03/03/2016, 14.54
THAILAND
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Thailand leads the world in education spending, but with little results; some solutions exist

For Supachai Panitchpakdi, a former director general of the World Trade Organisation, Thailand’s education system is a “total failure”. Church-run “schools provide dignity to individual students, developing their critical faculties,” says Catholic source. “It is not enough to teach lessons; what is needed is a well-rounded education."

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand is second to none in terms of education spending (4 per cent of GDP, 20 per cent of the government budget) but ranks at the bottom for quality of education, this according to Supachai Panitchpakdi, a former World Trade Organisation director general.

Speaking at a seminar entitled ‘A University for the 21st Century’, he described Thailand’s education system as a “failure”, unable to manage large budgets and compete internationally. In view of this, AsiaNews talked to a Catholic source involved in education to comment the situation.

"The causes of this failure are widespread,” the source said. “They are related to the government and families. On the one hand, young people are increasingly unable to focus on their studies, distracted by technology and thousands of news items that are quickly forgotten.” On the other, “schools organise too many activities that are not directly related to learning.”

Overall though, “It is hard to find one single reason. There are a number of factors that suggest that increased spending will not translated in better results.”

Another major aspect of the situation "is the enormous gap between Bangkok and rural areas,” the source explained. “Rural schools are far below the national average.”

Yet, “Thailand has made some progress in education. There are many more schools in every region. Even in the smallest villages, there is at least a primary school. However, quality remains low."

To illustrate how much Thailand’s school system is in trouble, the source cited a recent poll, according to which "out of eight subjects, students get a passing mark only in the Thai language. In all other areas they fail to meet international standards."

"In Thailand, nothing indicates that public schools are better than private schools,” the source said. “Some Catholic schools, run by nuns and dioceses, receive state funding on a per pupil basis.”

At the same time, they have good standing. “For example, schools run by the Brothers of St Gabriel have a good reputation and good, high quality facilities."

Against the backdrop of the education emergency, the Church can make a contribution. It does so by "considering people as people.”

In many schools, “children are often placed in huge classes; all dressed the same way under strict discipline. In Catholic schools, the focus is on the individual and on stimulating pupils’ critical thinking skills, their capacity to reason. Even Thais acknowledge that their education is one-way, just to learn the lesson and that’s it."

For Catholic institutions, the biggest challenge "is to combine high quality education with concern for the downtrodden,” the source said.

“On the one hand, we need super-modern facilities to attract students; on the other, wealthy families do not take kindly to the presence of too many tribal or poor students.”

“The government also wants schools follow directives that are not always acceptable. The Church has tried to remedy the situation by funding projects in some educational facilities that cater to poor and sick people with the revenues from its schools."

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