February 14, 2012 00:00
By Supinda Na Mahachai,
Education Minister Suchart Tadathamrongvej is set to legalise the acceptance of "tea money", which has long been described as bribery and a despicable custom.
His move, however, drew quick condemnation. Speaking to directors of famous schools via a teleconference about the admissions policy for the upcoming academic year, Suchart said yesterday: “I am not going to call it ‘tea money’. I will call it ‘a donation’”.
He said schools that felt the subsidy provided by the Education Ministry was inadequate could call for donations from parents and open separate classrooms for their children.
“You can do that. You just have to make clear announcements and do so in a transparent manner,” he said.
Suchart said financial donations from parents should be spent for the benefit of all students at schools given money. And the children of donors must have a fair level of academic knowledge. He did not think children with too poor academic results would be allowed into famous schools in exchange for donations.
The new minister said donations from well-off people had sustained educational services since time immemorial and it was common for schools to accept the children of donors.
Suchart urged famous schools, like demonstration schools Satri Wittaya and Suan Kularb Wittayalai, to double their support to less-equipped schools. He said the Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) had found that more than 10,000 schools had quality problems.
Building Thailand Club president Amnuay Sunthornchote condemned Suchart’s policy, saying that it would revive the practice of money-for-school seats that had nearly been stamped out.
“I am so disappointed with this new education minister,” he said.
Amnuay vowed to take any action needed to stop the legalisation of the acceptance of “tea money”.
Chulalongkorn University lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Sompong Jitradub said Suchart’s school-admissions policy was not about sharing at all.
“It’s not about using the rich people’s money to benefit the poor. Rather, it’s about injustice. Children of the powerful and the rich will have many more advantages,” he said.
Sompong did not think famous schools would be able to take donations in a transparent manner for the benefit of all their students.
“In the end, at least some portion of the donated money will not go to schools but into the pocket of someone,” he said.
Satri Wittaya School director Jamnong Jamjanwong also expressed concern about Suchart’s admissions policy.
“I have to check further detail and the objective of this policy first. Any rush to implement it may lead to injustice and corruption,” she said.
Jamnong felt the policy would be hard to implement.
“What if so many parents offer donations? What criteria will be used to choose students then?” she said.
Benjamarachalai School director Sumonrat Assatarakul suspected some miscommunication after she heard about the financial-donation-for-school-seats policy.
“This policy is clearly against the Obec admission regulations and this means it won’t be possible to follow the policy,” she said.
Obec secretary-general Chinnapat Bhumirat said in a separate interview that 290 schools were so popular that competition for seats there was fierce.
“But there are many other good schools for parents to consider too. Please check relevant information at a fair held by Obec at Impact Muang Thong Thani between March 15 and March 17,” he said.