Local communities need to get more involved

opinion May 11, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Education reform has been woefully delayed by political opportunism and strife; it's time this vital sector got a better deal

When the country’s people are at one another’s throat over politics, so many things are held hostage. One of them is of course education, or education reform. 
Cool heads, political stability and sound commitment with a long-term vision are needed if reform is to see the light of day. But that hasn’t been the case. Not only because of the political instability but because so many of our education ministers are not willing to look at reform as a long-term process. And so they go after something like computer tablets for students to leave their mark and make names for themselves. 
This past week, the Education Reform Assembly (ERA) has called on the next government, whenever one can be formed, to place education reform high on the agenda to avoid the business as usual attitude of recent policy.
Chatchawal Thongdeelerd, a leading member of the ERA, blamed the failure to reform on political meddling. Like others he warned that the unwillingness to address the root cause of the problem could have a negative impacts on future generations. 
A set of proposals was announced at the recent meeting between the ERA and representatives from nine education groups, including the Network of Parents, the Small Schools Network, the Thailand Education Deans Council and the New Generation Network.
The group called for a separation of politics from education, possibly in the same manner as the separation of state and religion in secular Western countries. This is because politics has long held education reform hostage. The idea is worth considering, as it would give education reform and revision a sense of continuity. 
Another interesting point was that many of these groups were calling on the Education Ministry and other central bureaux to reduce their influence on the country’s education system, especially their right to oversee all schools across the country. Many believe that parents and the local community should have a bigger say in this respect. 
Moreover, schools of different regions should have a different syllabus to reflect the local identity and values. 
Indeed, for too long the focus of education was designed to make life easier for the administrators, where as the focus should be on the students themselves. We need to get our priorities straight. 
What is lacking is the role of the community. Parents and community leaders should not wait for the authorities to do everything for their children. They need to be more active and take matters into their own hands if they are really concerned about their children’s future, and the nation’s future for that matter. 
The fact that reading comprehension for Prathom-3 students is still lacking suggests that more has to be done and some things have to change. 
Critical and analytical thinking should be encouraged, rather than memorisation for entrance exams and tests. Acting Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng has suggested that some schools, especially those in the southernmost provinces, should embrace the concept of bilingual education, which mean classes should be conducted in Malay first and in standard Thai later. 
But because of the fact that the Thai governance is so centralised, the education policy planners in Bangkok are blind to the needs of the remote communities. 
Last, but not least, we need to hold teachers accountable as well. If the teachers are not able to get the student motivated to learn and enjoy learning, perhaps they should be removed and make room for others who might be able to do a better job.