By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief
I am suffering from education reform fatigue. I suspect there are tens of thousands of reform fatigue sufferers here in Thailand who are concerned parents, concerned students and concerned educators.
And so, on March 1, 2016, when I read yet another call for education reform article in the Bangkok Post, it was hard not to stifle a yawn, then a sigh, a sigh of resignation. The article is entitled “Declare Education in a State of Emergency.” The authors of the article repeat what so many articles in the Bangkok Post and The Nations newspapers have cried about for the past six years: Thai students’ low international PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment) scores and disastrous O-Net scores. Yet, the article, like all similar calls for reform since SCLThailand’s, founding six years ago is empty on solutions, an empty gas tank. And that goes for the present government’s attempt at reform with its 65 modules to address 33 educational problems nationwide. It is doomed to failure unless the issue of the teacher’s role in Thai society is not addressed first and foremost.
As the article indicates, Thai education officials have reached out to Finnish educators to discover what has made Finland one of the highest PISA scorer nations in the world while spending less of its proportional GNP on education than Thailand. The Thai educators must have discovered that Finland’s success was due to its well paced curriculum, effective teacher training programmes and school autonomy and decentralization. Thailand suffers from a strictly hierarchical, top-down management system of course. But even if these needs are addressed in Education Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan’s 65 modules, there remains the essential problem in Thai society and that is the prestige and compensation of Thai teachers.
In sum, good teachers, highly esteemed and well paid in Finnish society is the reason for Finland’s public education success. Until Thailand focuses on raising Thai teachers position in Thai society with meaningful teacher standards and subsequent financial and recognition awards, Thai education will continue to languish and disappoint. Thai students, and therefore Thai society, will continue to suffer and its place in the new ASEAN economics will remain problematical.
The Thai Minister of Education might want to start real reform with a fund created with big corporations and government support that awards merit pay to outstanding teachers. This would include awards for best teachers in each province of the Kingdom of Thailand. This step would immediately raise the interest of Thailand’s best and brightest university graduates. It is these best and brightest Thais that are so badly needed in Thai classrooms.
If the Education Minister initiates such a program, SCL Thailand and Foley’s Coffee will rush to be the first in line to make a contribution.