Chances are that if you have lived in the wonderful Kingdom of Thailand long enough, there are few things you’ve been unable to escape: the awkward and sometimes embarrassing moments of learning a new language, the hiked farang prices you are less willing to pay each day, and the inescapable Thai education system. This Thai horse has been beaten down so many times—and for all we know is already six feet under or floating off the coast of Koh Tao somewhere—it still gets brought up and I have decided to bring it up once again after the Prime Minister addressed it somewhat differently last week. And what better time to do so than… you guessed it: Back to School Month!!
Students and teachers alike have been back in school for half a month at this point. Man, how time flies! And just like in those first weeks back, I am not going to throw new material in your face and expect regurgitation upon filtering and reading. Instead, I am going to assume (yes, how bold), that if you are interested in this matter that you already have some knowledge of the Thai education system: how levels are broken up, what a typical or atypical day might look like, the grading system etc. If you are unaware of these, have a quick read on it here (or the next handy chart you come across). With that out of the way, let’s have a look at exactly what was recently said about the education system in the Kingdom.
To start off, the grounds of measuring the students’ academic success were directly lifted from the most recent results of the National Institute of Educational Testing Services (or NIETS), which were finalized this past February, which 179,978 students took (if only for the means of furthering their education at university). Out of 9 core subjects, the highest marks were awarded in that of the Thai language studies which averaged 56 points out of 100; the remaining subjects were all averaged below. In addition to NIETS, more proof came to in the rankings of Thailand and ASEAN countries (*******), as well as the rankings of OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa)—ranking Thailand 50th out 65 other nations—but again, this is hardly news.
These scores have been dropping for decades, but I didn’t realize what this would look like until I got into a classroom. To actually see this IN the classroom is a completely different story. I will stop myself right here: though I might not be new to this great Kingdom I AM new to this institution, this monster of a machine if you’d readily believe whatever you find on the interwebs (and yes, Thailand’s history precedes her to people that really have NO idea). There are great scholars out there that have great insight and way more knowledge when it comes to understanding the Thai culture and government (or lack there of currently) when they mix with Education in the Kingdom so I will leave it to them—(Second homework assignment: check out one of my favorite articles on this exact subject HERE). I am learning daily about this machine and what I see with my own eyes. Disclaimer: rant over.
So, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has come out and addressed these numbers and rankings and is calling for a change. While the education reform has been underway now for a year, we can expect more changes to continue. Recently, General Prayut has said many things concerning the level of education in the Thailand. He says that we need more “out of the box” thinkers to educate the leaders of tomorrow to problem solve with logic and critical thinking. He is asking for more time out of the classrooms and less subjects that seem to spread students so thinly year after year, which will be coming soon to government schools near YOU!! He points his finger at the Ministry of Education, school administrations and teachers across the board to shape up or ship out. And at one point, General Prayut acknowledges the enormity of an educational reform when the education problems are just as high—he doesn’t know exactly how to fix the problem himself—which I can’t blame him, there is no simple overnight solution.
Though I’m still learning more and more on how the education is handled from higher on up, I do mostly agree with teachers being held more accountable. In a recent article from Ajarn.com, check it out here, Mark Newman goes through the ins and outs of what it is like to be teaching in the Kingdom, “surviving the madness”. It is nearly spot on in all categories, my favorite being the part where the teachers gripe and complain about this or that, ranging from the government to the students (the list is nearly endless). Life is not fair or easy, and I’m beginning to see this directly in the classroom, but as educators we not only clock in every morning for a paycheck, but should also strive for those moments when you can see the ‘wheels turning’ behind their eyes right in front of yours.
I stumbled across an interesting section on the Thai government’s website, where the weekly speeches of the Prime Minister are laid out for the world to see; scripted or not they are pretty interesting to read. What caught my eye on his recent 13 May 2016 speech was his expression of tiredness of continually dealing with the same issues (blanket statement for many ongoing issues, we can be sure of). The Prime Minister says, “I’d like to tell people what they should do in order to make me talk less. I always talk too much and I get tired. The people listening in turn get bored. But I persist. I have to say the same things over and over again because the issues still remain. They keep coming back again. Things are still distorted. If you want me to talk less, […] then help me. Help me do my job so I don’t have to talk so much. I do it to explain what the people need to understand. I have to talk, so help me out here.”
Oh, how I feel for the guy! I couldn’t imagine the burden! Before us is a huge task. I would love to see Thailand change for the better. Prime Minister, I will help so save your voice!