Ex-WTO chief decries Thai education

Ex-WTO chief decries Thai education

Supachai Panitchpakdi views that Thailand does not make good returns on its investment in the education system. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Supachai Panitchpakdi views that Thailand does not make good returns on its investment in the education system. (Bangkok Post file photo)

A former World Trade Organisation (WTO) chief has expressed serious concerns about the country's education system, saying it needs immediate reform.

Supachai Panitchpakdi said investment in education in Thailand is second to none in the world, saying its investment accounts for 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) and comprises a massive 20% of the government's budget. 

But he said Thailand does not make good returns on its investment.

Mr Supachai made his remarks yesterday at a seminar entitled: "A University for the 21st Century", held at Mahidol University's Salaya campus in Nakhon Pathom.

He cited a recent study by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) which showed educational administration in Thailand is a failure.

According to the study, schools and universities have failed to manage their budgets. There are also inequalities in education distribution between students in big cities and in rural areas.

Urban students have a better chance of going to universities than those living in remote areas and the gap tends to widen every year, Mr Supachai said.

Support from the Thai government for research and development accounts for 0.25% of GDP, compared with 1% to 2% in neighbouring countries, Mr Supachai said, citing the TDRI report.

He said the Ministry of Science and Technology told him the government is likely to allocate more funding for research and development on education but research must be conducted to meet the needs of the private sector.

Mr Supachai urged universities in Thailand to invest in research, development and human resources to meet the challenge of the 21st century.

He said universities in Thailand must dare to invest in their programmes and human resources to ensure they take on the challenges of education in the 21st century.

There is fierce competition among universities, he said. To entice students to enrol in their programmes, universities should promote the idea of students being able to think freely, Mr Supachai said.

People with good education would have better career paths, while the knowledge and skills people acquire from universities would help people better address problems, he said.

Mr Supachai also urged universities to work with other universities in Thailand and other countries to improve the education system.

The former WTO chief also called on universities to provide more English programmes for students as a way to help improve their language proficiency because the Asean Economic Community is fully established.

Studying languages spoken in other Asean countries would be an added bonus, he said.

Thailand was ranked 55th among 60 countries for English proficiency, according to a study by an institute in Switzerland which surveyed students studying English as second language, he said.

Responding to Mr Supachai's criticism of the education system, Payom Chinnawong, deputy secretary-general of  the Office of the Basic Education Commission said yesterday his suggestion that Thai education is a failure was "too harsh".

Entering a university should not be an indicator suggesting the failure of the Thai educational system and inequalities in education, Mr Payom said.

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