Among recent reports on Thailand’s economy, one in particular stands out.
In April last year, Dr Kirida Bhaopichitr of the Thai Development Research Institute gave a status check that revealed why the move to a digital economy, or “Thailand 4.0”, is so urgent. (“Coping with 4th Industrial Revolution” Thailand’s Economic Growth Imperatives Part 1” can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=7Gabe7grazc ).
Kirida focuses on early childhood education – 0 to 5 years old, where it all starts – and explains the following:
1. 67 per cent of our Child Development Centres do not pass the quality benchmark set by Unicef.
2. 16 per cent of Thai children are stunted, pointing to a food, finance and health crisis.
3. Our productivity is lagging behind that of our Asean peers, and the situation is getting worse as the population ages and the workforce shrinks.
4. The imbalance of university students (68 per cent) versus vocational students (32 per cent) must be corrected. Thailand suffers a serious shortage of quality, up-to-date apprenticeships for vocational students – only 5 per cent of Denmark’s vocational-course provision.
5. Disparities between the GDP contributions of different labour sectors signal the need for change. Two examples: Our agriculture workforce (33 per cent) generates only 7 per cent of GDP, while the service-industry workers (42 per cent) generate 56 per cent of the GDP. Only upskilling the workforce via the education system will solve this inefficiency, helping shift labour to more productive sectors like the service industry and thereby enabling Thailand to escape the middle-income trap.
This is the aim of the Thailand 4.0 programme – to shift the country from a manufacturing-based economy to a services-driven digital economy. The change necessary is drastic, affecting all levels and almost every sphere of society.
Three years ago columnist Suthichai Yoon, on this page, asked “Where does Thailand stand on the ‘S curve [of progress to 4.0]’ – politically, economically and psychologically?”
His answer was both accurate and chilling: “Certainly not on the rising slope.”