The Equitable Education Fund (EEF) has revealed increased school dropout rates as the new semester begins, and found a correlation with households economically affected by Covid-19.
The cost of education became unaffordable for many families given the impact of the virus, as the EEF learnt of a new group suddenly living in poverty.
It said 10% of students are not returning to school and dropout rates are continuing to rise.
Poorer communities in Bangkok are accumulating informal debts to pay for their children's education, and parents are struggling to pay for school transport.
Schools have advised the government to find a policy solution. Many suggested increasing subsidies that have been at the same rate for 10 years for poor communities.
Initially, the EEF found 6,568 students had dropped out, but the number is estimated to have increased to at least 10,000 which equates to about 65,000 students by the end of 2021, according to Sompong Jitradub, Director of Civil Society at EEF.
Dropout rates in primary school are 4%, 19-20% for young high school students, and 48% for older high school students. Only 8-10% of these students have the opportunity to enter university.
The EEF provides 3,000 baht every year to poor students. However, there are other costs in education such as travel and food expenses which are about 2,000-6,000 a month, making it impossible for some students to continue their studies.
Subsidies need to be adjusted to match the actual cost of education, advocates say.
"Currently, there is an increase of 700,000-800,000 students that are under the poverty line," Prof Sompong said. "If we use 1,021 baht a month as the poverty line, then around 900,000 students are living in poverty. If we use the 1,388 baht as the poverty line, then around 1.9 million students are living in poverty."
Prof Sompong said: "Right now, the EEF can only help 10-15% of these students. We will hold a board meeting to determine the direction of mitigating the issue for the next three years".
Anchalee Vanich Thepbutr, president of the Women's Association for Creative Thailand Social Development, who is working for an equitable education in Phuket, said the impact of the pandemic for Phuket has been much more severe than the 2004 tsunami.
She said Phuket used to be one of the top tourist destinations in 2019, earning more than 440,000 million baht and the average income per capita person each month was 33,000 baht.
Now, it is only 1,961 per person which is below the poverty rate in Thailand which is 3,000 baht.
"Since April last year, 13-15% of parents have lost their jobs," she said.
"It is estimated that 400,000 people that lose their jobs have to travel back home, effecting the dropout rates. People who send themselves to school are no longer able to after losing their jobs. In 2019, 1,800 people applied to study; today it is only 170."
Stanford University scholars predict that preventing students from dropping out of the education system will increase Thailand's GDP by 3%, while Unesco economists estimate that finding a solution will generate an economic return of more than 228 billion baht per year, said Poomsarun Thongliamnak, an expert on economics at the Equitable Education Fund Research Institute.
A World Bank report in June said access to vaccines is important for countries with high inequality. The global economy grew 5.6% faster than expected, 1.5% due to the arrival of vaccines.
"Vaccination among teachers and students need to be prioritised," Dr Poomsarun said.