FROM THIS academic year, the education system is being boosted by the introduction of about 50 “partnership schools” across the country.
The word “partnership” has been chosen to reflect the collaboration of all relevant parties, the private sector included, in the provision of educational services at these schools. But another important fact marks these schools out from other state schools: they will operate very independently.
Their managers can appoint school directors and teachers on their own, without needing to undergo complicated bureaucratic procedures. They can even manage their budget themselves.
Their curricula, moreover, can be adjusted to best reflect local context or global trends, depending on the policies of their executives.
The bottom line, so far, is that partnership schools have the duty to function as community learning centres too.
In the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, the Thongchaineurwittaya School is seeking to fulfil this mission.
“We are one of the few partnership schools in the country,” Thongchaineurwittaya School director Metee Korbtakhob explained.
He said his school passed all criteria to join the partnership-school initiative because it had long encouraged participation and contributions from all sides.
“We have had good ties with local communities,” he said. “Together, we can efficiently educate students and strengthen the local community.”
Thongchaineurwittaya School has 15 teachers for its 232 students, offering classes from Prathom 1 to Mathayom 3 levels.
Apart from its status as a partnership school, Thongchaineurwittaya has also participated in the CONNEXT ED project.
Under the project, Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) has stepped in to guide the school on how to apply HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy in education.
With help from CPF, the school has set up a Sufficiency Economy centre that focuses on cultivation of Indian Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus pulmonarius). At the centre, knowledge of Indian Oyster mushroom cultivation, harvest and distribution is compiled and taught alongside life skills and tips for self-reliance, expense reduction and sufficiency economy.
“Mushrooms from the centre are sent to the school’s kitchen. So, students get fresh mushrooms for their lunch,” Patcharinee Khammuangpak, a Mathayom 3 student, at the school said.
She said excess mushrooms were also sold to outsiders.
Somkuan Permtawee, from the nearby village of Ban Khok Sila in Pak Thong Chai district, said the centre also extended training in mushroom cultivation to locals.
“The training gives us knowledge we can put into practice. It has given many locals a supplementary occupation that brings them extra cash,” he said.
Deputy Education Minister Udom Kachintorn has noted that the flexible curricula used at partnership schools made it possible for each school to design teaching programmes that best suit local needs and context.
“For example, schools may focus on farming or medical services, etc,” he said.
Mechai Viravaidya, who sits on the partnership-school initiative’s innovation development committee, said the schools could be a real lifelong-learning centre for local communities.
“For example, if locals are interested in laws, they may ask the school for help. The school may then invite legal experts to share their knowledge,” he said.
Udom said the partnership-school initiative was a key project for the country’s education reform.
“Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha hopes that partnership schools will exist in all parts of Thailand,” he said.
In the first phase of the initiative, partnership schools have been rolled out in less than half of Thailand’s provinces, said Udom.
“We hope to expand the project further. Probably, we will have at least 225 partnership schools in the future, with the requirement that each of the 225 educational service areas have at least one such school,” he added.
The partnership school project now covers 50 participating schools and 12 sponsor organisations.
Agreements between these parties were signed earlier this month.
“We hope partnership schools will become a model of innovative education management,” Deputy Prime Minister ACM Prajin Juntong said.