September 17, 2014

Lao Children are Better Educated Than Thai Kids

Source:  The Nation (Thai Newspaper), September 11, 2014

The startling findings of the latest global report on education place a tough assignment ahead for new minister Narong.

Thailand's poor standing in a recent global survey on the quality of education has caused alarm among educators here and prompted the authorities to respond.

Thailand is ranked 87th in the world in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015 - behind most other member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including less economically developed neighbours such as Laos, which is ranked 60th. This is both embarrassing and unacceptable.

Thailand is ranked 31st for overall competitiveness among the 144 countries surveyed. Within the Asean, the Kingdom comes third, after Singapore (No 2 in the world) and Malaysia (No 20). However, in terms of the quality of primary education, Thailand is ranked seventh among the 10 member-states of Asean, just behind Laos. Thailand's quality of higher education is ranked eighth in Asean, while Laos is again in sixth spot.

Pradit Wannarat, rector of the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), has declared Thailand's ranking "rather awful". Pradit is also caretaker president of the Council of University Presidents of Thailand, which he says will discuss the matter at its meeting next month. Without measures to improve the quality of education here, its credibility would be adversely affected, he said, adding that more money should go into researching methods for national development.

Many of the WEF survey's results on the comparative quality of education are based on answers given by the respondents (largely business executives) to certain questions. These include "How well does the education system in your country meet the needs of a competitive economy?" and "In your country, how would you assess the quality of primary schools?"

Chaiyaphruk Serirak, secretary general of the Vocational Education Commission, has said the survey doesn't reflect the complete picture of the quality of Thai education. But there are critics who say it underlines the system's "widespread failure". They say reform from top to bottom is urgently needed to improve the quality of teaching, learning, research and other areas. Paying lip service or making plans that never actually get implemented is no longer good enough.

This WEF report is bad news, particularly for educators and Education Ministry officials, but it is encouraging to see the officials with responsibility for education showing eagerness to root out the problems in the system and seek remedial measures.

The issue will be tough homework for the new education minister, Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, who is set to retire as the Navy commander-in-chief at the end of this month. His two deputy ministers, Lt-General Surachet Chaiwong (also deputy Army chief of staff) and Krissanapong Kiratikorn (former secretary general of the Higher Education Commission and former rector of King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi), are also expected to help him complete this assignment.

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