Over the past two decades, Thailand has experienced tremendous change. From underdeveloped countries barely a generation ago, it is now growing and developing. Recognized for having a very open and diverse culture, the economic progress of the land of Smiles is constantly evolving and its poverty rate continues to decline. Today, only 7% to 9% of the population is considered to be living below the poverty line and access to basic education and health services has become almost universal. For an East Asian country, these are phenomenal achievements that are worth highlighting. Unfortunately, equality of opportunity is far from being achieved in this country where the quality of the education system is a major concern. Before looking at some of the positive initiatives that exist in Thailand over the next three weeks, let us first look at the state of public education which will allow us to better understand the context in which schools and projects that we will present to you are working, and especially why the private sector has so much wind in its sails.
Some figures and information
Although school is compulsory for all children aged 6 to 15, and free until the end of secondary school (i.e. 18 years), a large number of young people cannot benefit from it. We will come back to this in a few moments. For now, let’s take a look at what a Thai child’s school career may look like.
- From 1 year to 3 years old, children can attend the nursery, the equivalent of a daycare center. Here, however, it is common for parents to bring their young children to work.
- From 3 to 5 years old, children can attend kindergarten (not compulsory), which is called Kindergarden.
- From 6 to 11 years old, children attend primary school, compulsory for all.
- From 12 to 18 years old: Secondary curriculum. As school attendance is compulsory up to 15 years of age, it will be completed or not.
- Then comes the university. Thailand does not have any major world renowned universities. Children from the wealthiest families very often leave the country to continue their education.
The school year begins in May and ends in March. At the end of each year, from elementary school, children must take an exam which will determine whether they can pass to the following year or not.
Only 60% of the potential reached
The Thai education system is strongly criticized by the local population, but also at the international level. According to the World Bank, a child born today in this country will only reach 60% of its potential in terms of productivity of its education. Unequal access to quality education is also a major problem. In rural areas and in the poorest neighbour hoods of the big cities of the country, the insufficient size of the schools, the inadequate teaching materials, the lack of quality teachers or literally the lack of a place dedicated to education make that a large number of children, who should nevertheless be able to count on free education for 12 years, do not have the chance to access it. Nationally, this situation means that the average number of years spent by young Thai people is 8.6 years, much lower in disadvantaged sectors.
1 in 3 students are “functionally illiterate”, which means that they know the alphabet and can often recognize words and write them individually, but are unable to identify the information or the message in a text, to understand what he is reading. This situation is partly due to the culture of the country. Here, no place for the questioning of traditions or for questions outside the pre-determined framework. Thailand greatly values submission to the hierarchy, which makes it a culture of reproduction, not of analysis and questioning. The foreign teachers we spoke to all supported this point without exception, many telling us that they had to completely change their teaching style to meet the local model lamenting the fact that the Thai teaching model killed natural curiosity and the need for ‘learning from children, and prevented them from developing a critical thinking system. “I work with children who want to know exactly what they will be questioned about, and who have no interest in the rest. They strive to learn word for word what needs to be learned, without really understanding and assimilating the material. It will be quickly forgotten after the exam. ” Laments one of the teachers interviewed. ” *
These teachers are not the only ones to deplore and question the traditionalism of the Thai education system. The international community and even the Thai education minister himself sees it as an obstacle. This is because the education system here is based solely on formal teaching which requires children to learn the information given by heart. Students are expected to listen in silence and very, very little space is given to them. So much so that when foreign teachers try to make them question themselves, they find themselves in a wall of incomprehension. Here, it is simply unthinkable to question the words of a teacher or to question him. Even entrance exams to Thai universities follow this principle. They are based on multiple choice questionnaires in order to use mechanical memorization, not reflection and critical thinking.
Very unqualified and very conservative teachers
Year after year, mandate after mandate, the various ministers of education that the country has known in recent years have had to deal with a particularly conservative faculty opposed to any education reform, whatever she is. To this is added another major problem, a very large part of the teachers in Thai public schools are very poorly qualified. For example, a survey by the Ministry of Education showed that out of 40,000 English teachers assessed, only 6 of them spoke that language fluently. Same observation during math and science assessments. A very large majority of primary and secondary teachers failed the exams offered to them. The ministry has since attempted to improve the teacher training program to facilitate reform of the education system. In 2009, a project called Khru Pan Mai (new ” breed ” of teachers) was launched, the objective of which was to train 300,000 new, more qualified and versatile teachers. They were gradually to take the place of the retiring teachers, but the project did not go as planned. Several of these new gender teachers joined the ranks of private schools and few of them opted to go to work in disadvantaged areas. In addition, the conservatism of the environment in which those who live make their task very difficult.
Faced with this situation, private, international and alternative schools are emerging at breakneck speed, responding to an ever-increasing demand from parents. Between 2000 and 2010, the enrollment rate in the private sector increased from 10% to 20% and has been increasing ever since. Unfortunately, as they are often very expensive, they are reserved for families who have above average financial means, which contributes to widening social disparities. A problem which is not unrelated to a very large part of the developed countries … Next week, we will present one of these extraordinary schools to you. And part 3 of our dossier will focus on the positive role that it, and several of these schools have chosen to play in the education of the most disadvantaged children in the country. In week 4, we will be looking at a very inspiring kindergarten. See you next week.
* (To avoid putting their jobs at risk or putting them in an embarrassing situation, the teachers we spoke to asked to remain anonymous. We will respect their request)