Education needs reform
As the coalition parties have tried to reach mutual agreement on a shared policy platform that the government will soon declare in parliament, they have rarely touched on policies which require long-term structural reforms, particularly regarding education.
Instead, they have pushed for promises they made to voters during the electoral campaign to be included in the government’s policy statement.
The majority of them are bread-and-butter issues which directly and immediately affect the livelihoods of people who have high expectations for the new government to deliver.
These are mostly populist policies including farm price guarantees, the minimum wage hike, living cost subsidies, charter amendments, cannabis liberalisation and even gambling den legalisation.
This means they have given a low priority to long-term policies to tackle the root causes of several crucial problems that have hindered the country’s development.
While the coalition parties competed to take control of “Grade A” ministries such as agriculture, transport, commerce and energy, they seemed to pay less attention to the education portfolio despite the fact the Education Ministry receives the biggest budget each year.
In this fiscal year 2019, the Education Ministry received a budget of 489.7 billion baht, followed by the Interior Ministry (373.5 billion baht), Finance Ministry (242.8 billion baht) and Defence Ministry (227.6 billion baht).
But politicians don’t see the big picture. More than 80% of the education budget is spent on fixed costs, leaving less money left for them to spend on their own initiatives. Not to mention the fact that education projects will take time to yield results as opposed to other, more populist policies.
Nevertheless, Thailand has a new education minister — Natthapol Theepsuwan from the Palang Pracharath Party — and his two deputies — Kalaya Sophonpanich from the Democrat Party and Kanokwan Vilawan from the Bhumjaithai Party.
It seems that they got the portfolios because of the quotas given to their parties, not because of their expertise and experience in education affairs.
Therefore, hopes are not high that they will reform or improve Thailand’s education system.
Thailand is an educational laggard considering the low rankings of Thai students by international assessments in recent years.
The military government over the past five years has merely scratched the surface of reform.
One of the key problems concerns teachers who have low morale and lack proficiency or training in certain subjects, never mind those who breach ethical conduct.
Teachers’ performance is assessed through their paperwork rather than student proficiency.
Teachers typically have to show academic work to prove their abilities if they want to be promoted. And many teachers even hire others to do this “academic work” for them.
As such, Thai students tend to rely heavily on outside tutoring, especially in the Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
The coalition parties should have come up with reform proposals to address these and other woes to ensure future generations receive a better education and can look to the future with hope.
Unfortunately, none of the three political parties taking up the education portfolios had education reform as part of their agenda.
BANGKOK POST EDITORIAL COLUMN