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Covid exposing weakness, inequality of Thai education: World Bank

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A new World Bank report links declining student performances in reading and stagnation in maths and science scores to inequality and inefficiency of investment across Thai schools.

Covid exposing weakness, inequality of Thai education: World Bank
School closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic may accelerate these trends, warns the report released on Wednesday (December 9). The report also comes amid a Thai student rebellion demanding urgent education reform.

The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluates skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science, and collects information on students’ attitudes, home background, learning experience, and school contexts. 

Thailand has participated in the PISA assessment since 2000. 

Of the 79 participating countries, Thailand ranks 68th in reading, 59th in mathematics and 55th in science, ahead of only Indonesia and the Philippines in the East Asia and Pacific region. 

Around 60 per cent of Thai students failed to meet the minimum proficiency level in reading, while 53 per cent were below minimum proficiency in maths, and 44 per cent in science.

Students in Thailand also reported higher levels of school absenteeism and a weaker sense of belonging at school compared to regional averages.

The report “Creating inclusive learning environments in schools to help improve Thailand's education performance”, further finds that investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources were especially low in rural and disadvantaged schools.

It pinpoints several distinct drivers of the Thailand PISA results. 

First, total spending per student in Thailand from Grades 1-9 is US$27,271 – less than one-third of average spending per student across OECD countries.

Second, compared to other countries with the same level of spending per student, Thailand’s performance is lower than expected. Further, disparities between schools with higher and lower socioeconomic status students in Thailand are more pronounced than in other countries in the region. 

“The Covid-19 crisis has exposed inequities in education systems across the world including Thailand,” said Birgit Hansl, World Bank country manager for Thailand. 

While close to 90 per cent of relatively wealthy students in Thailand have a home computer, and nearly all have internet access, only 20 per cent of students with low socio-economic status reported having computers for schoolwork and 61 per cent reported having internet at home.

The report highlights three critical areas which policymakers and educators can address to improve students’ learning outcomes:

• Ensure that all classrooms are adequately staffed with qualified and well-trained teachers and material resources to improve learning outcomes of students, especially those in high-need schools.

• Enhance teaching methods and classroom management to make effective use of learning time.

• Provide a safe and welcoming learning environment to keep students in schools.

Dilaka Lathapipat, human development economist at the World Bank, suggested that Thailand needs to merge small schools in order to solve two pressing issues – a teacher shortage and the declining number of students.

From 2009 to 2017, the Basic Education Commission’s inflation-adjusted total budget rose by 27 per cent, while the number of students declined by 11 per cent, according to the report.

The country may still need to keep many of the estimated 1,200 small schools in remote areas, Dilaka said. Meanwhile 28,000 small schools should be merged to create hub schools covering a radius of six kilometres. This way, more teachers could be allocated to large schools, he said.

Thailand plans to pilot the merging project in Phuket and Samut Songkram.

Students in Thailand also reported a weaker sense of belonging at school than did students in the OECD. While socio-economically advantaged students reported a greater sense of belonging than their disadvantages peers.

Students in Thailand are exposed to more bullying than the average student in OECD countries. “Teachers must learn to detect bullying at schools in order to support victims,” said Dilaka.

The World Bank report comes amid a student rebellion in Thailand. The ironically self-named Bad Student group is calling for education reforms to tackle inequality, draconian school rules and student safety concerns.

Pumsaran Tongliemnak, an education economist at the Equitable Fund (EEF), said that while Thai youths have a weak sense of belonging at schools, they show high levels of interest in global issues such as human rights and climate change. This suggests that schools are not providing adequate teaching of global issues, which students are learning about from other sources, including social media. He suggested teachers to present global issues in class by integrating them with reading, maths, or science.

Published : December 09, 2020

By : Wichit Chaitrong The Nation