South pupils 'lack literacy' in Thai language

South pupils 'lack literacy' in Thai language

Some private schools over-play religion

An investigation by Pattani-based task force alleges some private schools in the South are 'under-teaching' basic subjects in favour of Islamic studies. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
An investigation by Pattani-based task force alleges some private schools in the South are 'under-teaching' basic subjects in favour of Islamic studies. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Pattani: Many students of private religious schools in the far South cannot read, speak or write Thai, a problem compounded by alleged misuse of state education subsidies, the Pattani special task force says.

Illiteracy in Thai language -- which the task force found has affected many Mathayom 1 (grade 7) students in some religious schools in Pattani -- was attributed to several causes including a substandard course syllabus and teachers' lack of qualifications.

The task force's survey showed more school hours were spent teaching Islam rather than subjects such as maths, science and the Thai language. However, the standard permitted by the Education Ministry is that the hours must be equally split between teaching religion and other subjects, as opposed to the current ratio of 70:30 in favour of religious classes. Maj Gen Chatuporn Klumpasut, head of the Pattani-based task force, said the lop-sided ratio meant a shortfall in the teaching hours of secular subjects by about 300 hours per term.

Also, many teachers conducted classes in Malay, arguing that if they spoke Thai the students would struggle to understand. The task force chief said teachers at the private religious schools who teach secular subjects are paid less than their peers who specialise in religion. In fact, a secular subject teacher's salary is about 7,000 a month, which is even below the minimum daily wage of about 10,000 baht.

Maj Gen Chatuporn said some schools kept part of the secular subject teachers' salaries and used it to augment the pay of religious teachers, many of whom do not possess the necessary academic credentials for the job.

The task force also found teachers were not receiving the full risk allowance of 2,500 baht a month, granted to teachers in the strife-torn provinces. They were getting 1,500 baht a month and the 'cut' the schools had taken was spent on school expenses. "We want to get across is the message that, difficult as their lives are, many school children in the far South are suffering from academic deprivation at schools," he said.

The students who are "under-taught" in secular subjects tend to find it harder than their peers in other regions to compete for seats in higher education, the task force chief said. The state allocates about 3.6 billion baht a year to private religious schools in the far South. Of this, 250 million baht is provided to schools in Pattani. "Since the beginning of term, the task force and the education authorities have surveyed 20 schools [in Pattani]," Maj Gen Chatuporn said. "It came to our attention that all of them broke the rules [regardless the equal teaching hours] and some had faked documents to embezzle the state education subsidy."

He said some teachers were indoctrinating students apparently with the aim to radicalise them. Messages condoning separatism were written for students to read while a video clip of terrorist training for children in an overseas camp was downloaded in a teacher's mobile phone. "My intention is not to denounce religious teaching in the schools. But I think there's the urgency to revamp the curriculum in such schools and carry out a stringent check of the teachers' qualifications," he said.

It is also a priority to open intensive classes to teach Thai to the students of private religious schools and hone their language skills. The classes should be up and running before next month with results expected in a year.

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