A Thai teacher, who recently quit her job, has cited 2 reasons that seem to echo throughout the country’s education system: too much paperwork and a lack of cooperation. The young female teacher, Knokwan Boontansen, resigned at an elementary school in the country’s lower northern Nakhon Sawan province, with the story by Bangkok Post going viral for several reasons. The teacher says she had devoted her life to teaching, but the reasons for her resigning have also been voiced by many educators as significant barriers to successful teaching. As Thai education has increasingly been under the spotlight in recent years, the issues have shown an overall deteriorating system that has yet to be updated to match modern times.
Knokwan says too much paperwork was affecting her ability to teach as well as wasting time and taxpayers’ money. She also noted that the paperwork had nothing to do with teaching. And, as many government schools shuttered and converted to online learning, she says her teaching objectives were not achieved due to a lack of cooperation and readiness from parents and students alike. Despite the Ministry of Education responding to the teacher’s resignation by saying that it was more of a personal issue, many critics say her reasons for quitting are indicative of the current status of Thailand’s education system.
Although the government has made plenty of announcements about reforming the system, critics point towards the education system essentially remaining the same for years. The proportion allotted to the country’s education budget is among the highest in the world, but it has largely been spent on promoting educators’ well-being. Yet, targetting their well-being by offering higher salaries and welfare has not translated produced higher education standards or outcomes.
Teachers remain some of the top citizens to acquire debt, with the group being considered among the top borrowers of money in the country. Such debts, according to Bangkok Post, total to over 1.4 trillion baht, while the quality of education has shown minimal improvement. Thai students’ proficiency and rankings have shown to be very low among other ASEAN nations, with English proficiency dropping again this year. From outdated teaching methods that focus on memorisation rather than critical thinking, the real victims of the education system seem to be the students.
Even the system for promoting teachers is seen as quite inefficient as the patronage system assesses educator performance based upon the paperwork in which they submit. Students’ academic proficiency or improvement is nowhere to be found when assessing a teacher’s performance. Instead, in order to receive a promotion, teachers have to show their own academic work to prove their abilities, with many hiring others to do the work for them. Again, the link between teachers’ abilities to actual effective teaching seems to be missing.
Last May, the Office of the Teacher Civil Service and Educational Personnel Commission changed the teacher assessment procedure from the paper-based format to a “digital performance appraisal.” As the new platform is aimed at saving teachers time by allowing them to submit their academic work and video clips online, it still doesn’t address the issue of how well they can teach. Critics say the current system only seems to focus on obtaining a promotion by increasing an educator’s own education. This leaves any motivation to improve actual teaching methods quite minimal. Currently, the education system seems to be teacher-centred, not student-centred.
And, the issue of teachers focusing on themselves is felt from the top down. From the general rule of Thai classrooms discouraging students from questioning their teachers, focusing on only memorising rather than learning content (also known as rote learning), a higher focus on students’ uniforms and appearances, etiquette and respectfulness, widespread cheating or “helping” as Thai students say, the education system is clearly in need of major reforms. Teachers are also required to pass their students even if they have never even attended class or perform so poorly that it would be in their best interest for them to take the course over again.
Although tourism has said to directly and indirectly account for up to 12% of Thailand’s GDP, most Thais can only speak a minimal amount of English. And, for the 5th straight year, the country’s overall English proficiency level has decreased. According to the Swedish company, Education First, Thailand is now ranked 100 out of 112 participating countries for its English proficiency levels.
Its EF EPI score of 419 and its ranking of 22 out of 24 overall in Asian countries, has deemed Thailand to be that of a “very low” English proficiency level. This level, according to the organisation, explains that the average adult in Thailand is able to:
-Introduce oneself simply (name, age, country of origin)
-Understand simple signs
-Give basic directions to a foreign visitor
As the assessment is seen by critics of a worsening education system, they point towards rote learning and the focus on language accuracy over the sheer act of trying to converse in English as the driving factors in producing low levels of English proficiency. Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic driving the closure of many government schools, the burnout is evident for both students and teachers. As Thailand overall is one of the most unequal societies in the world, the gap between the rich and poor has only widened since the pandemic began.
Thousands more students have sought financial help this year compared to previous years. And, with some families not being able to afford to send their children to school due to financial stress brought on by the pandemic, it has left many students behind.
Around 1.8 million students have applied for financial aid this year, a number that is up from 1.56 million last year, totalling a 17.5% increase. And, 20% of those families that applied are considered extremely impoverished. Chaiyuth Punyasavatsut, the fund’s chief, says the number of extremely impoverished applicants has risen from 300,000 to 600,000 this year. He says some families have been tasked with coming up with tuition fees that are 3 to 4 times higher than their income, just to send their children to higher classes.
“It can be confirmed that Covid-19 has worsened the economic situation and educational gap. More children are slipping through the system due to high tuition fees.”
According to the World Bank, povery rates in Thailand from 2015 to 2018, grew 2.6%. So, the number of people living in poverty increased from 4.85 million to more than 6.7 million people. The organisation also pointed towards the education disparity as having a large impact on Thailand’s youth.
“A Thai child born today can expect to obtain 12.4 years of schooling before the age of 18. However, once adjusted for quality of learning, that only amounts to 8.6 years of schooling, indicating a gap of 3.8 years.”
Thailand isn’t the only country dealing with a disruption to its education systems, as it is evident in every country worldwide. The Kenan Foundation Asia has identified 3 potential consequences in Thai education that need to be addressed, that have stemmed from the pandemic.
Thai students at wealthy, international schools and prestigious public schools in Bangkok, likely already have the e-learning tools necessary to take the Covid disruption as nothing more than minor speed bump. But their peers in rural areas may not be so lucky. As many Thai students do not own laptops, the online learning has proven difficult. And, as Knokwan told the Bangkok Post, cooperation from students and parents has been largely absent.
Despite protests and calls for reform, students that are critical of the Thai education system say they don’t trust it, and echo others when they say they feel that they are being cheated out of a quality education.
SOURCE: Bangkok Post