Rethinking Thailand 4.0 to get it into gear

Rethinking Thailand 4.0 to get it into gear

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has spoken often of his vision for the future, using both
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has spoken often of his vision for the future, using both "Opportunity Thailand" and "Thailand 4.0" as slogans. (Post Today photo)

Most people have likely heard the term "Thailand 4.0" continually since the Prayut Chan-o-cha government began promoting it.

Effectively responding to the policy, the term "4.0" has been liberally used by state agencies in such instances as energy 4.0, agriculture 4.0, tourism 4.0, healthcare 4.0, education 4.0, labour 4.0, et cetera.

It's encouraging to see state agencies take to this policy with enthusiasm but I wonder how many people, including state officials, have a clear understanding of what this gimmicky economic model actually is.

A survey of 1,305 Bangkok residents conducted last month by Bansomdej Poll found that 53% of them did not understand the Thailand 4.0 concept, while 19.3% were not sure if they understood it or not and only 27.7% said they understood it.

Soonruth Bunyamanee is deputy editor, Bangkok Post..

The result was similar to a survey conducted last December by Nida Poll. The poll asked the same question to 1,250 respondents nationwide and found that 57.3% of people did not fully understand what Thailand 4.0 is; only 5.2% had a clear understanding.

The results of both polls hardly come as a surprise given that I'm sure most Thais are not even aware that the economic model's preceding three incarnations -- Thailand 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 passed us by swiftly and silently

But Gen Prayut seems to know where the problem lies. He recently tried to simplify his Thailand 4.0 gimmick: If you have a mobile phone and are only using it to make calls then you are stuck in the prehistoric, Thailand 1.0, age.

But, if you can use your phone to send e-mails or process documents, you have graduated to Thailand 2.0; if you can use the phone to surf the internet and find new information, thus becoming a wiser and more worldly citizen, you have made it to Thailand 3.0 -- nearly there.

And finally, if you can use your phone to make money via e-commerce and selling innovative products, you have traversed the digital gulf and now in ... wait for it ... Thailand 4.0.

It's quite obvious based on the prime minister's metaphors Thailand 4.0 is little more than a glorified e-commerce marketing campaign, and a parody of the world's 4th Industrial Revolution in which industrial development has shifted away from simple digitalisation (the 3rd Industrial Revolution) to online and innovative-based industrial development.

If I'm right, Thailand 4.0 will have much more than e-commerce.

But jokes and sarcasm aside, it is good that the government is pushing the country to catch up with the world's fast-changing business and technological landscapes with this policy.

But we need more than a few slogans and gimmicks to make the fundamental changes necessary to achieve the goals of Thailand 4.0 and to get people and farmers using their phone as a means to make money. In my opinion, at least two fundamental changes are needed to fulfil the Thailand 4.0 ambition. First, education development and, second, legal adjustment.

In the next 20-25 years, people born of the Generation X (aged 37-52 years old) will be retired, while people of the later Generation Y or Millennials and Generation Z (those who are now under 24 years old) will replace them.

These groups of generations were raised in the digital and social network environment.

There's no doubt that people from these generations will be the key drivers of Thailand 4.0, 5.0 or 6.0, but one question is whether the education system has been adjusted to support them.

Behavioural scientists say people in Generation Z have short attention spans. Many of them have talent in specific area of interest but when it comes to applying themselves to other things, which they may be less interested in, their short attention spans fail them.

For example, many Thai youngsters are talented online game players and interested in becoming software developers -- but only in gaming software.

Many older people may think such an activity is a waste of time; but for young people, what they want to do may, in fact, be a wise career choice for them and their generations.

An international research agency estimated that eSports, video and online games, which have been made into professional competitions, generated global revenues of about US$900 million in 2016, or about 31.5 billion baht, and the number is expected to increase substantially.

Many Thai youngsters are interested in learning software engineering but, according to some academics, they don't want to wade through the more laborious and technical components that are part of a course in engineering.

Have engineering schools in the country adjusted or fine-tuned their syllabuses to accommodate the 4.0 environment?

If we look at Thailand's transport industries, they are dramatically changing. At least 10 more electric rail routes will be developed in the capital. Several rail systems will also be constructed in big cities of key provinces including Chiang Mai, Phuket and Khon Kaen.

One question is: Does Thailand have sufficient capable and innovative engineers to serve such modern transport development or do we just have to rely on foreign experts and imported tools and materials for their development and maintenance over the next few decades?

As regards to the legal aspects, the Thailand 4.0 model needs many adjustments. For example, last week, Chiang Mai land transport officials arrested and fined several Uber and Grab taxi drivers amid criticism from netizens.

We cannot blame the officials as they were duty bound to enforce law, the Vehicle Act promulgated in 1967, which does not allow for the emergence of those online ride-sharing services.

Meechai Ruchupan, Constitution Drafting Committee chairman, recently criticised the current version of the public information law, which enables people to have access to state information, saying it suits the "Thailand 1.0" era. Under the law, people still need to submit requests in writing to seek permission from state agencies.

A new public information bill is being drafted by the National Reform Steering Assembly, yet it still does not accommodate the needs under Thailand 4.0 era as state agencies are still allowed to disclose information through their official channels only.

Without fundamental changes to the education and legal systems to accommodate the rapidly shifting economies of the modern world, Thailand 4.0 will remain a glittering gimmick that will fail to materialise.

Soonruth Bunyamanee

Bangkok Post Editor

Bangkok Post Editor

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