Thailand's education appears to continue in its sorry state despite the new faces at Government House and two ministries directly in charge of the issue.
Politics in the kingdom has experienced a lost decade since Prayut Chan-o-cha administered the country from the coup in 2014 to the recently ended government, as no one seemed to care about political reform. Education in Thailand is even worse as it has sadly gone nowhere for decades, with the prime ministers and ministers responsible for the matter coming and going.
Gen Prayut should not be the only one blamed for showing no interest in improving the education system during his nine-year tenure. Former prime ministers before him were not much different. The Education Ministry is among the top government agencies that benefit from the state budget, even though most of the money is allocated to pay teachers' salaries and keep schools running.
Thailand needs a well-qualified person to overhaul its education system to catch up with the changing world and give students the freedom to have critical, creative thinking and the ability to analyse situations.
Producing qualified learners for workplaces is also crucial for the country, as it has already entered the phase of becoming an ageing society and is encountering competition from neighbours like Vietnam and Indonesia, which have younger and abundant workforces to offer to investors.
That also requires a strong political will from the government leader to back the ministers overseeing education to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, education in the country is also plagued by the political quota system that puts the happiness of all the coalition parties in the government before anything else.
The government of Gen Prayut had handed the top job at the Education Ministry to the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), with Treenuch Thiengthong at the helm. It also effectively handed the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESRI) to the Action Coalition for Thailand Party, with Anek Laothamatas as the minister.
The two ministers left with Gen Prayut after he served his term, with nothing to remember. The only exception probably was Mr Anek's grand idea of sending a Thai spacecraft on a "mission to the moon" within seven years.
"The new economy of space travel will be a way for Thailand to overcome the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and then to escape the middle-income trap, and the ministry will embrace creativity and innovation," Mr Anek said in December 2020. Unsurprisingly, his idea was greeted with boos instead of praise.
The new ministers in charge of education and tertiary learning under the leadership of Srettha Thavisin suggest the new prime minister is following a similar pattern.
The property-developer-turned-politician has granted ministerial positions at the Education Ministry and at the MHESRI to the Bhumjaithai Party. The education minister's post goes to Pol Gen Permpoon Chidchob, and the higher education, science, research and innovation minister's job now rests with Supamas Isarabhakdi. Both have no experience in the education circle, but who cares?
Time will tell how Ms Supamas will do at the MHESRI. But her party colleague, Education Minister Permpoon, has fostered public disappointment with her plan to recall the policy of handing out a tablet to every teacher and student. The scheme, initiated by then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was already a proven flop.
In fact, the appointment of Pol Gen Permpoon comes with controversy as he was alleged by the National Anti-Corruption Commission early this month to have helped Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya escape justice when he was still in uniform as an assistant to the police chief in 2012.
In fact, the obvious change in the education system in Thailand so far has been its form, not its substance.
The then-Ministry of University Affairs transitioned to become the Office of the Higher Education Commission (Ohec) under the Education Ministry in 2003.
The reason for the change was that it would help the country set the same education direction from primary to tertiary levels with all education officials and personnel under one roof.
Sixteen years later, in 2019, the country tried a different tack by moving the Ohec from the Education Ministry to be the core office of the new ministry known as the MHESRI, which also comprises research offices.
The reason for the change this time was that higher education would be modernised with the support of all of the available researchers.
The form has been changed, but the substance has been ignored, with no capable minister to set the direction, sending Thailand's education system on the road to nowhere.
The most qualified minister in charge of education in recent Thai history would probably be Dr Kasem Watanachai, now a Privy Council member. This man truly understands how education can turn people's lives around, as he experienced this himself, and he agreed to serve as the education minister under then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
But he decided to quit the post only after three months, apparently due to the lack of political support he encountered when duking it out with the bureaucracy at the ministry, making it nigh-on impossible to change the way Thai education is governed.
And that was 22 years ago, in 2001.
Saritdet Marukatat is a Bangkok Post columnist and former Digital Media News Editor at the paper. Contact Saritdet at email@example.com