Crippling teacher shortage on the cards
Many schools in the province face a staff crisis as retirees prepare to leave, making mergers likely
PHICHIT: Concerns have heightened among teachers in the rural areas of Phichit as many of their senior colleagues will retire at the end of this month, leaving many schools facing a manpower shortage.
After Sept 30 many local schools in the province will only see one teacher having to juggle various classes and subjects and move a range of administrative duties.
Nean Samhor School in tambon Pa Ma khab of Muang district is among those facing the impending crisis. It now has two teachers but 60-year-old Saranya Jansing must retire at the end of the month.
Another teacher, Suphab Sukcharoen, 36, would then be the last man standing, so to speak, apart from a volunteer who helps take care of kindergarteners. The school pays the volunteer's wages via donations.
Mr Suphab said his most pressing concern from next month, apart from teaching, will be issuing reports for his superiors, adding that big and small schools alike will have to shoulder similar problems of too many tasks and too few staff.
He said it is pointless to complain about it as the rule has been set and must be followed by teachers, but added that he was "ready to battle on and do [his] best".
Dozens of small schools in the area are likely to encounter the same fate from next month.
Several teachers said small schools that are unwilling to shut down will have to rely on their own funds, including seeking donations to hire teachers or looking for volunteers.
If they are unable to do this, a couple of schools in close proximity may have to merge, they said.
Students in remote areas mostly come from poor families, with their parents working elsewhere. They are left to stay with their grandparents. Some were born to teenage parents or drug addicts, the teachers said.
Those children rely on schools nearby where they can get free meals, they added.
Given the severe shortage of teachers and the appearance of mergers on the horizon, many students would be disadvantaged, they said.
Another school facing this problem is Ban Nong Song Hong in tambon Wang Thap Sai of Sak Lek district.
Nikom Suksa-ard is to retire by the end of this month, leaving Laddawan Thayaphum as the only teacher.
Surawut Somanas, 10, a Prathom 5 (Grade 5) student, led reporters to survey the school as part of a media tour to get some first-hand experience of the issues the school is facing.
Reporters saw science teaching materials left in a locked room that had reportedly never been used as the institute currently does not have any science, English or Thai-language teachers.
The boy told reporters he wanted to ask people to financially support the school, which plans to conduct a merit-making 'tod pha pa' ceremony to seek donations to hire more teachers.
He said he would love to see native speakers teaching English at the school as he now relies on educational TV programmes. "It would be more fun and interesting to study from real teachers," he said.
Thongsuk Promdamdee, the chief of Wang Tab Sai tambon local administrative organisation (TAO), said 10-rai Ban Nong Song Hong School used to have around 10 teachers but several asked to move to work in urban areas.
"The school got some more teaching materials but no new teachers," he said.
This means that from next month, Ms Laddawan must teach, cover administrative work and even cook school lunches, Mr Thongsuk said.
"Will she be able to handle these tasks?" he asked.
Sanit Sangsi, the village headman of Moo 5 in tambon Wang Tab Sai, said villagers will hold a tod pha pa ceremony to seek money for the school on Oct 6 to hire more teachers and foot utility bills, as well as other expenses, which amount to 2,000 baht a month.
Ms Laddawan, who earned a master's degree in economics from Naresuan University in Phitsanulok, said from next month she will have to take care of 33 students without any assistance.
The teacher said she expects to struggle with her new workload but she was born in this area and it's a burden she must shoulder given the lack of other options. However she expressed concern that most of the kids under her care would receive significantly less attention.
According to Ms Laddawan, she has to give part of her salary every month to sponsor school activities and utility bills. The government supports a school lunch budget of 620 baht per student each day.
"I would like to ask for help in the form of volunteers stepping forward to ease my teaching burden," said Ms Laddawan.
She added that if any foreigners want to teach at the school, they would be well taken care of by the community and have their accommodation provided for them. Thai teachers were also very welcome, she said.
The ceremony on Oct 6 will seek donations but also items that can be used for teaching, she said.
Interested donors can make a pledge by sending money directly to the Krung Thai bank account of the school's education fund (Account No: 636-0-22852-1) or by calling 087-407-9707 for more information.