Kingdom readies for AEC study boom

national January 28, 2013 00:00

By Chularat Saengpassa,

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Officials examine rules for investing in education in neighbouring countries

Officials are preparing Thailand for investment in education among Asean Economic Community (AEC) countries and to be an international hub in the region when the community is launched in 2015.

Office of the Private Education Commission (OPEC) acting secretary-general Chanwit Tubsuphan told The Nation of the plans in an interview last week.

He said the officials were studying regulations and conditions for educational investment in Asean countries to prepare Thailand’s involvement under agreements with AEC members.
The demand for international education and English programmes (EP) has been increasing unceasingly and was expected to continue growing, especially when AEC comes into effect and brings a free market to the region. OPEC will study these plans to see limitations and opportunities in educational investment for investors.
“Each country in Asean has regulations and conditions for educational investment. For example, some countries may not allow foreigners to provide basic education in their countries. We’re studying this and its effect on people, culture and perspectives before Thailand makes a decision on how much it would be open for foreign investors to invest in the country’s education,” Chanwit said. 
There are 133 international schools in Thailand. The amount has grown from about 40 in 1992. There are 40,000-50,000 students at those schools at present, said Usa Somboon, president of International Schools Association of Thailand (ISAT) in a separate interview.
Also, global international education has increased dramatically and will keep growing. The total number of English-medium international schools in the world is more than 6,400 with more than 3.2 million students. By 2022, it is expected that there will be 11,300 international schools and 6.2 million students, according to ISC Research, part of the International School Consultancy Group and Usa.
According to Chanwit, the number of private schools with EP increased from 144 in 2008 to 162 in 2012, while the number of EP students rose from 35,800 in 2008 to 54,800 in 2012. In all, 400 state and private schools across the country are offering EP and Mini-EP to hundreds of thousands of students. Ten per cent of them are foreigners.
“We expect that more students from Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam will come to Thailand to study at our international and EP schools after AEC takes effect. Apart from children of expats from Western countries, many foreign students in such schools are from those countries,” he said.
Usa said: “Our country is ready to be an international school hub for the region. I would like the government to sincerely support international education in Thailand in terms of strategic planning. We’ve been asking many times about having an independent entity or agency to support international education in Thailand and that it acts like a centre of information for international schools in Thailand and helps develop strategically how to promote and compete in a growing global society.”
“We are the leader in international education in Asean. If our resources are developed and supported in the right way and right time, we will be able to expand within the country and in the Asean region,” said Wirach Amonpattana, vice-president and treasurer of ISAT.
Also, Usa and Wirach voiced the association’s desire for empowerment of international schools. It would like educational agencies to change some regulations about Thai language and culture training for foreign teachers that were considered major obstacles for them in obtaining a teacher’s licence in Thailand. They said they wanted the government to allow international schools to independently manage their own executive board members.
Chanwit said as OPEC supervised international schools and he was a board member of the Teachers’ Council of Thailand, he would propose the council allow ISAT and universities to provide training for foreign teachers in different parts of the country. It would then be more convenient for them and would also adjust assessment methods that were more suitable for foreign teachers.
“OPEC is considering the proportion of foreign and Thai people who are appointed to international schools’ executive boards. At present, at least half of the board members must be Thai. OPEC will check if the laws need to be changed following agreements in AEC,” he said.
Although government agencies are focusing on attracting foreign students to study in Thailand rather than promoting schools to expand to other countries, Chanwit agreed with Usa and Wirach that Thailand was unable to completely block foreign educational investment flowing into the country under the AEC. International schools in Thailand, he said, would have to expand their business aggressively in neighbouring countries as well.
Wirach said Ruamrudee International School was planning to open a school in Myanmar. 
“OPEC could be a reference for the international schools to guarantee their quality in any countries in which they will invest,” Chanwit said.

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