The have- nots are denied quality education when it becomes a business
LIKE IT OR NOT, many well-known schools in Thailand have decided to embrace a business-like approach to introducing new courses and recruiting new students.And when the sense of business comes to play, someone obviously has to pay.
The haves pay in cash, while the have-nots pay by losing an opportunity to get good education.
That's why so many parents have to struggle so hard to save enough money for their children's schooling, despite the government's so-called 12 years of free education.
Since schools are becoming so business-oriented, parents now also have to choose extra courses for their child.
Schools are now offering several different programmes for primary and secondary school. For instance, several top schools are offering an English Programme (EP), a mini-EP, a special course for gifted students and a general programme.
If parents want anything other than the general programme, they will have to pay more and more and more schools are offering these special classes because they want to make money.
For parents, special courses at state schools are appealing because they are not subject to the Education Ministry's rules that require priority to be given to local children. Over the past decade, several popular schools have had to hold lucky draws to select applicants for seats earmarked for children from the neighbourhood. When local children are allocated many seats, popular schools end up having limited seats for children living in other zones.
So, if parents want to boost their children's chance in getting into these famous schools, these special courses become a must.
One mother said that if her son was only undergoing the general course, his school would have only charged her Bt15,000 per semester. However, she's been having to pay an extra Bt10,000 per semester so her son can go through the course for gifted children.
According to the Education Ministry's regulations, schools can collect up to Bt35,000 in tuition fees from students in the EP. This wipes out any chance of there being equal opportunities for all.
Parents must be ready to pay if they are going to pave the way for their children's entry into the best of schools and also the best courses available. If they do not have money, their children's access to good-quality education is restricted from the very beginning.
Children from well-to-do families, therefore, enjoy the privilege of having many great choices.
Their parents can pay the application fees |at many schools, and many can even pay for courses that their children will not attend in the end.
With their newly honed business sense, many schools are now requiring successful applicants to pay tuition fees before they announce successful candidates. This way, some applicants lose money if they opt for a better school.
Universities are doing a similar thing as well. They started offering various courses and now hold many rounds of entrance exams via a direct-admission system.
A man in Phuket said he has spent several thousand baht in his child's attempt to get into a good university in Bangkok. Apart from application fees, he has had to cover travel and accommodation expenses.
"As my son has had to make several attempts, I have had to spend a lot of money," this father lamented.
These scenarios show how things have been changing in Thailand's educational scene in recent history and the trend suggests that money is going to continue playing a very prominent role unless somebody rises against it right now.
No matter how much policy-makers across the world continue preaching about equal access to education, the real situation is quite the opposite. Educational institutions are selling themselves based on their reputation, and parents who can afford it are ready to pay. Since their own children's future is of top concern, they are ready to leave the future of other kids in the hands of the government.
Should the government then step in to break this competitive environment?