Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana has given an explanation for the policy of merging small schools with larger ones, saying that the policy was intended to improve the quality of education.
In the weekly program “Yingluck Government Meets the People,” broadcast on the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) and Radio Thailand on 11 May 2013, Mr. Phongthep spoke about the issue of closing schools with less than 60 students and merging them with larger ones nearby.
He quoted statistics showing that there are currently 700 schools in Thailand with less than 20 students. About 2,000 schools have 21-40 students each, and 3,000 schools have 41-60 students. He stated that small schools would receive minimal budget allocations and that they would not be able to handle effective management, or buy good equipment to help in teaching and learning.
Small schools also face a shortage of teachers, because they have just a handful of students. Each teacher has to be in charge of several grades of students at the same time. Small schools are often plagued by quality problems concerning teaching staff and educational equipment.
This is not the first time that the Government has had a policy of merging schools. Mr. Phongthep said that during the past 20 years, more than 3,000 small schools have been merged with larger ones nearby. Each teacher in those schools is now able to fully look after the students of each class. As a result, the quality of education has improved and parents have been satisfied.
Mr. Phongthep emphasized the policy of upgrading the quality of education, saying that budgets are not the problem causing the school mergers. Responsible officials must hold discussions with parents, students, and local villagers before deciding whether small schools should be merged with larger ones or not. The schools that are no longer used might be turned into non-formal education centers or One Tambon, One Product, (OTOP), centers, or be used for other purposes, depending on each relevant community.
Mr. Phongthep said that the Ministry of Education is in the process of reforming school curriculums at all levels: kindergarten, primary, and secondary education. In this regard, he said, teachers need to adjust their roles and teach students about analytical thinking. They should encourage students to think instead of focusing on memorizing. Another emphasis is teaching about the democratic way of living, under which members of society respect other people’s rights. Children must be allowed to practice living together in a democratic society. After the curriculum reform, teachers will be provided with an education program concerning a democratic way of living, so that they can pass this knowledge to their students.
Mr. Phongthep also thanked many local administrative organizations and private companies for their donations to support and develop education in Thailand.