The situation is indeed desperate: More than a third of Thai 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate, and scores are declining across the board according to the international PISA rankings.
The hope came from start-up funder Krating Poolpon, who said the solution lies in “digital disruption”, Top-down reform of the education system is too slow and unreliable, he said, a point backed by decades of failed efforts.
Krating reckons “edutech” start-ups can be the cornerstone of the education innovation ecosystem being created by the Thailand Education Partnership (TEP), chaired by former PM Anand Panyarachun. Krating is on the board of the TEP and also manages 500 TukTuks, a venture-capital fund for promising new Thai start-ups.
Technology has been a focus of the current administration’s efforts on education, especially in the teaching of English, crucial as the lingua franca of our globalised era.
We do not have to travel far to find successful education disruption systems. Our neighbour Vietnam offers a model to follow, after suddenly popping up at the top of the regional PISA rankings in 2015. In 2005 Hanoi launched a Higher Education Reform Agenda, which obviously started bearing fruit as reflected by the 2015 PISA results. Some months ago a Thai journalist visited Vietnam and was surprised by the number of Vietnamese youngsters eager to communicate in English.
I agree with Krating that we need a new mindset, and the courage to challenge traditional assumptions. Online education, which is inherently modular should leverage the specific capabilities of every student. No need to keep our fingers crossed, because failure is not an option this time.