We are facing an education crisis
July 27, 2001
Thipphayavadi Pramoj, the editor of Dichan magazine,
wrote in her latest column about a nine year old girl who had been traumatised
by the education system. As soon as she returned to school, she had to
start doing homework again until late at night, without any time for recreation
or other activities. She began to rebel against her books, and learning
itself, until her parents decided to put her in an international school.
It is not known how the girl is now reacting to the new school environment,
but surely she must be a thousand times happier. Thipphayavadi concluded
that if nothing is done with the Thai education system, more welltodo
families will send their kids to international schools, and they will
grow up speaking English and unable to communicate properly in Thai. Poorer
families have no choice but to send their children through the system,
condemning them grow up without any love for reading or learning.
The girl’s story reflects a growing frustration among Thai parents with
the school system, which subjects students to gruelling exercises until
they have no time to think or to enjoy learning by themselves. Even Abhisit
Vejjajiva, the deputy leader of the Democrat Party, complained recently
that kids are bombarded with homework they can never finish. “I have met
people in the school system and asked them why they give students too
much homework. They were quite surprised to hear that,” he said. “In fact,
students should be taught how to think.”
The crisis in the education system goes deeper than most people think.
Although the education reform law has been passed, it has yet to be put
into practice. The law places students at the centre of the universe.
The teachers, the budget, the buildings and all other education materials
must be worked out to support students’ ability to learn.
“If you want to reform the education system, you have to first reform
the teachers. They have been teaching their own method for, say, 20 years.
How are you going to change them? Or are they willing to change? We now
have more than 600,000 teachers nationwide. It’s a difficult thing to
do, but if you don’t do it, don’t blame anybody but yourselves if we become
slaves of other nations,” says Amaret Silaon, the former chairman of the
Stock Exchange of Thailand.
Amaret is now chairman of a panel entrusted to evaluate the education
standards of schools, colleges and universities nationwide. The evaluation
will determine whether the schools, colleges or universities pass or fail
the minimum standard. Amaret will have to find out what the standard is.
If homework is the Thai students’ No 1 enemy, somebody must do something
about it before it kills our children’s imagination and curiosity. Since
discussion, analysis and debate are not part of the learning process in
the early years, it is natural that the teachers will go for quantity,
gained by memorising, rather than for quality, achieved by analytical
thinking. Apparently, most Thai teachers can’t think analytically themselves,
so how can they teach their students to think analytically?
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is also education minister, should
issue an executive decree now to prohibit teachers from mentally torturing
their students by assigning them crazy amounts of homework. Violation
of this executive decree should be punishable by law.
Another story of what has gone wrong with the Thai education system involves
a Suankulap High School student. He is quite brilliant in science and
mathematics. He won a scholarship from a science agency to study physics
from a bachelor’s degree to a PhD. He also won a Bank of Thailand scholarship
to study economics. But the Bank of Thailand scholarship would only allow
him to complete his bachelor’s degree.
He decided – guess what? – to take the Bank of Thailand scholarship, knowing
that he would be working for a prestigious institution once he completed
his studies. He was not quite sure what he could do with a PhD in physics
because the fate of Thai scientists in general is predictable: they mostly
end up in poorly funded labs and in depressing environments.
If Thailand fails to nurture science and technology, it will never keep
its competitiveness as a nation. Survey after survey has ranked the country’s
science and technology at the bottom of the pile. We are facing a crisis
in education of a bigger scale than most people imagine. But it appears
we are adopting the attitude of “let tomorrow take care of itself”. It
should not be that way.