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House dissolution leaves educational reform hanging

UNCERTAINTY OVER NEW CURRICULUM AND OTHER CHANGES AMID POLITICAL TURMOIL

CARETAKER Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's decision to call for a House dissolution on December 9, has left the future of education reform in doubt, with education officials admitting they can no longer guarantee the reforms will be implemented.

Secretary-general of the Commission on Higher Education, Dr Pavich Thongroach, lamented that if the caretaker government does not introduce the new curriculum within its term, the curriculum-based overhaul of the education system may never materialise.

Pavich, who spearheads efforts to develop the new curriculum, has come up with an educational programme that would radically change the way Thai students learn. If his panel's curriculum is implemented, the number of school hours for primary students would drop significantly from 800 to 600 a year. The curriculum - a key part of ongoing educational reform - would also require students to learn outside the classroom for up to 400 hours over the same period.

Chaturon Chaisang, the latest education minister, said that the current political strife could disrupt educational reform.

"We have brainstormed initiatives from various sectors and |concluded about 60 per cent of the reform's content," he said.

In addition to reform, the Education Ministry will also need to deal with the One Tablet PC Per Child project - a brainchild of Pheu Thai Party. Despite drawing wide criticism, it was one of Pheu Thai's much-touted election policies. Many children, especially those from cash-strapped families, are keen to lay their hands on the devices, which would normally be far too costly for them to purchase.

Educators also point out that the tablet PCs may not really benefit children's learning and could even hurt their eyesight or physical/emotional development, if children are required to work on them from a very early age.

If Pheu Thai does not return as the country's ruling party, will the next administration continue with the tablet PC handout? When the Pheu Thai-led government implemented the first handout in the 2012 academic year, it spent around Bt1.8 billion on tablet PC purchases for all Prathom 1 students. The One Tablet PC Per Child project also received a Bt5-billion budget from the government. Relevant officials are now in the process of making the procurements. Once the process is completed, all Prathom 1 and Mathayom 1 |students will get the devices.

But observers are convinced that if the Pheu Thai Party does not make a comeback, the highly-controversial One Tablet PC Per Child project would likely be shelved.

The same could happen with several other initiatives that Chaturon has tried to introduce. For example, he recommended changes to the current university admission system and ordered the Office of Basic Education Commission to actively encourage more junior secondary students to embrace vocational education to fulfil the Education Ministry's |goal to put the ratio of vocational students to general-education |students at 49 :51 (now the ratio is at 36:64).

In addition, he has made efforts to boost Thailand's international educational ranking.

However, the country's educational direction has tended to depend on which political party has control of the Education Ministry with each party introducing a different set of priorities, depending on the administration's political leanings.

It would therefore not be that surprising if future educational authorities abandon what Chaturon has tried to achieve this year. Education officials have, after all, left behind what former |education ministers Vorawat Auapinyakul and Suchart Thadathamrongvej tried to |initiate, even though they were both from the Pheu Thai Party.

Thailand, it seems, has yet to have a real educational blueprint in place. Without a continuity of educational policies, the performance and quality of Thai students' |education will remain below |international standards.

If Thais trust that the country's future lies with its graduates, then introducing an educational |blueprint for the country is a |matter of urgency. Once in place, any politician who rises to the helm of the Education Ministry would have to stick with the policy.


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