May 12, 2013 00:00
By Supinda na Mahachai,
School heads and networks to meet Phongthep to voice concern; minister wants communities to discuss plan
More than 10,000 people have expressed their opposition in an online petition to the Education Ministry’s plan to close and merge low-quality small schools.
Small school networks have submitted their names through www.change.org, calling for a meeting with Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana on Wednesday to voice opposition and demand a halt to his policy on school closure.
And on Thursday, they will discuss the issue with a Senate sub-committee on education.
The small school closures plan has been criticised widely on social media for the past few days and is spiralling into a political squabble, widening polarisation among people who support the Pheu Thai-led administration and government critics.
Democrat Party MPs have also jumped on the bandwagon, expressing opposition to the policy.
Phongthep insisted yesterday his policy aimed to upgrade the quality of education and that it would not affect stakeholders badly.
Community or small school networks and the Thai alternative education council association told a press conference yesterday they had emailed the names of 11,693 people opposed to the plan to the minister. They are due to meet him on Wednesday to discuss the issue and voice their demand.
Association secretary general Chatchawan Thongdeelert said they would meet Phongthep to say they want him to listen directly to the heads of small schools. They will then meet the sub-committee on Thursday to discuss the issue.
They want the ministry to allow communities and other stake-holders to participate in drawing up the criteria under which schools should be closed and merged. Educational area offices should not be the only agencies being allowed to make a decision, he said.
Somboon Rimthao, chairman of the society, said that as the ministry would have to buy school vans to transport pupils to other schools outside their communities, more funds would be provided. They were also worried that students might not be safe and there was no guarantee that parents would not have to shoulder travelling fees in the long run.
“We propose for the government to allow small schools across the country to be legal entities (that can manage their business and legal matters independently). They should be turned into community schools that can provide formal, information and non-formal education to students, parents and residents in communities,” he said.
“A community school development fund should be established, and schools allocated Bt200,000 each per year. Doing this, we should save more budget than buying the vans,” Somboon said.
They also called on the ministry to allocate budget and provide funds according to number of households in each community – one teacher per 15 households. A commission on community schools and alternative education should be set up in the ministry to oversee this group of schools.
Phongthep said the ministry would close poor-quality schools with fewer than 60 students each then merge them with higher quality schools nearby.
Teachers at schools that are closed and merged would have to continue teaching. They would not be affected, he said yesterday during the “Yingluck Government Meets the People” TV programme.
He also insisted that small schools with good achievements or those located in mountainous areas or on islands would not be closed and merged.
3,000 schools already merged
Over the past 20 years, about 3,000 schools had been merged, the minister said.
“It is not only an instruction from the ministry to close and merge, but relevant officials have to listen to and talk with school directors and local people before making a decision. If merging is likely to bring about better results, they should go ahead. We haven’t targeted how many schools will be closed and merged,” Phongthep said.
“The policy focuses on upgrading education quality rather than considering a cut in budget
Educational administrators in the southern province of Satun are among those preparing to close and merge some small schools.
Pilot schools to be merged will be Ban Pak Ping and Ko Ta schools after administrators explain the reasons to locals and parents. A total of 63 schools have less than 60 students each in Satun.
Many previous governments have come up with the idea of closing and merging small schools, but were unable to put the idea into practice. However, some areas have decided to do that. Some found success in improving educational quality, while others did not.