SUNDAY, April 21, 2024

Report points to a lack of foundational skills in a majority of Thais

Report points to a lack of foundational skills in a majority of Thais

Three-quarters of Thai people struggle to read and solve problems using digital devices, which imposes an economic cost of over 3.3 trillion baht and hurts the country's ability to escape the middle-income trap, a survey by Equitable Education Fund (EEF) and the World Bank has warned.

This skill crisis has prompted the country to accelerate investments in foundational skills such as literacy, digital, and socio-emotional skills so that Thailand can remain competitive in the long run.

Speaking at a forum titled "Fostering Foundational Skills for the Sustainable Future of Thailand", Koji Miyamoto, World Bank's senior economist, pointed out that Thailand was currently experiencing a foundational skills crisis.

According to the report, nearly three-quarters — 74.1% — of youth and adults have poor digital skills, which means they struggle to use pointing devices and keyboards on portable computers and can't perform simple tasks like finding the correct price of an item on an online sales website.

Nearly two-thirds of Thai youth and adults — around 64.7% — lack basic literacy skills, which means they cannot read and comprehend short passages to solve simple problems like following a medicine label.

Furthermore, 30.3% of them have low socio-emotional skills, which means they have limited tendencies to take social initiatives as well as lack curiosity and imagination, both of which are necessary for success at work.

Koji Miyamoto

Miyamoto explained that these socio-emotional skills are also known to help people navigate the uncertainties, risks, and shocks of everyday life, such as the recent Covid-19 outbreak and natural disasters that Thailand frequently experiences.


Life skills crises

Research also found that nearly one-fifth (18.7%) of Thailand's youth and adult population lack life skills in all three areas. This issue presents significant challenges to Thailand's efforts to become a high-income country, reduce inequality, and improve societal well-being, Miyamoto said.

In addition, it was discovered that 70% of people living in rural areas underperformed in literacy, compared to the national average of 65%, and 80% of people aged 40 and up underperformed in digital skills, compared to the national average of 75%.

Report points to a lack of foundational skills in a majority of Thais

The skills crisis was also evident among younger adults with lower levels of education: 60% of people under the age of 40 and with less than tertiary education performed poorly in literacy, compared to the national average of 65%; around 89% of those in the northern region had below-average literacy levels, as did 84% of those with digital skills.

"The skills crisis can have very large implications for the individuals and the society. For instance, the gap in monthly labour income between those with below-threshold and above-threshold skills is estimated at 6,300 baht or US$190 per month. Having a large proportion of youth and adults who are under-skilled can imply huge economic costs, amounting to 3.3 trillion baht or 20.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022. This value is higher than the government budget for the year 2022 [3.1 trillion baht]," the World Bank senior economist said.

Report points to a lack of foundational skills in a majority of Thais

Ndiame Diop, World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, said that foundational skills were essential for everyone to function effectively at work, in school, and in everyday life.

"They serve as the foundation upon which we as individuals can build more specialised skills throughout our lives," he said, adding that there was concrete evidence demonstrating that adults who lacked these skills struggled to fully capitalise on available economic opportunities and were left behind.

Anutin Charnvirakul


Focus on human capital development

Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul expressed gratitude for this report, adding that the findings and policy proposals would assist Thailand in developing a roadmap for human capital development at all ages, resulting in the highest levels of human development that would undoubtedly sustain Thailand's economy.

He said that the country had reached a tipping point that required collaboration from all sectors to build a strong, flexible, and sustainable education and training ecosystem.

These efforts are consistent with the government's vision of a "Social Contract Towards a Learning Society”, which seeks to provide youth and all Thai people with the opportunity to study, regardless of circumstance, and recognises that a "learning society" is a critical foundation for economic and social development.

"The government intends to develop a strategic approach through this project. I reiterate that the government is committed and prioritises human capital development to raise Thailand's level to that of a high-income country, ensuring people have a good quality of life,” he said.

The government is willing to work with related parties to improve Thais' education and well-being, he said.

Prasarn Trairatvorakul

EEF chairman Prasarn Trairatvorakul expected that this collaboration with the World Bank, combined with the most recent Adult Skills Assessment data in Thailand, would allow the country to exit the "middle-income trap" within the next few years after being trapped for nearly 50 years.


Suggested policies

The report recommends three policy proposals for the government:

  1. 1 Investing in foundational skills at all levels of education and training to develop the working-age population in an equitable manner, with a focus on vulnerable groups.
  2. 2. Fostering a learning culture in which all sectors of Thai society collaborate to support the development of foundational skills in all children, youth, and working-age individuals, resulting in an ecosystem that supports long-term investments in foundational skills.
  3. 3. Investing in human capital and other related measures can be viewed as a solution to the problem of intergenerational poverty, assisting Thailand in breaking free from the middle-income trap while providing the highest economic and social value.

Report points to a lack of foundational skills in a majority of Thais

"Leadership from the government is promoting all departments and sectors to join together to take advantage of this research and put it into practice for all Thai people," Prasarn said.

Diop said that the policy recommendations were based on “what works” as well as reflections on how international experiences could be tailored to Thailand's specific context.

"The World Bank stands ready to deepen its support to the government of Thailand as it moves forward to address these challenges," he said.

Citing the ongoing project with EEF to strengthen foundational skills in Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges across the country, he hoped that these pilot initiatives would serve as the foundation for identifying refined and evidence-based programmes that could be scaled-up and delivered to a broader stakeholder base across the country.

Report points to a lack of foundational skills in a majority of Thais

The Adult Skills Assessment in Thailand (ASAT) is a joint research project between the World Bank and the EEF that aims to survey the skills and readiness of the working-age population by measuring literacy, digital, and socio-emotional skills in youth and adults aged 15 to 64 years.

The study covers six regions: Bangkok, Central Region, Northern Region, Northeast Region, Southern Region, and the Eastern Economic Corridor, with the goal of developing indicators that are representative at both the national and regional levels.