Why Thailand is wearing the Dunce’s Cap

The scales have long since fallen from the public’s eyes, and no one is the least impressed with the state of education in Thailand.

Apathy, greed and faulty logic can all be blamed for our poor education system, but smart ideas are also lacking.

For as long as there have been nations, the people aspiring to lead them have promised to improve education. In recent times the rationale has been the need to remain competitive in a rapidly changing world. But Thailand, after decades of talk, has yet to move in the right direction.

National exam results are one indicator of how well or how poorly a nation is doing in educating its youth, but far more important are the responses of the private and public sectors.

Corporate executives and business managers know that a university degree is no longer a guarantee of career advancement or success. How could it be when a society runs its institutions of higher learning like factories?

The scales have long since fallen from the public’s eyes, and no one is the least impressed with the state of education in Thailand.

This is not to say we lack good schools or smart students. There are plenty. Some travel the world to participate in educational competitions and return home with trophies and medals.

Every time this happens, we duly applaud their accomplishments and, for a while at least, feel good about the country we live in.

But we are as a nation only as clever as the poorest student. There is an enormous gap between our advanced students and those who fall behind, and the cause can be traced directly to income disparity and other inequalities in our society.

We become so focused on seeing our children excel among their peers that we make no collective effort to assess the larger predicament.

Those who can afford to do so send their children to extracurricular tutors, who form a lucrative industry that feeds on parents’ insecurities and, inadvertently, reflects the inadequacy of our public schools and the gap they create between the best and worst performers.

Underachievement in class is too easily blamed on the individual’s laziness and mental inability. Too often we overlook the flaws in teaching that stem in part from poor salaries, and in curricula that never seem to shake off decades-old dogma.

Teaching is not a coveted profession in Thailand. Teaching courses are often the alternative choice of university students unable to pursue their preferred career.

One reason why young people don’t want to be teachers is that the government – every government – neglects the reforms needed to make the profession more attractive.

If the standards were higher and the pay better, more people would be interested. Those who do become teachers find themselves mired in bureaucracy and a heavy workload, and among children being gradually robbed of their creativity and enthusiasm.

Homework is piled on in an effort to improve IQ at the expense of EQ, fostering individual competition at the expense of mutual benefit through teamwork.

The Teachers’ Council of Thailand recently endorsed a proposal from the Thailand Education Deans Council that teacher education be reduced to four years from five.

The reasoning is that Thai youngsters’ scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment did not improve between 2000 and 2015.

The proposal ignores the facts that the first teachers to graduate from the five-year programme only began working in 2009, and that there are still relatively few of them. Whoever conceived the proposal gets a failing grade. – The Nation Opinion Piece

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