May2013 – Mr. Phongthep Thepkanjana, the Minister of Education, gave an interview to the press about the closing and merging of small schools under the authority of the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC).
Mr. Thepkanja said that closing small schools does not mean demolishing them. It means merging them into larger schools. The government has been doing this for more than twenty years, since 1993. So far, around 3,000 small schools have been closed. They each had less than 60 students; about 700 schools had even less than 20 students. Below is the summary of what the minister said in the interview.
What we are about to do is to improve the quality of education in these schools. There are two ways of doing it:
- First is merging. Small schools will be merged with larger schools or other small schools. In this way, the quality of education will be improved. For example, when three schools are merged, each school will be responsible for only two grade levels. The first school will educate the students in Grades 1 and 2; the second school will take care of Grades 3 and 4, and the last school, Grades 5 and 6. There will be teachers taking care of students full time at each level.
- Second is dissolving. Some schools have only three students and their buildings are very run down. Merging them with other schools will not bring any benefits. In such a case, the schools will be closed and the people in the community should understand that it is better for their children to study in another school with a higher quality of education.
Many small schools have been merged and transportation has been provided for all the students. The government pays the service provider an amount equal to 10 or 15 baht per student. If the area does not have any private transportation service providers, the Office of the Basic Education Commission will provide school buses. In cases where the schools are not very large and not very faraway, cycling is also another option.Students will be able to travel on their own to school and nearby areas.
As for the question about allowing local administrations to support and manage small schools instead of closing them, the minister said that it is an interesting idea if the authorities are willing to do so. However, this alternative is impossible for schools in very remote areas.
Mr. Thepkanjana also said that he has been taking the opinions of many groups into consideration. In cases where students live in remote areas and where it is very inconvenient for them to travel in towns to larger schools, the government will not close or merge their small schools. The new semester is about to begin and we will see how much the merging policy works. I must admit that some parents have moved to live in other areas and some merged schools have already opened but have no students in attendance.
The minister insisted that small schools with high quality of education and high academic achievements will not be closed, and that the benefits for students will always come first. The goal is to provide the best quality of education and children should study in schools that are most beneficial for them.