Testing times for students
The education reform proposal from the Office of the Ombudsman to rob students of free education if their GPA is lower than 2.5 is elitist, out of touch and unconstitutional.
Chief Ombudsman Siracha Vongsarayankura revealed earlier this week that the plan is part of several draft bills that the office will ask the military goverment to pass immediately without having to go through the National Legislative Assembly.
This is not reform. The Ombudman's move actually epitomises the bureaucracy's top-down, authoritarian mindset which is plaguing the education system. Instead of solving the problems holding the country back, it will aggravate disparity and social discontent.
According to Mr Siracha, the Ombudman's Office will propose a package of more than 10 draft bills to the government and ask the prime minister to use his special powers under Section 44 to immediately turn them into law. They include the laws to set up a superboard for education policy, a teacher training institute and a research centre to design the national curriculum, a new policy to increase teachers' salaries to the same level as that of physicians and to reduce free education to only nine years from preschool to Prathom 6.
The Ombudsman also wants primary students to choose if they want to pursue vocational education as early as Mathayom 1. The aim of the new laws, said Mr Siracha, is to produce students with morality, basic work skills and to reduce intervention from politicians for financial gains.
One of the proposed bills is about the transfer of administrative educational powers to local administration organisations. Local governments, however, can do little when policies have already been decided from the top.
The Ombudsman's proposals are misguided on many fronts. For starters, it blames the students for poor academic performance. In fact, students are victims of an archaic system that kills creativity and perpetuates authoritarianism.
Mr Siracha said students see no value in education because it is free, but they will study harder if they have to pay for it. More often than not, students' poor academic performance is the result of family poverty. They need help, not punishment. Also, if the Ombudsman wants to focus on life and work skills in compulsory education, why use the grade point average as a criteria to screen out the youngsters?
More importantly, a free education is a student's constitutional right. No one should violate it.
If robbed of a free education, more students will fall through the cracks. Well-to-do students who can pay for special tutoring will continue to dominate university education. Education reform must bridge the education gap; the Ombudsman's proposals will only widen it.
Teachers' salary scales are not the problem either. Their salaries and welfare benefits have already made their profession highly competitive. But the recruitment is flawed and centralised. Students' performance is not evaluated in terms of teaching quality, and the failings of teachers go unpunished. Teachers need to shape up instead of being financially rewarded for poor performance.
According to political scientist Weerasak Krueathep of Chulalongkorn University, a survey of over 10,000 respondents showed that they are highly satisfied with services from local governments. Interestingly, the study also showed students in schools run by local governments perform better than their peers in public schools run by the Education Ministry.
It is abundantly clear: Things improve when decisions are made by local communities and parents.
If the Ombudsman sincerely wants education reform, it should step aside, drop its proposals and let the locals decide democratically.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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