TDRI urges govt to narrow education gap

TDRI urges govt to narrow education gap

Merging small schools with fewer than 20 students per class and increasing access to pre-school education are imperative if the government wants to narrow the education gap in Thailand, an academic suggests.

Speaking at a forum titled "Reforming Thailand's Education System: Where to Start?" held yesterday at Chulalongkorn University, Kirida Bhaopichitr, research director of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), an international research and advisory service, said one of the current problems of the Thai education system is the disparity between rich and poor students in urban and rural areas, which can be seen in academic performance, literacy rates and student IQs.

According to TDRI research, students in small-size schools or in remote areas where there are fewer than 20 students per class were found to have much lower scores than those in cities in both national and international tests.

"In the latest round of nationwide O-Net tests, we found that students in Bangkok schools or in urban schools, on average got higher scores than those in rural schools in all subjects; and the latest Programme for International Student Assessment [Pisa] test also reveals similar results," Ms Kirida said.

Ms Kirida said the Pisa scores of schoolchildren in Bangkok were actually similar to those of their peers in the United States, while the youth in the rest of Thailand got very low scores.

"Students in small schools got lower scores because small schools have very limited resources. The ratio of students to teachers in Thailand is set at 20:1, so there are just a few teachers at each small school. In some cases, there is one teacher who must teach all subjects and conduct all classes for all students, who are often of different ages and of different class levels," she said.

The TDRI also found that there is a wide gap between the literacy scores of first-grade pupils in Bangkok and those outside Bangkok. It found 47% of first-graders outside Bangkok are not able to read and write Thai effectively, while only 16% of their peers in Bangkok face the same problem.

"There are now almost 20,000 small schools with fewer than 20 students per grade in Thailand. It's impossible to provide quality education to students if there is not enough teaching staff and other resources. Therefore, my suggestion is that we should merge these schools to combine their personnel and resources," Ms Kirida said.

Ms Kirida said another thing that she thought the government must do to narrow the education gap is to increase access to pre-school education among poor children as the TDRI found a gap in pre-school attendance between rich and poor students as well.

"The percentage of students from well-to-do families attending preschool education is higher than those from poorer families, and we found that students who attended pre-school have a higher test score than those who did not," she said.

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