The results from closing small schools should be evaluated

opinion May 13, 2013 00:00


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The Education Ministry's policy to close down small schools stirred up a furore last week.

On social media sites, opposition was strong. That was surprising for two reasons: First, this policy is, after all, nothing new. In fact, it has been implemented for over a decade, but last week even the former education minister joined the attack. Second, there are some good reasons, for the sake of our children in rural areas, to support this policy. 

 So, does this mean Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana failed to give a sound explanation for the policy, or have critics simply lost track of the historical reasons behind it? 
Small schools are defined as schools having fewer than 60 students. Because the Education Ministry has allocated budget to schools based on the number of students, small schools have very limited resources. Because the ratio of teacher to stu?dents is set at 20:1, there are just a few teachers at each small school. In some cases, there is only one teacher to teach all subjects and conduct all classes for all students, who are often of different age and of different class levels. 
Quality problems, as a result, have arisen. 
According to the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment, up to 32 per cent of small schools have failed quality requirements.
Some critics may say the government needs to find the resources to provide 12 years of free education for children in line with the Constitution, no matter what, and it should deliver quality education too.
I agree that quality educational services are what the country needs for the sake of children and the country’s future. But the truth is that the country also has limited resources and budget, it is not able to install standard labs at all schools. Neither it is able to give them all great teaching equipment. 
Records show each small school has received only between Bt20,000 and Bt40,000 in subsidy each year.
Phongthep has already announced that the policy to close down small schools aims to improve the overall educational quality.
He has also explained that not all small schools will be merged or closed down. He has insisted that if there is no nearby school in an area, the small school in that area definitely will not be abolished. He has even pointed out that the Education Ministry will provide travel assistance for children whose schools are closed down under this policy too.
Between 2008 and now, 700 small schools have faced closedowns or merging in response to the policy that was introduced many years ago. 
Given that the implementation of this policy has already taken place, I really would like to call on all stakeholders to respond to the policy in a reasonable manner. They should call for an evaluation of the results of how the policy has been implemented. 
What has happened to students whose schools have already been closed down? Are they happy learning elsewhere? Has their academic performance improved? Or are they now out of schools because they cannot travel further from home?
The results will determine whether the policy to close down small schools should go ahead, be adjusted or be scrapped. 
Opposition politicians should not attack the policy simply because they want to shake the current administration. Do not forget that when their party was in power, this same policy was implemented also. 
Teachers or directors of small schools should also give themselves a sincere answer. What do they have in mind in expressing opposition against the policy to close down small schools? Are they worried about their students’ future? Or are they just afraid of losing their current positions?
If a good school is just a few kilometres away, why don’t we send children to that place instead of having them stuck at small schools with very little resources?
There are now many well-equipped schools across the country. So, if we can put children at those places, we should do it. 
Parents and community leaders who feel local schools – no matter how small – should continue to operate in their areas can make their voice heard. But more than that, they should take concrete actions in helping those small schools stay functional and useful. 
Complaining alone won’t help anyone. If small schools in their areas work wonders, I am sure the Education Ministry would not close those places. 
At the same time, the ministry should also continue to show solid proof that after small schools are closed, children’s academic performances really improve. 
If the merging or closing down of small schools benefit children, all stakeholders should support it.