By now, many Thais would have gone to place their ballot votes at the polls for what is Thailand's most fiercely contested national election ever. While a lot of attention of the media, in the aftermath of the election, will focused on how much backlash in the form of violence will occur in the streets of Bangkok and whether the Thai military will make a coup or otherwise, the future of this country will also be hanged upon its ability to develop its educational system.
Thailand's low academic standards has long been an impediment to the country's development of its human resources. A ranking done last year by the International Institute for Management Development placed Thailand 47 out of 58 countries in educational performance. Thailand also has a low mark in English proficiency; it ranks 54th, far behind neighbors Singapore and Malaysia.
For years, past government cabinets have attempted or appear to try and rectify this problem, but never got to the core of the issue. What has cease Thailand's progress in education is not necessary the lack of investment, but the failure of the leaders in providing a curriculum that promotes high standards.
Past leaders have failed to staple a curriculum that encourages critical thinking in the classrooms as well as broadening education access and quality to areas outside of the Bangkok metropolitan area. Most Thai schools still based their teaching on rote learning. Political scientist, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, said in an interview with Reuters that the lack of critical thinking in Thai academics comes from the mindset in "Nation-building and Cold War period that produces obedient and nationalistic citizens, which does not fit the 21st-Century needs". The fact that most of the well renowned schools are centered in Bangkok only hampers the opportunities of most Thai students in getting access to quality education.
In a world where countries are increasingly competitive in today's global economy, it is imperative for Thailand to provide the necessary education and skills to its people in diverse fields. Despite Thailand being the number two economical hub in the Southeast Asian region, its economy still heavily relies on foreign direct investment in basic manufacturing and tourism. Without improving its human resources and venturing out economical development to other fields, Thailand will sure lose ground to other countries.
A greater emphasis on critical thinking and education outside of Bangkok will also bridge the political and socioeconomic division between those from Bangkok and the urban area and those from the rural area. Instead of resorting to vitriolic statements and physical harm, Thais can have more of a temperament to respect each other's opinions and providing their point-of-view with in-depth arguments without the urge of calling names.
Sadly, the education platform of the two major political parties, Democrat and Puea Thai, reflects on what others have previously done, focusing on the non-essential issues. The incumbent Democrat party wants to increase funding on educational loans and teachers' salary and reform the country's education curriculum, but never specifically stated what is needed to change or how the funding will bridge the gap between students in Bangkok and other areas. The opposition Puea Thai party promises to provide full WiFi internet access for free in public school as well as giving every student above grade four an iPad tablet. It also has stated to give university funds in training students to become entrepreneurs. While a free iPad is enticing, the Puea Thai platform does not directly respond to the need of change in the country's curriculum.
If our leaders cannot come up with anymore than plans that will only waste more tax money without solving the core issues, then Thailand's education system will lose many more years of reforming itself. Sticking with the existing curriculum will only place Thailand further behind other countries in the world. Without a education system that can urge people to think, Thailand will never reconcile politically or socially. We will still see politicians encouraging others to hate each other, whether to compete creatively. Most Thais will still be leave behind without much opportunities to gain a higher education in order to have at least a sustainable living.
There is a need right now for leaders to step up and boldly address and solve the real issues in Thailand's education system. Education might not be everything, but it is critical in providing the fundamentals in Thailand's development. But it seems for now that our politicians don't have the vision to correct the real problems.
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