Education needs change
The reaction of policymakers to the results of the international 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) examinations has shown that it is not only the Thai education system that needs change.
Released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last week, the results show that Thai students underperform in reading, mathematics and science compared to most countries participating in the evaluation.
The Pisa tests evaluate education systems worldwide by measuring basic skills and knowledge among 15-year-old pupils and their readiness for adult life.
About 600,000 pupils from 79 countries, including 37 OECD nations, completed the latest test, which focused primarily on reading ability.
Since Thailand started taking part in the OECD's Pisa test in 2000, the scores of Thai students have never met the international average.
In the 2018 assessment, Thai pupils scored 393 points in reading, below the OECD average of 487. In sciences, students scored 426 points, worse than the international average of 489 and in mathematics, Thais scored 419 points, again below the OECD average of 489.
In comparison to the previous test in 2015, the reading score of Thai students dropped by 16 points while the sciences score increased 4 points and the mathematics score by 3 points.
It is worrying to see a significant drop of pupils' reading score given that reading is a basic skill and capacity that can help students understand, use and reflect on written texts to achieve learning goals, and develop knowledge and analytical skills.
Responding to the results of the Pisa tests, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan sounded optimistic, saying he is proud of small improvements in the scores in sciences and mathematics. This reflects the Education Ministry's success in sciences and mathematics development over the past several years, he said.
Also, some education officials came out to defend the quality of Thai education, saying that scores of students from famous schools -- which give high priority to sciences and mathematics -- and from university demonstration schools are on par with or better than that of countries ranked top in the tests.
Instead of being overly optimistic and defensive, policymakers and officials should accept reality and take serious action to improve the quality of Thai education.
The Pisa results should remind the minister that the education system remains poor and there has been no significant improvement in teaching and learning over the past two decades. The results at this stage should not make him proud of our education.
While the overall education budget has increased every year and has remained the largest among all ministries, disparities have grown even wider, leaving a huge gap between socio-economically advantaged students in urban areas and disadvantaged students in rural schools who tend to lag behind.
This is one of the reasons why the average scores of Thai pupils remains poor despite the fact the scores of students from some leading schools are high and on par with those of the top groups.
As the government is enthusiastic about promoting a transformation from the conventional economy which relies on manufacturing and commodity production to the digital economy, how can such goal materialise and be made sustainable without the support of an efficient education system? More importantly, Thailand needs policymakers who acknowledge shortcomings in our education system and are capable of making change.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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