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Tinkering around the edges of a core problem: lack of quality teachers
Let's hope that this time the strategy will present clear-cut and tangible goals with all authorities genuinely committed to sticking to the plan, no matter how political tides will change.
Consistency in the country's long-term educational goal is extremely important. Without it, new problems will arise before old ones can be solved.
When teachers became the focus of educational reform during the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, the authorities vowed to produce 300,000 "new-breed" teachers to replace those who would be quitting the profession. The number is based on the fact most teachers have to retire at the age of 60.
Their plan was to create a really new breed of teachers - with high qualifications, solid knowledge and versatility. The move was modelled on Finland where teachers are well respected and well paid, and students' academic performances have been impressive.
The Abhisit government had an ambitious goal of raising the teaching profession to the same level as the medical profession, both on the basis of pay levels and of social respect.
In response to that policy, the courses that produce teachers have been adjusted from a four-year syllabus to five-year syllabus. Higher-educational institutes that offered teaching degrees have recruited more students for the field. Clearly, a higher number of Mathayom 6 graduates have an interest in becoming teachers too. They are attracted to the idea of going into the well-paid and well-respected profession.
Presently, the number of teacher-aspirants at higher-educational institutes has soared to 150,000. In the 2013 academic year, these institutes plan to enrol at least 50,000 more students for teaching too.
But a new problem appears to have arisen. Soon, the country will have an oversupply of teachers. Each year, schools recruit thousands of new teachers.
Last year, Rajabhat institutes and universities held entrance exams to fill the vacancies of teaching assistants. While there were only 1,500 positions available, more than 100,000 people applied.
The exams also exposed the quality problem in the teaching profession. Of the more than 100,000 applicants, just 3,000 were qualified.
Clearly, problems relating to teachers now exist both in terms of quality and quantity.
Let's ponder what the current administration has done to date for education.
The government, now led by the Pheu Thai Party and Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, has changed its education minister several times. Each time a new education minister takes office, he (or she) comes with new policies and a new focus.
As political-office holders shape the policies, permanent officials in the educational field cannot do much except to follow the policies that come their way.
When the newly-appointed Education Minister Pongthep Thepkanjana approved the plan to develop Thailand's educational blueprint, the Office of the Education Council immediately responded. Now observers are watching the development with concern as to whether the blueprint can really bring better changes.
Pongthep has, after all, introduced a policy to improve the 2008 version of the school curriculum. In response to this policy, the Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) vowed to revise it before the start of the 2013 academic year. This meant the revision must be done within a few months. Also in response to this policy, Obec suggested that teachers reduce the amount of homework for their students.
The homework issue has generated a heated debate. Will reduced homework really mean children spending more time learning outside the classroom? Or will they simply be enticed to useless or even harmful activities? Has research been done to back up the revision?
The curriculum is an integral part of schooling. It is no less important than the quality of teachers. If the country really wants to improve its educational services, it will have to carefully and holistically implement educational reform.
A touch here and there, without tackling the core substance in the well-planned manner, will not lead the country's educational sector anywhere. Even the blueprint won't do any good.
Source: THE NATION February 11, 2013
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