'Think quality, not quantity', urges education expert
Thailand has been trying to improve and reform its education system for decades. But the result of reform has been improvements in quantity of education and educational infrastructure, rather than quality, a foreign academic veteran said recently.
Prof Gerald W Fry, a distinguished international professor at the Department of Organisational Leadership, Policy, and Development at the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, made the remarks at a public lecture on Thailand's educational reforms at Chulalongkorn University (CU).Fry has been in Thailand for 45 years and has taught at five Thai universities including Thammasat University. He played an important role in founding the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (ONESQA) and worked with many leading Thai academics and educators. "There is wellestablished educational infrastructure in Thailand," he said. "Numbers of schools, universities and students having access to education have increased. However, the problem is the quality of educational institutions.""The main problems in Thai education are the overemphasis of material concrete outcomes, like buildings and school entrances; discontinuous education policy; and a huge civil service, so it's impossible to offer competitive salaries to teachers and professors," he said.Fry said Thailand had to choose between having a smaller number of highcalibre government officials on higher salaries or taking care of lots of government officials with low salaries."The material problem is caused by Thai social values. Beautiful buildings are concrete, but teaching and studying are abstract. The buildings are easily recognised," he said.Many educators preferred constructing buildings and infrastructure, even though students' scores in the Ordinary National Educational Test and other international tests were poor, he said.Fry noted that an international survey showed Thailand was ranked second out of 49 countries in terms of spending on education as a proportion of national budget."To raise the quality of education, they should focus more on classrooms," Fry urged.Fry also expressed concerns over the continuity of education reform policy after the next election. If Pheu Thai Party candidate Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister, her education policy could differ from that of previous PM Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party.Fry compared what the government of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra had done about education and what the Abhisit government's vision for reform was. He praised Thaksin's policy of creating the Thailand Knowledge Park as it integrated information technology with reading and children and young people enjoyed learning in the living library. Other positives included the application of the One District, One Scholarship Program and the Thaksin government's support for the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (ONESQA) and its efforts to improve the quality of education.Fry also noted some failures of Thaksin's government, which related to the implementation of education reform. He said that it saw reform as the policy of the previous Chuan Leekpai government, that there was no continuity in leadership at the Education Ministry due to frequent changes of ministers, and that teachers resisted having schools come under local administrative organisation (LAO) jurisdiction. He said the Abhisit government must address the problems of small schools and related quality, equity and efficiency issues. He said that it needed better balance between general and vocational or technical education and that it should encourage reading, promote lifelong learning, increase the role of LAOs in supporting and providing education and consider the policy of 15 years of free education to achieve education for all.Fry said he didn't agree with the government's decision to hire Englishspeaking teachers from Western and Asian countries on much higher salaries than Thai teachers. He said that after their contracts ended, they would have to go home. He wanted the budget to be paid to increase Thai teachers' proficiency, suggesting they be trained abroad, for instance in Singapore, to become more fluent in English before they came back to teach their students. Aside from English, Fry urged an increase in students studying STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to drive the country forward as there were too few students in those fields. He said the country faced a serious shortage of professors in engineering mechanics. The lecture was jointly held by CU, the Office of the Education Council, the Institute for Research and Quality Development Foundation, the Foundation for Thai Education Development and Rajabhat Rajanagarindra University.