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Reflections over the Holiday Period

During the summer break, it is a good time to reflect on what has been happening in the Thailand education scene by looking at what the newspapers have been saying.


In my opinion, by far the most outstanding piece of journalism over the holiday was from Kong Rithdee, who normally writes about movies and popular culture in the Bangkok Post.


Don’t take my word for it, have a look at the government website:
as the Ministry of Education also thought it was newsworthy.


Amongst the subjects covered in this commentary was the modernisation of the National Library and libraries in general, free education, students dropping out of school, fake books and probably the most repeated cynical remark concerning education and politics I have ever heard.


The idea that libraries are places for people to read and not to sleep was only briefly touched upon; however, updating provincial libraries would enable those in the outlying areas to obtain information and varying forms of education that only those in Bangkok and similar cities are used to.


It is pleasing to hear that the cabinet has asked the ministry to ensure that additional money from parents will no longer be sought. I agree with Khun Rithdee when he points out that free education is one thing and quality schooling is another. The quality of the education that is provided needs to be improved if we are to advance the potential of our children.


Khun Rithdee states that nearly 120,000 students dropped out of school in 2007. Alarmingly the most common reason was for poverty. I know for a fact that in Lamphun district, it costs 2,000 baht a year to put a Prathom or Mathayom student through school. This shows how poor some families are in Thailand and should be a wake up call for those in a position to affect change.


An estimated 300 million baht was lost to legal producers of educational textbooks this academic year and Khun Rithdee highlighted the fact that 53,000 copies of fake and outdated elementary textbooks were seized when economic crime police swooped on bookstores in the north east.


Quite rightly, he focused not on the monetary concerns, but the depressing thought that criminals will seek so low as to make money out of lowering the quality of the educational material of school students. The responsible citizens of tomorrow are having their education sabotaged by the irresponsible criminals of today in pursuit of an illegal profit.


I for one find the whole thing deplorable and wonder if these individuals and the organisations they work for have any honour, integrity or respect for Thailand or for themselves. The education textbooks used today need improving and don’t need to be tampered with, so the use of substandard and old versions only adds to our educational woes.


By far the best of Khun Rithdee’s comments was reserved for last, when he alluded to a “cynical remark” which I have heard going around for at least the last six years, though I am sure it has been around longer. To paraphrase the remark; those in power would not want to improve the quality of education, for if they did, they would not be elected again.


To quote Khun Rithdee, “Such comment is bleak, misanthropic, atrocious; its hinting that politicians are trying to enslave the next generation, to keep them in the fog of idiocy, to make them pawns in conspiracy. But can we really deny that sometimes-just sometimes-we let ourselves believe that the accusation might have an inkling of truth?”


In my opinion, every time I hear this remark it really depresses me. More and more I find myself asking why, when we all agree that there are severe problems with our education system in Thailand, do we do nothing about it. We have learned new methodologies and systems from other countries, we know what is wrong, but we do nothing.


After every conference I attend in Thailand, all attendees, including those from the government, seem revigourated and ready to effect change before they lapse into a coma after about a month until the next year’s round of conferences begin.


For something to happen, it will take immense courage and strong leadership. This task can only be completed by Thais who are willing to seek the initiative and adapt to change for the benefit of Thai society and the children who are to be the electorate of tomorrow.

Vendor in Udon Thani

Udon Thani vendor Kattaleeya Tippimanchai responsibly dispensing genuine reading material.

(Unedited article published in The Bangkok Post, 10th June 2008)

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