Education not just a numbers game

Education not just a numbers game

The education system of Thailand is comparable to Singapore only in one aspect -- the number of hours students spend in the classroom. In November, 10% of the 38,000 state schools under the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) across Thailand will reduce compulsory daily classroom hours by two -- from 8am-4pm to 8am-2pm. This means students will spend six hours a day in the classroom or 840 hours a year, instead of eight hours a day or 1,200 hours a year.

Education Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan said the reduction of hours is intended to ease pressure on students, who are often stressed. It is sad that this is the primary reason for the policy.

Children who value an education will find it bearable no matter how their classes are designed. But for those who do not enjoy learning, the new policy will still not be satisfying. Many people reason that students in foreign countries show better academic performance despite spending less time in classrooms than their Thai counterparts.

Students in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea have studied less than 1,000 hours per year and achieve good academic records.

The cross-national studies, conducted by Unesco, of official curriculums also found that children spend about 750 hours each year in primary school classrooms.

I don’t disagree with the idea of reducing the number of classroom hours, even though I am concerned about picking up my kids two hours earlier. I am sure this is the same issue faced by many working parents.

Kamon Rodklai, secretary-general of Obec, explained that the reduced hours will not only mean that students can go home earlier, but they will have more time for activities outside the classroom, such as sports, arts or music.

From my experience with schools, extra activities like sport and music are part of the compulsory curriculum and often included in the tuition fee. Many times students do not gain any knowledge from those activities when they are taught in school. These extra activities are non-credited compulsory lessons, so teachers do not take them seriously.

Take music class, for instance. At my child’s school, the class is called “piano class” but the truth is students are offered an “Electone”. Worse is the fact that since many of the instruments are out of order, students don’t know what they sound like.

Another example is swimming class. Every student is obliged to carry a swimsuit and swimming cap for class, which takes place once a week or once every other week.

My eight-year-old is among many in her class still unable to swim, despite attending since the first grade. My child would never be confident in a swimming pool until accompanied by an adult unless participating in a three-week sports camp, held during the last semester break where swimming was part of the programme, where she learnt how to swim.

I was in Singapore earlier this week and learned from a tour guide that primary and secondary schools finish at 1pm and 2pm respectively.

Some students do school-related activities such as homework, while others choose to engage in private tutoring sessions, music lessons or sports after school. Every student in Singapore is required to enrol in co-curricular activities or CCA.

CCA is an integral part of students’ holistic education. It provides an important platform for students’ character development, while allowing them to discover and develop their interests and talents.

Students can choose activities that are recreational or focus on serving the community.

All Singaporean children between the ages of seven and 16 who are enrolled in the Ministry of Education (MOE)-funded schools are automatically given an Edusave account and receive an annual Edusave contribution.

This also benefits Singaporean children who are not enrolled in MOE-funded schools, such as those enrolled in privately-funded schools, as well as children who are home-schooled or live overseas.

The annual Edusave contribution rate for 2014 is S$200 (5,000 baht) for primary-level students and $240 for secondary-level students.

According to the guide, the Singapore government has a strong commitment to ensuring everyone gets an education, a house and a job.

It’s the government’s policy that every student must have an equal opportunity in learning without letting their parents’ financial status be a barrier.

After class, some students take extra tuition that is subsidised by the government.

The guide said that teaching is one of the top four professions in Singapore, teachers’ status being on a par with doctors, engineers and lawyers.

And teachers are among the highest-paid too, because they believe that smart teachers lead to smart students, who are essentially the most important resource of the nation.

The more I talked about education in Singapore, the less I saw how Thailand could be compared to it.


Sasiwimon Boonruang is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Sasiwimon Boonruang

Writer for the Life section

Sasiwimon Boonruang is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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