Pongthep readies school curriculum overhaul

Newly appointed Education Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana says it is time to make changes to the curriculum as part of an overhaul of the education system.

  • Published: 11/12/2012 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Pongthep: Reform needed ‘at all levels’

"Overhauling the country's curriculum is one of my early priorities and urgent policies but I won't rush to do it," Mr Pongthep told the Bangkok Post recently in an exclusive interview.

Mr Pongthep said he wants to push for curriculum reform at all levels after learning that several international assessments show Thai students' academic achievement lagging significantly, with no signs of improvement.

He cited the scores of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The assessment measures reading, maths and scientific literacy of students from 65 member countries.

He said in the international exam Thai students scored on average 421 in reading, 419 in maths and 425 in sciences. The average Thai scores in each category were well below the international averages _ 493 (reading), 496 (maths) and 501 (sciences).

"Thai students spend a lot of time in the classroom but they learn less from it," Mr Pongthep said, adding that foreign students appear to perform better while spending less time in the classroom.

"However, this doesn't mean classroom learning for Thai students should be shortened," he said, suggesting that Thai students should be encouraged to learn more efficiently.

Mr Pongthep said the compulsory education curriculum from Prathom 1 (Grade 1) to Mathayom 6 (Grade 12) should be redesigned as soon as possible.

Curriculum reform will begin soon after the ministry's curriculum reform committee is set up, he said. The committee will comprise all education sectors and will review subjects, content and methods.

The minister said the policy of curriculum reform will remain a long-term priority for the government. The minister's adviser Pawit Thongroj will draft a roadmap for this current round of curriculum reform, he said.

Curriculum reform is among several facets of the second stage of the country's education overhaul which began in 2009 and will continue until 2018.

Mr Pongthep said apart from boosting test scores, the ministry also plans to improve student discipline and morale. Students need to have more respect for each other and for others, he said.

"A student who is intelligent, but who cares nothing about others and society, is not the type of student that we want," he said.

Mr Pongthep said he also has concerns over the safety and welfare of teachers in the far South. He promised to improve the situation.

He said the government has a policy to solve the problems that schools in the far South face and improving the quality of education in the region is among the solutions.

Mr Pongthep last week visited teachers in Pattani to provide them with moral support and to listen to their plight.

His visit reciprocated a recent visit to the Education Ministry by southern teachers who asked him to provide better safety and welfare for the teachers in the far South.

The teachers have requested the monthly risk allowance be boosted from 2,500 to 3,500 baht. They have also asked for more flexibility to seek higher academic accreditation, and a tax deduction provision.

The teachers' requests came after Nanthana Kaewchan. director of Ban Tha Kam Sam School in Pattani's Nong Chik district, was murdered late last month.

Her death prompted more than 600 schools in Pattani and Narathiwat to shut temporarily to pressure for a review of security measures.

So far, the southern violence has killed 155 teachers and injured many others.

All of the schools have since resumed their operations.

Mr Pongthep, who graduated in law, was asked why he was appointed as the education minister.

He said he did not ask the prime minister for her reasoning.

The role of education minister does not necessarily require an education background, he said, though he pointed out that he used to lecture at a university and chaired a university council.

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Writer: Lamphai Intathep
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