Good start to level learning
Last week, a small project was launched in the hope of addressing the fundamental problem of Thailand's education system. Dubbed the "Equitable Education Guarantee System", the project has the express goal of reducing the gap between students from affluent and low-income households in the school system.
The project is a joint effort between the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, the Council of University Presidents of Thailand and the Equitable Education Fund.
It will see the creation of a database of over one million students from low-income families, which will help authorities monitor students' problems and progress at school. But most importantly, it will allow the government and the private sector to better channel their resources — such as scholarships and/or other corporate-social responsibility (CSR) activities — to effectively help poor students.
There have been countless projects launched to improve equality in Thailand's education system, most of which revolve around charities and donations. The government's latest project is different in that it is the first of its kind to focus on structural reforms to bring about change.
It is no secret that the government needs to pay a lot more attention on education. But the problems surrounding education remain the same year in and year out, with little sign of improvement.
Various standardised tests and reviews have shown that Thailand is not a fertile breeding ground for young talent. A Unesco estimate released in 2018, for instance, showed only 8 out of 100 students from low-income households end up pursuing higher education. Their affluent counterparts, the report said, are 10 times more likely to end up in universities, which opens up more opportunities for decent jobs.
Generally speaking, countries with plenty of young talent are those which have a well-rounded education system that is accessible to all students, regardless of the size of their parents' wallets. Sadly, this isn't the case in Thailand, where students from well-to-do — if not outright rich — families tend to get the lion's share of education and employment opportunities in the country, while their counterparts from more humble backgrounds tend to wither and drop out along the way, no matter how talented or resilient they are. This fact speaks volumes about why Thailand cannot keep up with its neighbouring countries when it comes to developing human resources and its overall workforce.
Does this mean the Thai government isn't spending enough when it comes down to education?
The answer, in fact, is the contrary. Over the past few decades, the Ministry of Education often received the largest budget out of all agencies, sometimes close to a fifth of the national budget. The fact is, Thailand regularly spends 5% of its budget on education — slightly more than the OECD average of 4.9% — which the government uses to cover uniforms, lunches, tuition fees for students from poor backgrounds — not to mention salaries and welfare for 400,000 teachers. Needless to say, our investment in education isn't paying off.
The government hasn't had the focus required to come up with a systematic approach to assist students from poor backgrounds.
The new project, as such, heralds a good start for the government's effort to educate and nurture young talent in Thailand, many of whom are like uncut gems, still hidden somewhere far away, just waiting to be discovered.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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