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Talks continue on education reform

Assembly forums still discussing alternate waysto get better results

WHILE THE political stalemate drags on, several organisations in the educational sector are struggling to raise the quality of schooling.

The Education Reform Assembly (ERA), for example, has been brainstorming ideas with various stakeholders from local administrative organisations to schools and universities to advocates of alternative education.

They have also been discussing ideas with students, deans, private school operators and the media.

"We have already organised four forums to facilitate brainstorming [sessions] and we will hold five more," Chatchawan Thongdeelert said as a core member of the ERA.

Chatchawan, who also serves as secretary general to the Council of Alternative Education, revealed that supporters of small schools, representatives of private schools, parents' associations, and deans had aired their views at the ERA-organised forums.

At the forum held to address the Education Ministry's policy to close down small schools, participants lamented how policymakers had long failed to reduce the education quality gap.

According to the participants, poorly-equipped schools in remote areas never have enough money to improve facilities as long as the Education Ministry continues to allocate subsidies to schools based on the number of students.

They also showed their frustration over the ministry's policy to close down small schools.

The participants recommended a decentralisation of power in the educational sector in the hope that local needs would be better served.

Several other recommendations were also made.

Chatchawan said recommendations from all nine forums would be compiled and presented to the key meeting of ERA on April 24.

At a forum attended by representatives from the Thailand Education Deans Council (TEDC) Assoc Prof Prawit Erawan, dean of Maha Sarakham University's Faculty of Education, revealed that TEDC had already identified root causes of educational woes.

They are the inefficient or unfair distribution of resources, the monopoly of budgets, and the failure to decentralise power for the distribution of resources to educational institutes.

"We have found out that 75 per cent of the Education Ministry's budget goes to the administration and just 25 per cent goes to the improvement of teaching and learning," Prawit said.

He also pointed out that as greatly equipped large schools became immensely famous for their ability to successfully produce whiz kids, they attracted too many applicants and as a result some classes had as many as 63 students.

"This is a problem. While about 10 per cent of students will excel, many others get into drugs and premature sex," Prawit said.

It is believed that the higher the number of students, the harder it is for teachers to keep an eye on children.

Drug abuse and premature sex are common problems, especially among children who have left their hometowns to study at well-equipped schools.

At the same event, Ramkhamhaeng University president Wutisak Larpcharoensap admitted he expected TEDC to play a key role in tackling the country's educational woes.

"Our country has changed education minister so often. And it's undeniable that each minister has his own ideas to pursue and that affects the continuity of educational policies," Wutisak said.

He believed TEDC should recommend possible solutions to the Education Ministry for the ultimate goal of improving the country's educational quality.

"Please speak for us," he said.

Prawit said TEDC had already looked into findings from the Thailand Development Research Institute.

TEDC, he said, had also worked with various stakeholders in identifying what the upcoming educational reform should address.

Although Thailand first implemented its so-called educational reform more than a decade ago, results are far from impressive.

Wutisak said educators felt depressed when they checked out senior secondary students' accumulative grade point average.

Prawit said TEDC hoped to reform the country's educational sector in various aspects.

If TEDC's proposal is accepted, the Education Ministry will have to adjust its role. It would no longer hold the budget. It would simply formulate policies.

Teachers would get a higher academic ranking based on their students' performances, not their own academic work.

Evaluation systems by the Education Ministry, the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (a public organisation), and the National Institute of Educational Testing Service would need a revamp.

Prawit revealed that many more ideas about how the reform the sector were yet to be made.

"We should be able to conclude the recommendations for the new government by May," he said.

ERA, for its part, will also consider recommendations raised at its nine forums and present the recommendations to the new government as well.


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