As Thailand and the other countries in the region head into a new era of globalisation amid the formation of the Asean Economic Community in 2015, some key elements of society in the region need an urgent overhaul, most notably the educational system.
Countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are among those that could be considered in dire straits as their educational systems are outdated and need to catch up with the rest of the world.
Taking the example of Thailand, I can assert from first-hand experience that the school system here needs major surgery.
Start with the rote-learning system that encourages cramming, outdated textbooks and lack of basic knowledge among teachers. Add an insular, self-centred notion of history and, most of all, an almost total lack of questioning of events and issues, and the result is an education system that’s not going to lead the country anywhere too far in the future.
Worse, students are forced to make a decision about which path in life they want to pursue when they are barely 15 years of age, and options are limited if it turns out that the field they chose is not what they wanted. The one-size-fits-all system just does not work.
What works for one student may not always work for another. And we should not be creating a curriculum that is “good enough” and have the students who are most likely to share the same career goals sitting together in a single classroom studying the same things all day long. Each young person deserves a chance to explore the “right” fit to his or her particular needs.
Thai students when they graduate are barely equipped for work in their own country, never mind the wider world. We’ve been hearing this sad song for years and probably will continue hearing it for years to come, but the common language of Asean is English and in this area Thai skills are near the bottom of the heap.
If it’s any consolation, English skills are also poor in Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, but these countries could well overtake Thailand in language skills before long because their workforces are seen as being more motivated.
Thailand’s latest attempt to drag its education system into the 21st century has been the One Tablet per Child programme, and it’s an excellent idea in theory. In practice, however, how many students can actually tap the vast amount of information that is available on the Web, as their lack of knowledge of English would limit their scope?
All this has pushed many parents to work their heads off in order to find extra funds to ensure their children can have an international-level education in an international school. But the cost of tuition is way too high for the majority.
The severe shortcomings of the public education system (and not a few private schools as well) are great news for one business and that is Thailand’s thriving cram-school industry. But if parents are already paying taxes and fees to support schools, why do so many still have to shell out even more for private tuition – and leave their children without any free time to just be kids?
So what are the options for a parent with limited resources? There’s not much hope left, but it really is time for people to pay serious attention and come up with solid solutions.
Having studied in both Thai schools and in a typical American high school in United States, the main differences I recognised are that the compulsory education system in Thailand does not allow each student to freely customise his or her own subjects of interest, and there are fewer elective units.
Rather than standardise just a few curriculum paths for students and force them to study some things they might not be interested in, focusing on the essential content that matches the skills of individual talents will eliminate time-wasting activities and allow more effective learning. Productivity would result as individual talent is being employed more efficiently.
Many students in Thailand have been told that they were taught to be parrots, repeating whatever a teacher or authority figure says, but understanding what they are learning and then using what they learn in a real situation is still a dream.
Thai children are not taught to be inquisitive and question the information they are given. They dislike confrontation and avoid debating.
Discussion, debate and interactive activities must be promoted to the system; students should learn to express what they think and construct their own judgements.
There are many changes we can make to uplift the education system if those in power stop being so ignorant, admit the failure of the old ways and allocate sufficient qualified people to address this serious issue.