• Vicky Ongpipattanakul

Thailand Education Disparities, the Leading Issue of Unproductive Workforces and Can It Be Solved?

Image License: auksolution661454 - under CC license

It’s 2021 and we are all still stuck at home learning and gauging our eyes to focus on the content presented through a small squared screen. Isolated. Fatigued. And indeed unmotivated. However, “learning from home” - in my opinion - is not too bad as my school has provided the best care from teachers and faculties for both my mental health and academic performances possible. I’ve witnessed that a lot of students in my school (including myself) have taken this support and the access to actually learn and engage with their learning for granted. Imagine, the number of students in Thailand whose teachers are unmotivated to teach and leaving their students to learn the content themselves, having no access to zoom or online meeting platforms and being unmotivated to learn themselves.

In fact, economists have suggested that the pandemic will exacerbate wealth inequality as the rich will gain access to resources while the less fortunate will have it harder. However, looking into Thailand’s economy specifically, according to The World Bank, Thailand’s wealth inequality has been increasing since 2015 - that is way before the pandemic hit - which suggests that the pandemic is not the only cause of the economic disparity. One of the main reasons that The World Bank has claimed to be the cause of the economic disparity in Thailand is educational disparity. Thailand’s educational disparity has been dispersing wider and wider over the years. Considering the fact that 5% of Thailand’s GDP and 20% of Thailand’s fiscal budget in 2018 is spent on education. That is a significant amount of money invested into improving education. In 2019, Thailand’s learning is growing to 3.8 years behind the basic schooling expectations based on Thailand’s PISA scores. Thanks to the pandemic, online learning has caused a drop in academic efficiency as schools around Thailand have been impacted by the abrupt switch to online learning. It is more exhausting for a lot of students to concentrate and teachers may become less motivated as everyone’s school (or work) environment has been blended with their personal environment. This leads to the degradation of academic performances. However, some groups (the elites or students from a better socio-economic status) are able to maintain their performances as their parents could support them with extra tuition from tutors. So, what about the other students who do not have the financials to pay for tutors? The answer is they will lose some content along the way if they lose track of their learning or their teachers missed out on some content or could not support their learning - which does occur in most cases. In worse cases, some students in Thailand do not have access to Zoom or even the internet. Therefore, they will end up losing a whole year or a semester of content, depending on how long the lockdown will last. Due to all of these situations and causes, the gaps in academic performance widen.

Considering that Thailand’s government has invested a significant amount of fiscal budgets into education, a decline in the country’s average academic performance is quite concerning. This raises a question: What is really the problem of Thailand’s education disparity and how can it be resolved? There are several problems that cause this ongoing increase in academic inequality and inequity. To begin with (and let’s state the obvious), there has been a government failure in supporting the education system and industry. Here’s why. Firstly, the government’s spending tends to aim for a short term vision. Secondly, it supports the private benefit of an institute or an individual who is directly supported such as study abroad scholarships. Thirdly, they allocate most of the money on materials and tools instead of wages and teacher training.

Short-term Visions in Investing: The main problem of government failure in supporting education is that they have been allocating resources inefficiently. A lot of people may assume that corruption is part of the cause - and it really is - but the problem is more on their short term visions on how they want to develop the country. For instance, putting more investments into study abroad scholarships, which could benefit the country in the short run as it is only to put it into practice in the government’s office, which does not or barely benefit the Thai society.

Study Abroad Fundings: The government tends to allocate its financial resources towards study abroad scholarships. This usually benefits the individual who receives the scholarship and the industry they will be working in the future - or the government themselves. Oftentimes, scholar’s learning abilities they have gained from abroad are only put into practice in their occupation or forced into working for the government - possibly a job they do not enjoy - that could possibly demotivate them. As a result, productivity in Thailand could fall. In the long term, Thailand’s society would not benefit from those fundings as the skills and knowledge scholars received from abroad are not transferred to other citizens. Keeping on funding for scholars is still a good idea. But how about giving them more autonomy to pursue the occupation of interest as they have the experiences and skills to do so? Also, it is recommended that the government should change the contract for scholars from working for them after graduation to taking some time from their main jobs to give lectures and teach other students in educational institutes or give them a higher wage to attract them in becoming a university professor. This will help motivate them to do their jobs more productively as well as spreading their knowledge and experiences to more people to educate themselves. The spread of experiences will allow more people to learn new theories and practices that developed countries have structured in their education curriculum or study syllabus. This will allow to build a stronger basis for the new generations of labour workforce in Thailand to move forward and improve Thailand’s economy.

Learning Tool Investments: Investing in advanced learning tools that the education faculties are yet to be keen with using can be a problem. It seems critical to pick out this point. But, if the government invests more into developing and motivating educators instead of materials, it could make a huge difference in the education standards. When the government puts too much interest in improving learning materials but ignoring the quality of educators, there is no point investing in learning materials since educators’ ability is not capable of understanding or using the material. This makes education more inefficient. In order to resolve this problem, it would be great if the government began to invest in teacher training or increasing wages for teachers to motivate quality teachers to help nurture better generations or employees. In the long term, it will enhance the quality of education for more schools around Thailand, reducing the disparity as the country has more qualified educators.

However, the issue is not entirely caused by the government but also the education system and the corruption within. The reason why it is a problem is that within the Thai education system there is disparity within the system itself. There are several factors that cause disparity in the system. The first cause is the inequality in the educator’s use and communication of information. For instance, the educators do not teach the whole content to the students but will offer tuition with test questions giveaway for extra profits. In this case, educators would need to be more transparent and make use of the study resources in educating the students with fullest capacity. By adhering to this transparent practice within the school this will allow all the student body in the school to have equal access to basic information. Hence, it will allow students to perform with their fullest and academically compete fair and square. More importantly, the curriculum is fully mandated by the school’s director and the education ministry. The fixed education system can be good in a way that it keeps a standard. Nonetheless, lack of autonomy for teachers and students in teaching and learning will demotivate them in being eager to inquire or learn new things on their own. When teachers are unmotivated to teach, students will reciprocate that level of interest into their learning which is troubling. In improving the quality of education in the Thai society, giving more autonomy for teachers to teach their own style but with some initial guidance or sets of requirements. This will allow the classroom environment to be more engaging for students and teachers.

On top of these occurring factors, the global pandemic has increased education disparity in Thailand, since internet and online applications are surprisingly limited even when it seems like it is on the tips of our fingers. Because on-campus learning is currently prohibited, a lot of urban schools have facilitated online platforms such as zoom to resume student’s learning. However, some schools in the urban areas do not have the finances to facilitate online learning and so do many more schools in remote areas. A lot of students in Thailand have been learning asynchronously (or technically self studying or not learning at all) for the second year in this time round. This will make them fall further behind in academics and weaken their fundamental knowledge in pursuing higher education and professions in the long term. As concerning as it sounds, in the perspective of a computer science student, the internet gives us the luxury and convenience to learn more (if you’re eager to search things up the web yourself) as everything is just within a click and a search. Nonetheless, if there is no access to the internet it will be a great disadvantage. Considering the fact that the majority of the Thai population do not have this privilege, it widens the gap between the minorities and the majorities of the population. To reduce the gaps, it would be best if the government and large companies subsidize and invest in free internet services and improving infrastructure by placing more internet LAN lines. Thus, increasing more access to the internet so more people could resume to learning with less obstacles impacted by the lockdown.

As Malala once said, “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world”, reducing income inequality, improving quality and equality of education in Thailand would be the first step in achieving this. There are several ways to approach this, but the most urgent thing is to have the government, company investors and more privileged people to help fund the internet for people that they do not have access to; thus, increasing internet access to prevent the students in Thailand from falling further behind in academics. While looking into the far off future, Thailand’s economy will benefit from the improvement of education systems such as giving more autonomy to teachers and students in order to be more engaged with their learning and improving transparency and communication of crucial information. Also, the government could allocate the resources more efficiently by investing in teacher training or providing scholarships with a small trade in favor to help educate the society. This will help stimulate a more productive economy for Thailand which will help the economy to grow.

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