Low education standards = HIGH CORRUPTION LEVELS

opinion September 12, 2013 00:00

By Suthichai Yoon

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Two depressing stories that made the headlines last week should serve as a multiple rude awakening: Thailand's corruption record is getting worse, and the nation's education standards are heading in the same direction.

It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that the two issues are irretrievably linked. When our schools fail to produce good, responsible graduates, the character of citizens is necessarily flawed. When the education system goes down the drain, the moral fibre of society inevitably breaks down.

Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng admitted last week he was “very concerned” over the latest World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report that called Thailand’s education standards the worst of the eight members of Asean it assessed.
The minister was only reacting to the well-known fact that the country’s much-hyped “school reform” had gone nowhere and it was his responsibility to try to draw up a new “national agenda on education” that would hopefully turn things around – admittedly an uphill task, considering the fact that he isn’t sure how long he will remain in his post.
On that very same day, a nationwide anti-corruption campaign was being launched, with the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) chairman Pramon Sutivong declaring that graft plaguing the country was reaching “mega-critical” proportions.
The education minister didn’t use exactly the same words to describe the state of the nation’s education, but it was clear he was suggesting things had gone terribly wrong with the system.
“Our teaching method is wrong. Our curriculum is outdated. Our |teachers aren’t qualified, and |university graduates, despite having studied English for 12-16 years, can’t speak it at all,” he lamented.
Anti-corruption fighter Pramon argued that the problem had worsened in the past three years because Thai society as a whole lacked awareness of the importance of tackling graft, while the government appeared not to take the issue seriously.
The “lack of awareness” to counter rampant corrupt practices obviously stems from an education system that fails to inject a sense of integrity and accountability in the minds of students from a very young age.
To blame some businessmen for lobbying hard to secure contracts for state mega-projects with “tea money” and certain media outlets for their failure to take up the issue seriously is probably futile if the businessmen and journalists weren’t taught in school about the danger of graft and selfishness.
If our education system is rotten, we can’t expect the output to be any better. The quality of our schooling system determines the quality of our politicians, policemen, judges, police and businessmen.
Chaturon has kicked off a series of brainstorming sessions, starting with his ministry’s own people before reaching out to the private sector, to gather a wide spectrum of ideas to overhaul the education system. It won’t be an easy task and any chance of success will require a strong dose of political will to even jumpstart the process of reform.
He might do well to start by reading proposals already made by various academic and non-profit groups. A good example is the group called Way Forward, whose members meet regularly to exchange ideas on a blueprint for the nation.
Some of their recommendations may offer the minister a launching pad for his campaign:
- Set up a neutral body, the National Institute for Educational Policy Research, and a Curriculum Research Centre, to investigate all available evidence for use in future educational enhancement. It is crucial that these agencies be independent from political influence.
- Encourage cooperation among all stakeholders, such as private-sector groups, NGOs, parents, social communities and the like, to bring about changes in both micro and macro education systems and tackle the problems of the entire education system simultaneously.
- Create functional and practical means as well as strategies to support education reform.
- Seriously tackle “teacher education” in all aspects to produce qualified teachers. Establish an effective process for teacher-induction programmes.
- Work closely with the Teachers’ Council of Thailand to create an innovative framework for teaching professionalism. 
- Revise the current mechanism for the “Teacher Leadership” selection process so that competent school principals can be recruited on a regular and sustainable basis.
None of these is earth-shaking to start with. But they are the basic changes that need to be realised before the Thai public can lend any credence to the government’s pledge to finally come to grips with unquestionably the country’s most important issue: educating the next generation of citizens.
Unless groundbreaking progress is achieved in our schooling system, there is little hope that we can begin to see the battle against corruption, the country’s cancer, being won at all.