A battle to save classes
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A battle to save classes

Govt is being asked to review plan to merge small and large schools

Monk mode: Students at Banchompoo School practise meditation to help them focus better on their studies.
Monk mode: Students at Banchompoo School practise meditation to help them focus better on their studies.

Nan: Residents, teachers and activists have called on the Education Ministry to review a plan to merge small schools with larger schools, saying small schools should remain open in their localities so students will not have to study far from their homes.

According to the Education Ministry's Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec), the mergers are intended to improve the quality of education at small schools nationwide to create equitable education opportunities, ensure efficiency in management and reduce budget spending on state personnel.

The merger plan was approved by the cabinet on Oct 7, 2019 and a committee recommended setting goals and policies on manpower in the state sector.

Under the plan, small schools will be merged with larger schools located no more than six kilometres away in the same tambon.

The mergers must be voluntary and acceptable to all stakeholders, while students who have to move to new schools as a result of the mergers will be given financial assistance to cover their travel expenses, according to Obec.

Under the plan, a small school is one with less than 120 students and a school entitled to have a school director must have at least 60 students.

A school with less than 40 students will be merged with another school to ensure enough students and efficiency in budget spending for school management, according to Obec.

Some parents are not happy with the quality of education in small schools due to teacher shortages, so they opt to enrol their children at larger schools in downtown areas, which are better equipped and adequately staffed.

As a result, large schools will only have more students, while small schools will be at risk of a merger or permanent closure.

Community offers help

Supatra Suthi, acting director of Ban Hua Wiang Nuea School in Nan's Phu Phiang district, said teachers here are always excited whenever parents enrol their children at the school.

"With every new student admitted, the school will remain open and can avoid a merger," she said, adding that in the first semester of this academic year, one student was admitted to the school, taking the total number of students here to 40.

However, she said a shortage of teachers is a major problem for small schools.

"There are not enough teachers. A teacher must also teach several subjects even though that teacher specialises in only one," Ms Supatra said.

She also said the school director quit recently because he took on a teaching job at a university.

"Without the leader, teachers here were left feeling down as we were also concerned about a possible merger.

"We have to find ways to keep the school running," Ms Supatra said.

"Fortunately, community leaders, residents, and parents have stepped in to help. They donate essential items or help repair the school," she said.

She added Obec allocates funds to a small school based on the number of students it has.

"We are grateful to community residents for their help and support. It is great to see pupils running around in high spirits after school.

"As time goes by, the bond between teachers and students grows and deepens, so teachers here are trying their best to ensure the school remains open and the students still have a school near their homes to attend," she said.

She added that most residents here are farmers and many children stay with their grandparents as their parents work in other districts or other provinces.

"Every morning, grandparents walk their grandchildren to school. Some ride bicycles to school," she said.

Ms Supatra added that many students who finished Prathom-6 level education at the school were able to pass entrance exams to further their studies at state-run secondary schools.

"Students here receive an education without interruption with no student drop-outs reported," she said.

Fun times: Students at Ban Hua Wiang Nuea School learn multiplication using a learning tool.

Supatra: 'Each new pupil brings hope'

Budget constraints

Ploenpit Saengnate, chairwoman of a basic education committee at Ban Hua Wiang Nuea School, said budget allocation based on the number of students at a small school is not fair.

"Without the help of communities, it is hard for small schools to survive," she said, adding that when teachers reach their mandatory retirement age, no replacements are appointed.

"When there are not enough teachers, we have to find the money to hire new ones," she said.

However, community members help by holding activities to raise money or seek donations to support the school, she said.

Adul Amart, an adviser to the committee, said that the community disagreed with the merger plan, and they believe that teachers at the school are still able to keep the school running and provide students with a proper education.

Atchara Srisopa, director of Banchompoo School, another small elementary school in Nan's Wiang Sa district, said dealing with a teacher shortage at the school is a challenge.

"We lack science teachers, so other teachers who did not graduate in science struggle to teach the subject," Ms Atchara said.

"We receive a limited budget based on the number of students we have, but electricity and water bills and other costs involving learning and teaching materials are high," she said.

However, it is fortunate the school also enjoys good ties with the local community as it is located on land donated by a community leader, Ms Atchara said, adding that most residents are also farmers.

She said the school also admits children whose families moved from other provinces, such as Chiang Mai or the southern province of Phatthalung.

Some children who study at schools far away from their homes complain that they don't like getting up so early for school, she said.

Ms Atchara said many students here won awards in handicraft contests, such as a tray gardening contest.

The students also make vermicompost using earthworms for growing vegetables in the school's garden, which will be harvested for student lunches.

The vermicompost is also sold to residents and the money raised will be later given to the students upon graduation so they can use it to finance their further education, she said.

Atchara: 'Lack of teachers a problem'

Fertile land: The artwork of students of Banchompoo School shows the potential of their imagination.

Poj Mahayosanant, chairman of a basic education committee at Banchompoo School, also opposes the merger plan, saying the school can provide quality education as teachers devote their time to looking after their students.

"Students will have to pay more than 100 baht a day to travel if they study far from home. With the school near their homes, they can walk or ride bicycles to school, which saves them a lot of money," he said.

"Residents will try their best to ensure the school will not close. Villagers here have held activities to raise money to support the school for more than 10 years now," he said.

Call for a review

Rungtip Imrungruang, programme and policy manager of ActionAid Thailand, said the foundation has worked with small schools in several provinces to come up with innovations to help them improve their teaching methods.

She also criticised the merger plan, saying the policy is a top-down instruction from government officials, while residents have little say.

The plan should be reviewed, she added.

She suggested that small schools adopt an active learning approach to help students become more actively involved in the learning process.

In order to address the issue of budget limitations, the government should consider giving local administrative organisations a role in education development by providing financial assistance and other resources for small schools.

Local artisans, community members with local wisdom and skills in various careers, as well as religious leaders can also be enlisted to impart their knowledge to students, as it all helps in the end, Ms Rungtip said.

"Government officials must be open to local opinions and encourage residents to have a greater role [in local education management]," she said.

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