Even with the game of musical chairs at the Education Ministry slowed under the military-installed government, inconsistency in policies continues to cause headaches for students and their parents. Now the ministry has announced its intention to replace the entrance exam for universities in two years. The current system has been in place since 2010, after all – an aeon for an educational policy.
To its credit, the Office of the Higher Education Commission recognised during those six years the problem of inequality that the current system creates. Students with ample money can afford to pay the required fees for direct admission to the best universities, but those without ready cash face limited choices.
Regardless of their relative wealth, all any student wants is to get a seat at one of the better institutions of higher learning. Along with all the other knowledge they absorb in school, they learn to cope with the frequent changes in the rules of the game. The ministry has revised the university-entrance system four times since 1973, causing confusion and adding pressure each time for those who have to accept and adapt.
Under the ministry’s planned new arrangement, students will be allowed to pick four universities and faculties of interest, based on their scores in the entrance exams. They will still have to take the GAT and PAT technical tests as well as the O-Net (Ordinary National Educational Test) covering the nine national core subjects. It’s this last exam that’s been at the centre of controversy every year. The ministry will also bar universities from granting direct admission to anyone. It believes this change will slash tuition fees, with no student paying more than Bt2,000, and will eliminate the annual frenzy among candidates.
This latest overhaul of the university-entrance system no doubt arises from good intentions, the noble goal being fairness to all, but good intentions don’t always bring good results. Thai education’s biggest shortcomings all stem from a lack of direction and long-term vision and an inconsistency in policy. It is the inconsistency that has the deepest effect on students. They are frustrated by the constant changes and too often forced to rely on private tutelage, usually of a commercial nature and therefore not of the highest quality.
Rather than wasting time and effort on the finer details of schooling, the ministry should be settling on a master plan – and sticking to it, regardless of political shifts. The problems surrounding university admissions are not as important as is fixing the system. Why, for example, should most of our top universities and schools be concentrated in Bangkok, ensuring fierce competition among the students in and around the capital? A master plan to raise the standards of universities elsewhere in the country would alleviate the burden of students and parents in Central Thailand. The country has more than enough universities – just not enough high-quality universities.
A master plan would also fall in line with current economic necessities by streamlining the overall educational system. It would save money, certainly in the longer term, and hopefully put an end to the kind of wasteful knee-jerk reactions embodied by the latest proposal on entrance exams. The policymakers surely see the potential benefit in this for Thailand’s global competitiveness. Let’s pivot the focus from quantity to quality and be rid of inconsistent
policies, so that this country’s educational system can stand shoulder to shoulder with that of other nations.