A few years ago the Foreign Correspondents Club hosted a seminar entitled “Globalisation and the Role of the Thai State in Higher Education Reform”.
For anyone interested in the deep crisis afflicting Thai education, the YouTube video of the seminar makes fascinating viewing. Among the speakers is Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, who inadvertently shines light on a historical weakness: top-down policy that fails to address – and thereby improve – classroom realities.
Teerakiat highlights the dismal average nationwide maths score of 20 per cent, joking that a monkey could get the same result answering all the questions randomly. The mainly Western audience doesn’t blink an eye, and another speaker announces herself.
Two speakers later a young female student walks up to the microphone and boldly tells Teerakiat that it isn’t fair to compare Thai students to monkeys; he should first start an investigation of the department that developed the tests. She explains that she has taken several international exams, eg the SATs, and passed most with high scores, but has been given a fail mark in similar Thai exams. She suspects the Thai exams contain serious flaws or even mistakes, and cannot be relied upon to gauge students’ performance. She points out that Thai students are not stupid and do not deserve to be compared to monkeys.
Teerakiat finally clears the air by saying that he had not called Thai students stupid and adds that he has already contacted the National Institute of Educational Testing Service over flawed tests. (In fact, unlike so many of his predecessors in the job, Teerakiat is a genuine education expert with 20 years of experience in the UK.)
The student then asks how the minister would create 21st-century critical-thinking students when the Thai education system remained stuck in such a primitive state. She wonders how Thailand’s youngsters would manage to progress amid the flawed, hierarchy-bound and non-questioning environment of the school and university system.
To his credit, Teerakiat, a progressive minister, listens carefully to those concerns. For the sake of the country’s next generation, let’s hope he’s doing something to address them.