The Council of Alternative Education strongly disagrees with the MOE policy of closing and merging small schools, saying that the lack of quality in education comes from poor management of the Ministry of Education. It announced that it will resist the policy in every possible way and will gather other educational institutes to denounce Mr. Phongthep Thepkanjana.
Mr. Somboon Rintao, the Director of Baan Hua Wieng Nuer School in Nan Province and the President of the Small Schools Network Association, gave his opinion on the policy to close 14,186 schools with less than 60 students. He said that it is unfair to say that small schools have provide a poor quality of education while the Ministry itself never offers any assistance or support to them, whether in resources or management. They cannot use the scores from ONET to decide the quality of a school. In fact, if the government had closely followed the statistics, it would have known that students from many small schools in the North and Northeast get top scores from ONET. The scores in mathematics in some schools have increased as much as 40% in the year 2012. These schools have been approved by the standards of the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) and the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment. Therefore, it is very clear to see that small schools have managed to improve their own quality without any help or support from the Ministry.
“They said that school vans will be provided to transport students to larger schools, but who will pay for gas, drivers, maintenance, and depreciation cost? This is not a good way to spend the educational budget. They say that local administrations will pay for gas, but if you look at the reality, local administrations do not have so much money that they can pay for all of these. They operate on allowances from the government alone. Therefore, closing small schools will not help solve the problem or increase the quality of education,” said Mr. Rintao.
Besides that, closing and merging small schools will cause the problem of wasting human resources. Teachers and directors from these schools will be without permanent and significant positions, obstructing them from using their full potentials to develop schools. Mr. Rintao said that he has been trying to ask for support from the government for many years but had never received any response.
“I formed a group with my friends to develop small schools in the region, requesting a budget of only 200,000 Baht per year to hire more teachers for the students, but the request has never been granted. Now they are going to pay millions just for the vans. I went to the Ministry and asked to see Mr. Thepkanjana but they have never given me the opportunity. Last Thursday I called there again, asking to explain all of this to the Minister of Education. I believe if he knows the truth about all these, he would understand and will not continue to close or merge small schools. But they never let me see him.” Mr. Somboon said.
Mr. Chachawan Thongdeelert, the Secretary General of Council of Alternative Education, said that closing small schools does not solve the problems at the root. The Minister of Education managed the education poorly in these areas and that was why 1.7 thousand schools out of 3 thousand schools have to stay very small. He said that the government focuses only on the development of schools in the city but forgets to take care of schools in the provinces and remote areas. It is clearly educational inequality. Small schools do not have enough teachers and all the teachers have to work doubly hard, compared to teachers in the city. The government says that small schools do not have good quality because they look at ONET scores, but the truth is that the ONET scores of students in the whole country have been in the low level for a long time. He said that many students from small school even get better scores than those studying in larger schools. Therefore, small schools should not be blamed for the lack of quality in education. The Ministry of Education must decentralize their power and support local people improving their own education.
“They should care about the feelings of local people. Many of these small schools are founded on funds gathered from local people. They love their schools. You cannot just tell them to close their schools.Merging and closing schools needs close consideration and a lot of information, but what we are seeing now is that one day the government happened to have the idea that they should be closed and the public officers just follow the order without any considerations. This is definitely not the way to solve the problem.” Mr. Thongdeelert said.
Mr. Wittaya Panpeng, the Director of the None Koon Nursery in Srisaket Province and the Vice President of the Provincial Teachers Association, said that the policy of closing small schools has caused much distress to teachers and people all over the country. It will have a terrible effect to all of us. Actually, the order to close small schools is the violation of the Constitution on Rights and Freedom of Education Provision. He also gave a sad example of a student who moved from a small school in Nongkhai Province three years ago to study in a school in Bangkok. The tension and stress that he faced there drove him to commit the crime of setting fire to the school’s science laboratory. Mr. Panpeng believed that students from remote areas will certainly refuse to study in the city. The government should listen to the opinions of so many small schools that totally disagree with the policy. There is even a mob of students protesting in front of the Ministry of Education now.
Council of Alternative Education and many local schools networks are releasing an official statement that presents six main reasons why the policy of closing small schools should be abolished, (1) The lack of quality in education actually comes from poor management from the Ministry of Education, (2) People should have their rights to access the basic needs of education, (3) it is unfair to parents, (4) it is unfair to children to interrupt their learning, and (6) Centralized management from a government that does not take in local people’s opinions into consideration is gravely hurting communities and people. They also said that the government should decentralize and empower local institutions and cancel the policy of closing and merging small schools. If not, all educational institutions in the country will gather together and resist this injustice of the Ministry, the true root of the problem.