For decades Thailand had been fidgeting with the "pressing" need to revamp its educational system, which had been bogged down by corruption-prone, inefficient bureaucracy. The country had its chance with the promulgation of the 1997 Constitution and the National Education Act in 1999, which together provided a roadmap for drastic education reform. The National Education Act has four main objectives: First, to enhance learners' quality of life by enabling them to pursue lifelong learning, and to develop their analytical and critical thinking as well as practical work. Second, to improve the structure and method of educational administration along with management of resources to better serve people in local communities. Third, to improve the system for teacher training and improve teaching standards. Fourth, to standardise and improve the quality of education through rigorous evaluation and monitoring.
The reason education reform was enshrined in the 1997 Constitution, abrogated after the coup to oust the Thaksin government in September 2006, was to ensure that the process would be irreversible. But Thai society has learned a valuable lesson that while education reform may be irreversible, this doesn't mean it can't be frustrated, watered down or stopped in its tracks. As expected, the draft constitution recently passed by the National Legislative Assembly also contains sections that are designed to ensure that education reforms will move forward.
Wijit was right when he said the constitution and the National Education Act could only do so much to ensure that. Regardless of what parties gain political power to run the country, they will be required to carry on with education reform. The problem lies with the quality of our leaders. Successive governments, including the current interim government, of which Wijit is a member, have demonstrated a lack of decisive leadership and political will to take action to achieve the ambitious goals. That is because, by necessity, education reform is supposed to be disruptive - because it requires all education administrators and teachers to change their behaviour and mindset.
Disappointingly, previous governments and the current one allowed opportunities to overhaul our outdated education system slip by. They tended to baulk at the slightest resistance put up by administrators and teachers, who struggled hard to maintain the status quo.
The problem with Thai society is that there is no lack of good people coming up with ideas on what to do for the good of the country, but when it comes to implementation of good policies, the dearth of quality leaders becomes clear. Perhaps this has something to do with Thailand's very own Buddhist concept of leadership. Even good people with serious intent and a genuine love for the country are reluctant to implement perfectly good policies that will cause some people pain in order to make them change. In this case, it is people in the teaching profession. Apparently even good people are too afraid of being criticised for the wrong reasons to implement policies that are good for the country. That explains why it always takes so long to effect necessary changes to rid itself of all forms of corruption and inefficiency. It also explains why Thailand will always have politicians like Wijit and PM Surayud, who are so enamoured with their own reputation as persons of integrity and compassion - the archetype of ideal leaders - to do as little as possible to avoid causing necessary pain that would otherwise advance the cause for reform.
But in the end, members of the Thai public only have themselves to blame for not putting pressure to bear on their leaders to do what needs to be done.