Small schools to shut to 'solve' teacher shortage
Many to merge with larger institutions
The Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) has set a target to close half of all schools with less than 120 students and merge them with larger ones nearby within three years to improve the quality of education and to solve a teacher shortage.
Obec's president Piyabutr Cholvijarn said half of the schools under their jurisdiction are now regarded as having a small student base. About 14,000 out of the roughly 30,000 Obec schools nationwide have less than 120 students and about 10,000 have fewer than 60 pupils.
"Many small schools do not have enough teaching staff, which means when a teacher is present in one class, other classes have to go without. Some schools only hwave one teacher to teach all subjects to students from Grades 1 to 6 because the number of students is less than 20," he said, referring to a ratio of 20 students per teacher as laid out by the rules.
Mr Piyabutr said it's difficult for these schools to enrol more students in order to get more resources and financial support from the government because the number of students in Thailand is declining due to low birth rates.
He said the number of students in Thailand has dropped from nearly 9.5 million in 1997 to 7.4 million this year and the number is expected to decrease by another 2 million in the next six years.
"The number of schools must be reduced to match the number of students, so we can see an improvement in educational resource allocation in the basic education sector," he said.
A recent study conducted by the World Bank indicated that at primary level, Thailand now has the smallest class sizes in the world. There is one teacher for every 14 primary school students, yet the quality of education, especially at small schools, is far from impressive and the country still suffers a shortage of teachers.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa 2015) results which measure science, mathematics and reading skills of 15-year-olds showed that children in small schools are falling further behind their peers in larger urban schools.
Students studying science in rural areas, for example, are behind students in urban areas by more than a year of schooling. In reading proficiency, the rural-urban gap is even wider. More than half of these small rural-school students will be functionally illiterate and struggling to understand the meaning of what they read.
"You cannot expect a good result from students who study in schools that only have one or two teachers teaching all the subjects. That's why we need to close half of these small schools and merge them with larger ones nearby in order to provide a better education to children," Mr Piyabutr said.
Mr Piyabutr said Thailand does not need to maintain all small schools anymore because the transportation system has improved greatly. Even if some small schools are closed, children in the provinces will end up spending just half an hour extra getting to another school.
Moreover, parents in rural areas already prefer to send their kids to schools in urban areas. They commonly use school buses to send their kids to study in either private or public schools in urban areas, which can be 15-40km away from their homes.
"Although some students may have to travel a bit farther, they will benefit from better education," he said.
However, Mr Piyabutr said, at least 2,700 small schools considered to be geographically necessary, such as those on islands and in mountainous areas, will stay open.