there. Thailand waits only for the political will and a sustainable business initiative. At the moment, instead, we are consumed with political rivalry that’s making the election all about whether Prayut Chan-o-cha retains or loses power, while ideas that could really benefit people are being largely overlooked.
When the pre-election debate is focused on democracy versus dictatorship, it is difficult to foster discussion about whether Thailand is spending too much on tanks and too little on
education. Candidates do mention the looming problems posed by our ageing society, but only because it’s become a red-button topic. No one is proposing a serious policy about that either, though.
The Bhumjaithai Party’s idea to provide free online education is remarkable for two reasons. First, it is in perfect accord with the changes sweeping the world. And, secondly, it breathes fresh air into an atmosphere dominated by ideological, unhealthy political sparring that has blurred what politicians really need to do.