The failing education system

A small piece of news that went viral last week concerned the shocking resignation of a young teacher teaching at a primary school in Nakhon Sawan province. Her reasons for leaving the career she had devoted her life to reflect not only the predicament faced by teachers in the state, but the fundamental problem of the deteriorating quality of Thai education.

The issue became controversial after the teacher, Kanokwan Boontansen, posted her resignation on Facebook last week, for which she gave two reasons.

The first was about too much paperwork she had to prepare. She said the paperwork wasted time and money and had nothing to do with teaching.

The second reason related to the online teaching adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms Kanokwan said she found online learning required the cooperation and preparation of students and parents, which was rarely achieved. She felt that she was unable to achieve her teaching goals and that it was not worth the taxpayers’ money.

The reasons for the resignation of the young teacher, although described by the Ministry of Education as a personal problem, reflect a chronic problem that undermines Thai educational standards. This is not the first time that state teachers have made their voices heard on these two issues.

This means that governments – past and present – have failed to recognize the problem. Over the past seven years, the government has barely scratched the surface of reform.

The proportion allocated to the country’s education budget is among the highest in the world. A significant portion of the budget has been allocated to promoting teacher welfare with the assumption and hope that good salaries and benefits will reward teachers and therefore improve education standards.

Unfortunately, this assumption failed. Thai teachers are among the biggest borrowers with accumulated debts of more than 1.4 trillion baht while the quality of education has barely improved based on several skills assessments and rankings of Thai students over the course of of recent years.

One of the hidden problems is that teachers have been demoralized by the patronage system in which their performance is assessed on the basis of the documents they submit rather than the academic skills of their students.

In order to be promoted, teachers usually have to show academic work to prove their abilities. And many teachers even hire other people to do this academic work for them.

In May, the Office of the Public Service and Educational Personnel Commission of teachers changed the procedure for evaluating teachers from a paper-based format to a so-called “digital performance appraisal”. The new digital platform aims to save teachers time by allowing them to submit their academic work and video clips online.

The effort is a good start. However, real education reform will be a pipe dream if teachers’ performance and promotions are not judged on the quality of their teaching skills and the training of their students. The current system is not designed to encourage teachers to care. Why should they care when promotion is based on academic work and not on their students?

Until the government takes seriously changing the teacher evaluation process to be student-centred, the quality of education in the country will never improve.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent the Bangkok Post’s thoughts on current issues and situations.

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