The cabinet yesterday approved a budget of 50 billion baht to improve the quality of 8,000 primary and secondary schools in remote areas nationwide from 2020 to 2022.
According to Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, most of the budget will be used to enhance foreign-language skills among students in these schools, who usually trail their peers in well-known and larger schools.
"We want to narrow this gap to improve our education equality," said Mr Nataphol.
Under the plan, one school in each tambon will be selected and will be given funding to improve its teaching quality.
To boost students' foreign-language skills, Mr Nataphol said the ministry is planning to hire a large number of native English teachers and other native speakers of other widely used languages such as Mandarin.
The minister recently appealed to foreign embassies to help him find native speakers who can teach foreign languages to Thai students as part of government-to-government cooperation programmes.
He said there are currently 7,000 foreign teachers in Thai schools, but this is not enough, adding that another 10,000 are required.
Mr Nataphol added that foreign teachers must have some professional training to qualify for the job, adding that a language teaching certificate is preferred.
"We hope we can start this plan at the beginning of the next academic year, but if the Covid-19 situation has not improved to the point that foreigners can enter Thailand more freely, we might have to turn to Thai teachers who can teach English and Mandarin instead," he said.
Aside from improving foreign language skills, Mr Nataphol said the budget will also be used to improve students' digital skills and the environments, facilities and management of schools.
"Raising the quality of education needs to start with investing in teachers. It will be worthwhile as we are now talking about equipping our students with the skills they need to navigate the 21st century and digital era," he said.
Education expert Sompong Jitradub said he agreed in principle with the ministry that the budget could narrow the equality gap between schools in urban and rural areas because most schools in remote areas are lacking in resources to hire foreign teachers or buy hi-tech education tools. But he said the ministry should also think beyond its three-year plan as improving students' language skills will take time.