Private schools at risk of closure

Private schools at risk of closure

The trend of private schools closing is expected to worsen, coming on top of the 40 or so that have shut down in recent years due partly to falling student rolls, says the Office of Private Education Commission (Opec).

At the same time, Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin says plans to increase the amount of time which primary students spend in English classes may have to go on hold because of a shortage of qualified English teachers and resources.

Dr Teerakiat said many schools were already found not to have proper educational aids in the classroom, while some schools still do not have sufficient qualified English teachers.

The Education Ministry may need to suspend its plans, he added.

Opec's secretary-general, Payom Chinnawong, said the shrinking student population is the result of Thailand's low birth rate and teacher "brain drain" which in the past two years have forced 43 private schools to close.

Many more schools are at risk of closure as a result of the trend, he said.

"I'm afraid the number of closures could be higher if we combine data from Educational Service Area Offices nationwide," said Mr Payom, adding not all schools report to Opec when they shut down.

Mr Payom said many independent schools, especially small-sized ones, have also suffered a brain-drain problem as teachers leave, unhappy with their perceived job security, or lower pay and inferior benefits compared to public schools.

"This factor has led to shortages of teachers in small private schools. When schools have recruitment problems, they have to increase salaries to attract qualified employees and some find it hard to remain financially healthy in this kind of situation after experiencing a drop in student enrolments for many years," he said.

Opec is now trying to help private schools tackle these problems. The agency will propose the government increase subsidies to boost teachers' salaries. This could require an extra 4 billion baht from the government.

Opec will also hold talks with the Finance Ministry, asking it to exempt private schools from a new land and buildings tax, to help the owners keep the schools in business.

Private Education Council president Jirapan Pimpan said the country has 3,845 private schools, fewer than 1,000 of which are well known. She believes many schools are at risk of closing down.

Many owners of private schools today are the second- or third-generation children of the founders. Some are not interested in running the business which is one reason why so many have closed in the past decade.

Another key factor, she added, was soaring land prices in Bangkok and other big cities.

Many school owners have found the land on which their schools are located could fetch a good price or has huge commercial value.

Ms Jirapan also pointed out private schools had suffered from students dropping out to enrol in state schools.

"Famous state schools have offered many rounds of recruitment," she said.

"At some schools, there can be as many as 20 classrooms for Prathom 1 (Grade1) students," she said.

Ms Jirapan also believes some private schools have management problems as many are family businesses and lack a clear sense of direction.

Meanwhile, Dr Teerakiat said the ministry will keep plans to teach English flexible, adding schools which have adequate personnel and resources can proceed.

He was speaking recently as he along with executives of the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) observed the "Boot Camp" teacher development project at Chalermkwansatree School in Phitsanulok.

Earlier, the ministry ordered primary schools across the country under Obec's administration to increase the amount of time spent which Grade 1 and 3 students spend in English classes from 40 to 200 hours per year.

The plan is aimed at increasing student's engagement in classrooms and improving their language proficiency.

The ministry in partnership with the British Council launched the Boot Camp programme recently, to develop communicative teaching skills and methodological practices for Thai state-school English teachers and improve their English proficiency.

In the lower northern provinces, a total of 75 English teachers from primary and secondary schools have been attending the programme, he said.

Dr Teerakiat said the ministry plans to expand the programme which will involve more than 50,000 teachers nationwide in the next few years.

Teachers from private and vocational schools would be urged to join the programme, he added. This year, he said about 15,000 state-school English teachers have been involved.

Under the programme, teachers from primary and secondary educational service areas nationwide are selected to participate.

The ministry launched the boot camp for Thais teaching English or the so-called "train-the-trainer" programme in March last year.

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