LOP BURI : Merging small schools with larger ones is a proven way to improve students' academic performance and reduce teachers' workloads, says Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana.
Mr Phongthep Saturday met teachers and parents at Ban Nong Pradu School in tambon Nong Phak Waen of Lop Buri's Tha Luang district to discuss the results of a previous school merger.
Around the country, students at many schools have appealed (inset) to keep small, traditional schools open. The education ministry says its plan will take several years but eventually all small and understaffed schools will close. (File photos)
In 2011, four small schools - Ban Nong Hua Change, Ban Nong Krasang, Ban Nong Namsai and Ban Noen Sawong - were merged with Ban Nong Pradu school due to low enrolment at the four schools and students' poor grades.
There are now 262 students at Ban Nong Pradu from kindergarten to Mathayom 3 (Grade 9).
"We have also found that overall academic achievement among students is higher after the merger," Mr Phongthep said.
"This is partly because the merger helped solve the problem of teacher shortages and allowed each of them to focus on their areas of expertise."
He said teachers at smaller schools often have to teach several subjects due to a shortage of staff.
Mr Phongthep said former directors of small schools would be given administrative posts at the new school pending a position opening up at another facility.
The minister said he would hold a meeting with teachers and parents in Chiang Mai today to listen to their concerns and recommendations about the school merger plan.
The minister's policy to close down about 6,000 small schools with fewer than 60 students or merge them with larger ones has met with strong opposition.
Critics of the policy say the school closures would threaten children's rights to basic education, especially in rural areas.
Mr Phongthep said he would press ahead with the policy, but that it would be implemented with feedback from affected communities.
Mana Akrapandit, director of Lop Buri Primary Educational Service Area Office 2, said that 43 of the 161 primary schools in his area have fewer than 60 students.
So far, 20 have been merged with larger schools and most of the students had improved grades in all subjects.
The office planned to close three more small schools and was seeking feedback from locals on the plan, he said.
The Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) has instructed primary education zones to survey small schools in their areas and submit their administration plans by May 24.
Theerasak Rungruang, Ban Nong Pradu school director, said parents' chief concern was their children's safety while travelling between home and school.
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- Writer: Lamphai Intathep