Educational inequality in Thailand: The challenge

Educational inequality in Thailand: The challenge

As long as focus is on smartest students in a few select schools, educational inequality & low test scores for the country overall will be the result.


Educational inequality in Thailand: The challenge

Rattana Lao

Politicians, policymakers and the public have all recently given much attention to the government's Thailand 4.0 economic model.

Thailand 4.0 aims to make the country ready for a digital economy.

However, there remains a range of challenges that will impede the realization of this lofty goal.

Among the challenges are the overall quality of Thailand's education, which is below the global average, as well as the growing inequality in the education system...

Rattana Lao is the Head of the Thai Studies International Program, Pridi Banomyong International College Thammasat University. She is also an author of A Critical Study of Thailand's Higher Education Reforms: The Culture of Borrowing. (Photo via Twitter/nanchanokw)


How can our education system prepare our students to become skilled and competitive workers?

How can this be achieved for all students rather than focusing on promoting the "brightest students" from a few select schools?


It is not that Thailand does not have the resources needed to achieve across the board educational excellence.

Thailand has, in fact, spent massive amounts of money on education.

The government, for example, spent 19.35% of its annual 2.58-trillion-baht budget in 2015 on education -- the largest portion of any item in the budget.


Unfortunately, the huge spending has not translated into improved learning.

The students of Thailand still scored below global averages in key subjects in various international tests.

These test scores show that Thai students are still behind their peers in neighbouring countries when it comes to their performance in maths, science and English.


Thailand's educational system is ranked 35th among 40 countries included in the 2014 report entitled "Learning Curve, Lessons in Country, Performance in Education" published by Pearson Education.

In the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) score results in 2016, Thailand is ranked 55th out of 72 countries in the overall results.

In maths and science, Thailand is ranked 54th, and 57th for reading...


..."It is not the amount of money that we are lacking, it is how the money is not efficiently and effectively spent -- this is the problem," said Pumsaran Tongliamnark, a policy analyst from the Budget Bureau, Ministry of Education, speaking at a recent seminar.

While the test results reflect the shortcomings of Thailand's education system, the most worrying aspect of this debacle is the grave inequality that persists at every level of the education system.

Thailand is caught in an education paradox -- should the country focus on pushing the best and brightest students to compete on the world stage?

Or should we be concerned with those who are falling behind?

Is it possible for Thailand to achieve both goals?

Before talking about the digital economy and the fourth industrial revolution, let's get the foundations straight. The elephant in the room is the issue of inequality in our education system.


The problem of inequality is more pressing for small primary schools and secondary schools.

Each small school has less than 20 students in each grade, in rural areas.

There are 15,224 schools that fit into this category.

Although the number of small schools has declined by more than 20% since 1993, they continue to be the majority of schools.

Small schools lack both sufficient state funding as well as the teachers needed to increase the quality of teaching and the performance of students.

Often, one teacher has to teach multiple subjects....


...students from small schools achieved lower scores than their peers from larger schools.

The 2012 international PISA scores revealed that there were greater improvements in scores among students from schools in big cities than those from small schools in small cities.

Big city schools improved at the rate of 21.3% from the last test.

Small city schools fell behind with only a 16.1% improvement.


An observation by Stephen Holroyd, the principal of the international school Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok, is more compelling.

While the country laments the tragedy of Thai educational performance, the growing sector of international elite schools in Thailand is "isolated" and insulated from the problem, said Mr Holroyd.

Year after year, these elite schools continue to send their best and brightest affluent students to expensive Oxbridge and Ivy League universities in the UK and the US.

When these internationally educated students come back to Thailand they are better positioned to get the top jobs, not only from the higher quality education they received but also by the networks of other elite foreign university students in Thailand.


The problem of education inequality goes beyond basic education.

It transcends to the level of higher education as well.

While the media has reported much on the low ranking of Thailand's top universities compared to international counterparts, a more serious problem lies in the disparity between different educational institutions in the country.

With more than 173 higher education institutions, only a handful of institutions continue to capture the imagination and aspiration of Thailand's top students.

This leaves a huge gap in student quality among different institutions.

Meanwhile, the state's policy on higher education has mainly focused on making the top universities more competitive.

While the competitiveness of higher education institutions is important, attention and resources should also be given to lower-ranked ones including Rajabhat universities.


As things stand, the state's budget allocation for limited admission universities is 10 times higher than that given to Rajabhat universities.

The different level of resources that go into different types of universities ultimately creates inequality in students' performance.


Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, has pointed out that education reform has become a cliche, but this makes it also imperative.

While education is a challenge in all countries, it has become critical in Thailand.

If reform is not undertaken to better educate the Thai workforce from a young age, Thailand may well enter a period of long-term decline and economic stagnation, he said.

If Thailand is committed to achieving Thailand 4.0, it needs to get the basics right. It needs to give greater and more serious attention to the inequality spanning the education system.

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  • a range of: a variety of -
  • achieve: to succeed in doing something very good or difficult - บรรลุผลสำเร็จ
  • across the board: involving everyone or everything - รวมทั้งทุกคนหรือทุกอย่าง
  • affluent: rich, wealthy, has a lot of money and valuable things - ร่ำรวย, มั่งคั่ง
  • aim: to have as your purpose or goal - มีเป้าหมาย มีจุดมุ่งหมาย
  • analyst: a person whose job involves examining facts or materials in order to give an opinion on them - นักวิเคราะห์
  • annual: happening every year - ทุกๆปีด, ประจำปี
  • aspect: one part of a situation, problem, subject, etc - ด้าน,มุม
  • assessment: the process of making a judgment or forming an opinion, after considering something or someone carefully - การประเมิณสถานการณ์
  • attention: the interest or thought that you give to something you are doing, listening to or watching - ความสนใจ, ความตั้งใจ
  • average: an amount calculated by adding several amounts together, finding a total, and dividing the total by the number of amounts - เฉลี่ย, ค่าเฉลี่ย
  • bright: very clever or intelligent - ฉลาด
  • budget: an amount of money able to be spent on something - งบประมาณ
  • bureau: a government organisation - สำนักงาน
  • category: a group having similar qualities - ประเภท
  • challenge: something that needs a lot of skill, energy, and determination to deal with or achieve - สิ่งที่ท้าทาย, การท้าทาย
  • compelling: (adj) that makes you pay attention to it because it is so interesting and exciting -
  • competitive (adj): as good as or better than others - ซึ่งสามารถแข่งขันได้
  • continue: happening or existing for a period of time without interruption - ซึ่งติดต่อกัน, ซึ่งต่อเนื่องกัน
  • debacle: something that fails  completely in an embarrassing way - การแตกสลาย, การพังทะลายลงอย่างกะทันหัน
  • decline: becoming less - การลดลง
  • elite: (1) of a highly trained group, powerful or influential group - ซึ่งดีที่สุด, ยอดเยี่ยมที่สุด (2) the richest, most powerful, most influential group (in this case, in Thai society) อำมาตย คนที่มีอภิสิทธิ์ที่สุด
  • entitled: having the right to have or do something - มีสิทธิโดยชอบ
  • excellence: the quality of being extremely good - ความเป็นเลิศ
  • fit: to agree with, match or be suitable for something; to make something do this - เหมาะ,เหมาะสม,สมควร,คู่ควร,สอดคล้อง
  • focus: to give attention, effort, etc. to one particular subject, situation or person rather than another - เพ่งความสนใจ
  • funding: money given for a particular purpose - การให้เงินสนับสนุน
  • global: world - เกี่ยวกับโลก
  • goal: aim; purpose - เป้าหมาย จุดมุ่งหมาย
  • grave: very serious; very dangerous - วิกฤติ, ร้ายแรง
  • impede: to delay or stop the progress of something - กีดขวาง, กั้นขวาง
  • improvement: when something gets better or when you make it better - การปรับปรุง, การทำให้ดีขึ้น
  • in fact (adv): actually - โดยแท้จริงแล้ว, จริงๆ แล้ว
  • inequality: a situation in which people are not equal because some groups have more opportunities, power, money etc than others - ความไม่เสมอภาค
  • international: connected with or involving two or more countries - นานาชาติ, สากล, ระหว่างประเทศ
  • key: very important - ที่สำคัญ
  • lack (verb): to not have something - ขาด
  • lament (verb): to show publicly that you feel sad or disappointed about something - เสียใจ,โศกเศร้า
  • latest (adj): newest; most recent - ] ล่าสุด, See also: ทันสมัยที่สุด, เกิดหลังสุด
  • learning curve (noun): the rate at which you learn a new subject or a new skill; the process of learning from the mistakes you make - อัตราที่เรียนการรู้เรื่องใหม่หรือได้ทักษะใหม่
  • lesson: something you learn in school from your teacher or that you teach yourself - บทเรียน
  • lofty: very high; based on high standards - สูงส่ง
  • majority: more than 50 percent of a group - เสียงส่วนใหญ่
  • massive: very large in size, amount or number - ใหญ่โต
  • ministry: a government department that has a particular area of responsibility - กระทรวง
  • model: a simple description of a system, used for explaining how something works or calculating what might happen, etc - แบบจำลอง
  • multiple: many - มากมาย
  • neighbouring: located or living near or next to a place or person - ติดกัน, ที่อยู่ใกล้เคียง, ที่ตั้งอยู่ใกล้เคียง
  • observation (noun): a comment, especially based on something you have seen, heard or read - การสังเกต,
  • overall (adj): total; including all the things or people that are involved in a particular situation; general - ทั้งหมด, โดยทั่วไป
  • paradox: hard to understand why this is true, because the opposite would seem to be true -
  • peers: people who are the same age or have the same social position or the same abilities as other people in a group - เพื่อน
  • performance (noun): how well someone does some task or activity; how well they achieve their goals - การปฏิบัติงาน, การทำให้บรรลุผลสำเร็จ
  • persist: to continue - ยืดเยื้อต่อไป
  • policy (noun): a set of plans or action agreed on by a government, political party, business, or other group - นโยบาย
  • policymaker (noun): a person involved with creating a plan of action agreed or chosen by a political party, a business, etc. - ผู้กำหนดนโยบาย
  • politician: a person whose job is concerned with politics, especially as an elected member of parliament, etc. - นักการเมือง
  • portion: a part of something - ส่วน
  • prepare (verb): put in order, get ready - เตรียม, เตรียมตัว, เตรียมพร้อม, จัดเตรียม, ตระเตรียม
  • pressing: very urgent and important - ที่เร่งด่วน
  • primary school: a school for young children usually between the ages of 5/6 and 11 - โรงเรียนประถมศึกษา
  • promote: to encourage or support something - สนับสนุน
  • publish: to make something available to the public through books, magazines, the Internet, etc. - เผยแพร่, จัดพิมพ์
  • quality: the standard of something when it is compared to other things like it; how good or bad something is - คุณภาพ
  • rank: to put someone or something into a position according to their success, importance, size etc - จัดลำดับ
  • realization: when something wished or planned for actually happens -
  • recently (adverb): not long ago - เมื่อไม่นานมานี้, เมื่อเร็วๆ นี้
  • reflect: to show - สะท้อน แสดงถึง
  • remain: to still be present after the other parts have been removed, used, etc; to continue to exist - ยังเหลืออยู่
  • resources: things such as money, workers and equipment that can be used to help achieve something - ทรัพยากร
  • resources: things such as water, coal, trees and oil that exist in nature and can be used by people - ทรัพยากร
  • results (noun): what you get in the end when activity is completed (test results, research results, etc) - ผล
  • reveal: to let something become known - เปิดเผย
  • rural: connected with the countryside outside big towns and cities  - ในชนบท, บ้านนอก
  • secondary school: a school for young people, usually between the ages of 11 and 16 or 18 - ชั้นมัธยมศึกษา
  • select (adj): specially chosen - ถูกคัดเลือก
  • seminar: a meeting for discussion or training - การสัมมนา
  • shortcoming: a fault in somebody's character, a plan, a system, etc. - จุดอ่อน, ปมด้อย
  • skilled: having enough ability, experience and knowledge to be able to do something well - มีทักษะ,
  • stage (noun): a raised area, usually in a theatre, etc. where actors, dancers, speakers etc. perform - เวที
  • state: government - รัฐบาล
  • subject (noun): a thing or person that is being discussed, described or dealt with - ตัวหลัก, ผู้รับบท, หัวข้อ, ผู้รับการทดสอบ
  • sufficient: enough - เพียงพอ
  • the public: people in general - ประชาชน, สาธารณชน, มหาชน
  • tragedy: a very sad event that causes people to suffer or die - โศกนาฏกรรม
  • unfortunately: making you sad or disappointed, or getting you into a difficult position - น่าเสียดาย
  • various: several different - หลากหลาย, ซึ่งแตกต่างกัน
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