Thai school struggling with the pandemic
by Weena Kowitwanij

On 27 May, Thailand’s Parliament will make new decisions about schooling during the coronavirus epidemic. At present, the first semester of the school year is set to start on 1 July until late November. The Education Ministry’s e-learning is not very popular with students.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand’s parliament is set to make new decisions about the country’s schools next Wednesday amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. The first semester of the new school year will start on 1 July until late November.

In classrooms, students will have to sit about a metre apart. In cafeteria and playgrounds, no more than six people can sit together.

Thai Catholics can watch Mass online and receive spiritual communion, especially seniors and the sick. Priests make house calls. In some Bangkok churches, worshippers can register online to attend Mass.

Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan said that "first of all we must understand that classes are not possible, except in schools that are virus-free. Hence, we set up e-learning for those who want to learn and have the right equipment such as telephone, internet or television etc.

“At the beginning of the semester, all students will have to come to school together and follow comprehensive lessons. E-learning provided now is only a test, so parents and students don't have to worry.”

“For schools in safe areas, students will go to school and study as usual. In unsafe areas, e-learning at various levels will be provided at different times depending on the timetable suitable for teachers and students. Students should stop other unnecessary activities and study major sujbects like science, history, Thai and English languages, etc.”

About 58 per cent of teachers who do not use the Internet are ready for online teaching; the rest are not ready and need more time to prepare.

Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Prasert Boonrueng said that "only 43 per cent of students have Internet at home, most of the remaining 57 per cent do not have the necessary equipment for e-learning. Unfortunately, most of their families are farmers who work all day and leave their children at home alone.”

“During the more than two months of school closure, social inequality was an issue even in central Bangkok, especially in places like Klongtoey where there are no roads. Students must go to school by boat.”

A local primary school student said: “At home I only have an old television and an outdated cell phone without Internet, since the lowest fee is 500 baht (US) per month. My parents are sellers in the Klongtoey market; they tell me that e-learning is something trendy and only for the rich, impossible for underprivileged people like us.”

Social Development and Human Security Minister Chuti Krairiksh and his teams have been visiting families in Angthong province to explain to parents that teachers will go back to teach in classrooms when schools reopen after the pandemic. E-learning is only for the pandemic period.

First year high school student Absorn said that she does not “like e-learning at home, it's boring. At school we can meet and play with our classmates."

Ms Jurairatna, mother of three, notes that “In my community most parents are not wealthy and can hardly provide modern equipment to their children. Policy-makers sit in their offices and do not know the students' means.”

For an English teacher at the Khemapirataram Government School in Hua-Hin, Prachuabkirikhan province, “students who have no access to the Internet at home don’t have to worry. There is no need to get Internet at home or buy a TV or a computer. They can spend their time helping their parents with household chores and read textbooks. At the beginning of the school semester each student will follow the curriculum of their grade.”

Poor parents near the Klongtoey market said that "we are unable to buy technical equipment for our children. We are only sellers, daily labourers.”

A student at the Angthong Prathom Roj Wittaya school in Angthong province, 108 kilometres from Bangkok, said that “e-learning on mobile phones is boring and sometimes concentration doesn't last long enough.”

Benjawan Buahian, an English teacher at Hatyai Wittayalai school, said that "it is the duty of teachers to prepare their lessons. At the same time, they will have to learn to use online media.”

Sorayuth Tharn-nate teaches mathematics. In his view, “preparing for e-learning does not mean increasing the burden on teachers since it is the duty of good teachers to do so.”