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Heading blind into another vision for education

Heading blind into another vision for education

MONDAY, May 16, 2016

The Pracha Rath project has emerged as the latest big initiative on our educational scene. But will it become the guiding light for Thai education?

The idea is to forge collaboration between the government and the private sector for 3,322 Pracha Rath schools, with a budget of Bt2 billion in private money. In other words, each school under the project will receive between Bt500,000 and Bt1 million. True Corporation is among companies that have already pledged involvement. 
The Pracha Rath scheme sounds impressive, but the fanfare and excitement have ominous echoes of its predecessor, the Labschool project. Introduced more than a decade ago, Labschool was hailed for providing 921 participating schools with IT facilities, for which Bt4 billion was spent during the first three years. 
Doubts soon surfaced however when head teachers in rural areas began complaining of a lack of money to maintain computers and IT infrastructure. One school director in Narathiwat’s Sungai Kolok district reportedly killed herself after failing to find enough money for the scheme.
For the Pracha Rath project, True Corp president Supachai Chearavonont has highlighted digital infrastructure as a means to develop the schools. He also underscored the importance of three “mega-trends”, namely robotics, nanotechnolgy, and digital technology. 
Although Supachai was careful to mention the pivot to a child-centred approach, it is clear that the schools will once again be left on their own to deal with the IT facilities and more. 
IT skills are undeniably important to Thailand’s shift towards the digital economy, so here the Pracha Rath project is to be commended. If the first phase goes well, the aim is to extend the project to 7,400 schools. 
However, the major and longstanding problem in the educational sector is a lack of sustained policy – with each new government comes change. 
The list of all the country’s education projects is long, but not many have survived more than a few years. 
In 2010, the Democrat-led government unveiled “One Tambon, One Great School” and spent Bt2 billion on the project. When its successor came to power, the initiative quickly fell by the wayside. 
While some Lab schools are still active, the goal of ensuring every district in Thailand has at least one great school remains a distant one. 
So before we jump aboard this latest bandwagon, we should pause and review the achievements of its 50 or so predecessors in a bid to learn from the successes and failures.
Did the projects achieve their goals? If not, what were the problems? Was lack of consistent support a key factor behind failure? 
Only by studying the findings and taking them to heart can we move forward with a focus on the key factors and issues. 
The quality of Thai education has faltered despite a significant increase in spending, which now totals 20 per cent of the country’s total state budget. 
This fact demonstrates that the problem lies with not the budget but with management of educational affairs. Fundamental to good management is accurately identifying problems and their causes, exploring solutions, implementing the best ideas and reviewing the results to determine what if any adjustments are needed and whether the goals have been achieved. 
Good management is not about launching new projects and abandoning old ones.