Academic cites lack of both good ministers and officials
A prominent educator has accused the government of not being interested in educational reform and says no efforts can be seen in moves toward a better system. He insists such reform is necessary, including an improvement in classrooms, if the country’s education quality is to be upgraded.
Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education Dean, Prof Sirichai Kanjanawasee, urged that politics be involved with education as little as possible.
Sirichai voiced his concerns over the misguided education policies of many governments and the resulting problems in the education system in an exclusive interview with The Nation. He also offered his ideas on what should be done towards educational improvement.
Sirichai’s faculty is known for its prominent role in teacher development and training. It has been among the most popular faculties for applicants to the university’s central admissions for the past few years.
“We lack good education ministers and good top educational officials,” Sirichai said.
“Ministers work superficially and do things nonsensically. They just want to be in the media spotlight and make the headlines,” he said.
“We have had four education ministers over the past three years. Each had different policies they committed to when they canvassed for votes. They came to the Education Ministry without understanding and their policies were not in line with what was needed in education development and their decisions were not based on research but their thoughts and opinions. Directing without understanding has caused the education system’s ruin,” he said.
Sirichai said succeeding ministers did not follow the policies initiated by their predecessors, which had become a deeprooted culture halting educational development.
“Also, top government officials in the Ministry lack courage to do good things. We don’t have the officials with assertive behaviour in which they will strive for educational improvement. Instead, they are scared of the politicians’ influence. They follow what the politicians want them to do and they propose projects or plans that accord with the politicians’ desires.”
“We’ve got notsosmart top officials due to political patronage, which has been part of the administration for a long time. This is a problem. If education ministers had been more passive, Thailand’s education would have been better than it is now,” said Sirichai.
He said a quick reshuffle of education ministers also caused many changes and problems to the new breed of teacher project. “They came (to the position) quickly and left (the position) quicklyleaving our students affected badly.”
He said a former deputy minister tried to change the teacher production curriculum to six years of study instead of the current fiveyear curriculum, saying it would be better, but did not have any research to prove that his idea would work.
“Also, we are not sure if the recently launched professional teacher project that replaced the new breed of teacher project will work. Of course, the new project will help the ministry discover academically excellent graduates – but it cannot ensure that they really love teaching, unlike the new breed teacher project that can select secondary students who really prefer studying in this field and work as a teacher should.”
Meanwhile, the Office of the Education Council (OEC) that is targeted as a pillar of the nation in creating educational strategies and guiding proper policies for policy makers has not done its duty as expected, according to Sirichai.
“The OEC should point out educational problems and set up plans to address these problems and upgrade education – guiding the ministry on how to improve the curriculum and introduce teacher reform. In the tablet distribution case(or example), it should be able to advise the ministry which educational levels are suitable for students to use the tablets.”
“With political intervention, the OEC’s role has been decreased. In the past, this agency worked under the Prime Minister’s Office but lately it has been moved to work under the Education ministry and ministers have power to appoint members of the council. So many policies proposed by OEC tend to follow the ministers,” Sirichai added.
The education reform had been planned in the right direction but the ideas have not yet been implemented seriously with classrooms.
Teachers and school administrators are the key to success. Although the curricula are not that good, it is not a big problem if teachers are able to provide activities that pupils enjoy while learning – and if the administrators focus on academic administration rather than focusing on budget and resources they will help improve their teachers’ standards.
“Our project in Ubon Ratchathani has empowered school directors. Through their efforts, students at a small school called Ban Nonghee Nongkhaen performed well in the Ordinary National Educational Test (ONet), which exceeded the country’s average scores; while Donmoddang School succeeded in having its students take courses with a nearby vocational college which gave them credit transfers to equip them with occupational skills.”
An inadequate number of teachers for each class in small schools are a big problem that needs to be solved urgently. More than 10,000 schools have been faced with this unwanted situation.
“How can the country develop when people in the poorest financial status of the country receive the poorest quality of education?”
Research by the Office of the Basic Education Commission has found many examples of small schools that have succeeded in changing their management, or merging with each other, with assistance from local administrative ogranisations. This has brought about a better quality of students and should be done with other small schools across the country. “It depends on relevant people if they will dare to (take action like this.)”
“All governments should make decisions based on their research and not just their thoughts and opinions,” Sirichai urged.