Exam scandal exacerbates an ongoing problem
The quality of education in this country cannot improve until teachers' working conditions and teaching standards are upgraded.While nearly every quarter of Thai society preaches the necessity of educational reform, the recent scandal at the Education Ministry over alleged fraud in the examinations for assistant teachers shows that students will continue to struggle with low-quality teaching.
The investigation into this case must be pursued to the end to prevent fraud from happening again. The quality of teaching is at stake here because the assistant teachers play an important role in the quality of the learning experience in the classroom.
The alleged fraud in the examination papers is a serious allegation indeed. First of all, the quality of teachers and assistant teachers is the most important factor in transferring knowledge to students. Second, such a breach of ethics must not be allowed at educational institutions, which are supposed to be exemplary models for our young people.
The Education Ministry recently passed the allegations of fraud involving the examination papers for assistant teachers to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) for it to pursue an investigation. The move came after it was found that several hundred candidates had passed the examination for the position of assistant teacher with unusually high scores. It was alleged that some of the candidates had paid Bt300,000 each to gain access to the examination papers before the examination. As a result, the examination results in some provinces have been declared invalid.
It is alleged that officials at both the central and regional levels, including some inside the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec), were involved in the "relocation" of the examination papers. It is alleged that high-level bureaucrats at the ministry were involved and the fraud was systematically carried out.
Normally, assistant teachers have a better chance of becoming a teacher after a few years' service.
Now that the case has been revealed to the public, the investigation must be carried out without bias. The culprits must be brought to light and the malpractice must be exposed because the quality of our children's education is at stake.
The government has concentrated its attention on populist schemes to ensure continued support from its political base, and this includes the scheme to provide free computer tablets to schoolchildren. The government seems to forget that teachers are the most important factor in improving the learning experience of children.
Apart from the alleged fraud, the Education Ministry is already facing the challenge of how to ensure that the teachers' examination can help in attracting talented people to the teaching profession. The current recruitment process for teachers in public schools is quite rigid, and the hierarchy in schools does not encourage outside professionals or volunteers to take the opportunity to interact with students.
But this has to change if we are to adequately prepare our children to become the citizens of the future.
Effective educational reform will not happen if the authorities fail to make a determined and sincere effort to tackle the fundamental issues of the general poor quality of teachers and a substandard curriculum that does not encourage independent study and analytical thinking.
The Education Ministry's budget has been doubled in the past decade and the salary of public-school teachers with a bachelor's degree has risen from Bt15,000 in 2001 to Bt24,000-Bt25,000 in 2010, yet students' test results are not improving. This is partly because of a recruitment process, and working conditions, that discourages the best people from taking up teaching.
The rise in salary for teachers has made some ill-intentioned officials and candidates hope to profit by cheating on the examination papers.