The necessity of education reform
Landing a place at university can be quite an ordeal for the majority of Thai youths, who seek out academic studies rather than questionable vocational training.
The newly implemented Thai University Central Admission System (TCAS) aims to make it less stressful and promises more equality.
One of the drawbacks of the previous system was the number of exams involved in direct university admission, which posed a financial burden on parents in having to pay for application fees, travelling and accommodation expenses, not to mention the spending on tutoring, preparing and taking their children to the exams.
Even the well-off complained about the cost whereas low-income families couldn't afford it, depriving their children of equal opportunity for a university education.
Moreover, the former admission method allowed a "no-show" as those already recruited could explore and take up other options.
These issues were addressed in designing the TCAS, whose implementation began last month.
The improved system comprises five rounds, though it's still a lengthy process, ending in July next year.
In the first round, each university assesses applicants' portfolios without a written examination, while the second round is a quota entrance examination.
Scheduled in May, the third round is a joint-direct admission, followed by in June, the central admission, where in both rounds candidates list four options, to hopefully get into one of the faculties.
This will depend on their scores from the General Aptitude Test, Professional Aptitude Test, Ordinary National Educational Test, nine core subjects as well as specific subjects such as for entering medical school.
The central admission results will be announced on July 13. Thereafter, institutes with places left will conduct a direct admission based on their own criteria to recruit freshmen for the 2018 academic year.
Not all applicants will get a place, which has always been the case no matter how we revise the admission method.
In 1981, it was a much simpler one-shot approach in taking a set of exams, and waiting for the day of announcement when I headed to Chulalongkorn University Stadium to see if I made it.
In those days, it was like the end of the world for those who did not get a place, as pursuing a university degree has been thought to help secure earning potential and a better future as well as make parents happy. The sentiment perhaps remains until today.
However, there's a stigma to vocational education due to the perception that graduates have less career opportunities and end up with a meagre income.
Furthermore, certain institutes project the stereotypical image of violent student rivalries that concerns parents in sending their children on the vocational track.
Elsewhere in developed countries, a vocational educational system is the means to less unemployment, considering how nowadays university graduates can't easily find a job. In Switzerland, a healthy economy and low unemployment rate is fuelled by a well-developed vocational education and training (VET) integrated into the educational system and geared to labour market needs.
Swiss youths can continue their academic studies or opt for VET after completing compulsory education.
The dual-track model combines classroom learning at a vocational school and an apprenticeship in an enterprise.
Other European countries with effective VET programmes include Germany, where identifying students struggling in the academic track begins when they are in the seventh grade of middle school.
Germany's system was compared to the US in the "Vocational Education, Manufacturing, And Income Distribution" working paper, published last month by the US National Bureau of Economic Research based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It suggested that pushing American youths to colleges may not economically be the most efficient strategy, considering the decline in manufacturing employment affecting particularly lower-income households.
The paper's four authors included a Thai namely Assoc Prof Yothin Jinjarak at the School of Economics and Finance, Victoria University of Wellington.
They also presented a Thailand versus Vietnam case study, observing how policies, the institutional framework and investment in vocational education has made Vietnam more competitive and about to take over Thailand in global manufacturing.
Last week, the National News Bureau reported how the Thai government is ready to develop vocational education to produce graduates that meet the country's labour needs, following the successful organisation of the "Education To Employment: Vocational Boot Camp".
Indeed both academic and vocational education need an overhaul to establish a good balance of youngsters on both tracks as well as to groom a skilled and competitive workforce for the Thailand 4.0 era. Otherwise, we will fall behind our neighbours, not to mention the wider world.
Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a features writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.