Education Minister Jurin Laksanawisit seemed to pass the test in his first year's performance. Education experts gave him a good rating but noted that he could have done better. They said that although the 15-year free schooling system was implemented, real educational reform has not started yet, as the development of teachers is still a fundamental problem
Some commentators say that the free schooling system may not mean much to children, especially those in rural areas where education services are not up to city standards. The extra-curricular tutor channel reflects the fact that additional lessons are needed because students aren't taught well in general classrooms. But the tutoring channel far from fully addresses the problem of low standards of education.
Thai students are taught to remember textbooks verbatim, without much analytical input. Thais read less than students in other countries, and they are not required to read good books such as literary classics, which should provide them with a good foundation for reading and writing.
Tutoring courses offer quick tips for students to pass tests, most of which are multiple choice. Thai students are rarely required to write essays. This is despite the fact that writing helps students to organise their thoughts, and essay writing is essential for students to excel in higher education.
Focusing on the quality of teachers has proved to be an effective method to kick-start educational reform elsewhere. For instance, in the US, the "Teach for America" programme provides an opportunity for new graduates from top US colleges to teach public school students for at least a few years. This has been successful in improving teaching quality, as dynamic teachers enter the public school system with a fresh attitude.
The salaries of Thai teachers are so miserably low that many have to find sideline jobs to survive, instead of focusing their energy on teaching their students well.
Aside from parents, teachers are the most important mentors in shaping the next generation of Thais, but the payment they receive is so low that it fails to attract quality graduate students to the profession. It's no surprise that teachers dedicated their energy to their privately paid tutoring classes after school hours.
Jurin has said many times he wants to reform the education system by, for instance, turning Thailand into an international education centre by setting up study centres in colleges. Ideas like this are admirable, but the focus on educational reform has so far been on the physical side of colleges. But reform will only produce results when it focuses on the students' enthusiasm to study.
The Education Ministry plans to launch tutor channels with exceptional teachers to reach out to more students. But the tutor channel does not address the requirements of young students who need classroom contact with teachers so they can interact and seek guidance. The presence of good teachers is also essential in instilling moral values in students, as well as the benefits of learning.
The ministry must also try to reduce class sizes in our schools. The average size of classes in Thai schools is 50 students. Under such circumstances, teachers cannot possibly give proper attention to all students. Smaller classes would bring more energy to the learning environment and encourage the active participation of students, as opposed to being left out in the slow pace of learning in big classrooms.
Thai kids are entitled to good and equitable education, but it will be a huge challenge for the government to accomplish this goal. The New Year marks a symbolic start of a brighter future. Let the efforts start in schools, as our children deserve much better than what they have now.