Sun, December 05, 2021

perspective

Let’s see Bhumjaithai push ahead with free online schooling


Thailand cannot progress without improvements to the education system. The new government should make it a high priority

We’ve become accustomed to, and too often blindly accepting of, our politicians selling us changes to the political system as the top priority for Parliament. Thus, the current political climate leaves us immersed in debate over whether constitutional amendments are needed to make the Senate more democratic, while matters of genuine importance to citizens are shunted aside. The relatively cosmetic alterations proposed are of importance only in the overall balance of political power between rival camps, not in improving the lot of the man on the street. If politics is truly to bring about progress in Thailand, we need to see policy that is helpful to the average Thai and more crucially to the underprivileged.
The Bhumjaithai Party, ever wary of hampering big business, is not known for putting forth daring or revolutionary policies, but during the election campaign it advocated free access to online learning for all Thais for life. It was a unique notion that transcended our crippling ideological divide and paid attention to technological advances that have made such an idea eminently achievable. 
Bhumjaithai was responding to a reality that didn’t exist the last time we went to the polls. Technology has not only put free online education within reach but affordable in a sustainable manner. In fact, a lot of youngsters are already getting schooled online in ways that are helpful both to them and to the long-term interests of society. Any child interested in learning to play the piano knows how to find tutorials on the internet, while others foster careers as chefs by learning the inherent chemistry of the craft online. 
Bhumjaithai’s admirable proposal is only affordable relative to the massive government outlay on other necessities, but the party has become a mainstay of the new government and as such should be able to keep the concept alive, not least by convincing a controversial prime minister that this is a sure-fire way to magnify public support. It is unfortunate that the idea’s adoption should rest on politicking, of course, given that it could finally transform Thai education and improve the country’s international competitiveness.
The vast potential of online learning in the meantime remains choked by commercial interests. It is a tool commonly used in attempting to boost corporate image, with zero benefit to the less fortunate segments of society. Instead it should extend to the remotest areas and be virtually cost-free. 
What is needed is well documented. Students at all levels require working computers and a good internet connection. If tens of billions of baht can be earmarked for high-speed railways and military hardware, that much again at least can be directed towards free and effective online schooling. The amount should also be adequate to finance physical schools in facilitating the endeavour by shifting teaching resources online.
We have been educating our kids the old-fashioned way for so long that Thailand struggles to match any other nation in basic knowledge and skills. Too much of the system is credit-based, too little involves sharing the joy of learning new stuff. Too much is about rote acceptance of a fact and too little about wondering whether it’s actually a fact. To open children’s minds to alternatives, the traditional politician believes, is to invite rebellion. To support a fundamental change in this system, the wary modern politician believes, is to risk the wrath of tradition. Let’s see Bhumjaithai or someone else show some guts and move forward.

Published : June 21, 2019

By : The Nation