Education budget study shows little spent on improving quality, too much on primary schooling
ALLOCATION of education funding needs to focus more on reducing gaps than giving an equal portion of money to all, researchers said at a recent forum.
“The government should take into account differences among schools – such as geographical differences and their students’ different needs,” Assoc Prof Chaiyuth Punyasavatsut told the Thailand Economics in Focus seminar.
He lamented that because Thailand did not manage its educational budget properly, it could only boost educational opportunities – but not yet increase the quality of education.
Chaiyuth has led efforts by lecturers from Thammasat University’s (TU) Faculty of Economics – and their peers from University of Thai Chamber of Commerce – to list national educational expenses for the first time.
When their study was completed, it emerged that Thailand spent more than Bt800 billion on education in 2013 – a huge amount but one that did not really translate into good quality. Of the total sum, 80 per cent came from the government.
In 2013, the government dedicated about a quarter of the annual budget to education. Such a proportion was higher than the average for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
The study therefore concluded that Thailand had adequate resources for the provision of educational services.
“Since 1999, Thailand has allocated a budget even bigger than Unesco recommends for education. But the country’s educational performance remains low,” Quality Learning Foundation’s policy specialist Dr Kraiyos Patrawart said at the same forum.
When categorised into educational levels, the study found that 72 per cent of funding was allocated to basic education – and just 17 per cent to higher education.
“So much of the money goes to primary education, in particular. The amount of money for vocational education and secondary education, meanwhile, is too low,” Chaiyuth said.
He noted that a close review showed educational costs were mainly related to teachers’ salaries and only 5 per cent went to development of teaching or learning materials and student-development activities.
“In other words, the country has spent relatively little on improving educational quality,” Chaiyuth said.
In his eyes, Thailand needs to adjust the allocation of its budget by shifting the focus to the need to reduce gaps – and to mobilise more resources from non-government organisations (NGOs) and the business sector for educational purposes.
The study by Chaiyuth’s team revealed that schools supervised by the Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) got Bt314 billion in funding in 2013. Of this amount, Bt301.5 billion or 96 per cent came from the government.
Obec received a budget of Bt302.76 billion. Local administrative bodies provided Bt19.5 billion for students’ free milk and lunches. On top of this, the Student Loan Office channelled Bt17 million to Obec-run schools that year, while households forked out about Bt9.4 billion for these schools.
Non-government organisations (NGOs) gave a further Bt2.45 billion and groups overseas offered Bt140 million.
“NGOs and the private sector should be encouraged to contribute more to the country’s education,” Chaiyuth said.
He also believed the government should merge small schools in towns so resources can |be pooled to improve key schools in each tambon.
“The improved schools can then be good alternatives for parents and their children,” he said.
His view echoed recommendations from the World Bank, which suggested that smaller rural schools be merged and reorganised into larger institutions as such moves could optimise teaching efficiency and offer better-quality education in the classroom.
According to the World Bank, Thailand could slash the number of classrooms with less than one teacher per class from the current 110,725, to 12,600 simply by merging its 9,421 “non-isolated large schools and 16,943 non-isolated small schools”.
Thailand has more than 400,000 teachers and educational personnel for its 12 million or so students. Yet, efficiency and educational quality are lacking.
So far, Chaiyuth did not think the government should close small schools in remote areas where no investors would be interested in setting up educational institutes.
Kraiyos said the key to improving educational quality was no longer about finding adequate funds, but about budget efficiency.
“Thailand already has adequate budget for its education. The country’s educational budget has clearly increased by 7 per cent annually on average. Thai children’s educational performance, however, is low,” he said.
Given that some countries spent less but achieved better results, Thailand’s Education Ministry needed to seriously review its budgetary approach, he said.