Thailand’s education system. Status: F*cked up

There’s a stellar article on reuters titled Analysis: As Thais vote, a struggle with education.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wants to pour 371.5 billion baht ($12 billion) into a six year education reform plan. Now, we’re not going to speculate how much of that would be siphoned into pockets of government employees. But instead we look at what Thitinan Pongsudhirak says:

“The mindset is from the nation-building and Cold War period to produce obedient and nationalistic citizens, which does not fit the 21st-century needs. It is hierarchical, top-down, with a systematic lack of critical thinking.”

Historian Charnvit Kasetsiri made a similar statement:

“If you look at history textbooks, it’s littered with myths about ancient warriors and old-time enmities with neighboring countries. It’s still driven by nationalism without a global perspective on how Thailand fits into the world.”

Apart of that, nearly half of these 371.5 billion baht would be channeled into “developing a new breed of teachers” – but it seems the ministry in charge of this task has no more concrete ideas other than calling it “new and improved”.

Other points that are made in the article:

  • if employers are looking for highly skilled English speaking workers, it’s easier to find them in other Southeast Asian countries.
  • manufacturing jobs will be moved to other countries with lower labor costs, see average labor costs:
    • China $303
    • Thailand $263
    • Philippines $212
    • Indonisia $182
    • Vietnam $107
    • Cambodia $101
  • there’s a large difference in teaching quality between Bangkok and rural schools
  • the national school curriculum conveys a Bangkok-centric image of the nation and fails to acknowledge the diversity of this country
  • common complaint about Thailand’s education system: how teachers are trained & what is taught.
  • Thailand is spending around 20% of it’s annual budget on education – that’s a lot compared with most other countries (and again makes the point: the problem isn’t that there’s not enough money, the problem is what’s done with the money). Compare money spent on education in 2009:
    • Thailand: 4% of GDP
    • Singapore: 3.1% of GDP
    • but: Singapore ranks 13th in education performance, Thailand 47th (Swiss-based Institute of Management Development rating)
  • just 18% of students finish college in Thailand
  • low quality universities: Chulalongkorn University (Thailand`s most prestigous) ranks 180 in 2010 world ranking of universities
  • weak English language skills. IMD ranking: second lowest in Asia.
  • analysists say major bottlenecks are: bureaucratic inertia, deficit of ideas on how to improve curriculum & poor teacher recruitment & training
  • incentives for teachers are set up wrong: encourage administrative duties rather than student performance.

Higher Education in Thailand

Total enrollments in higher education of college-aged population:

  • early 1990s: 19%
  • 2007: 50%

Numbers of colleges and universities in Thailand

  • 1967: 5
  • 2008: 166

Number of enrollments at Ramkhamhaeng University, Bangkok: 300,000 students (tuition cost per term: around $30).