BANGKOK, Thailand — Almost everyone in Thailand has a job, but not everyone can attend school.
In a country with less than one percent unemployment, it is difficult to imagine why Thai students would be struggling. But too much attention paid to brick-and-mortar institutions at the expense of teachers has caused educational lapses in Thailand’s poor northern regions.
The figures–an extremely low dropout rate (1.05 percent for secondary schools), over 100 universities and nearly 50 percent enrollment at the post-secondary level–are misleading.
Yet only ten percent of the poorest quartile in Thailand attends college.
The Digital GAP Act (H.R. 5537) could help address this disparity in education. The legislation is focused on reducing barriers to internet access. By doing so, the possibilities for improving education in Thailand are endless.
Part of the reason for this disparity is an internal migration trend that has led to over 3 million adults living in urban areas. In Bangkok, one of the most popular destinations, taxi drivers can make several times as much as farmers.
This quest for productivity comes at a price for rural families. The labor market separates parents from their children, which leaves them vulnerable to educational failure.
“Children are less exposed to activities that stimulate them such as reading, storytelling, or games,” says Aree Jampaklay, a fellow at the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR).
But living with grandparents is not the only path toward a dull intellectual life. Thai teachers are notorious for using antiquated teaching methods.
One fourth-grader observed: “I sometimes think school is teaching me to be a tape recorder.”
Annop Pongwat, a researcher at Chiang Mai University, explains that teachers in rural regions receive fewer government subsidies due to lower enrollment at their schools. They also feel isolated and view rural placements simply as a way to pay their dues.
“If they survive the first few years of hardship,” Pongwat says, “they think they are ready to request a transfer.”
The Digital GAP Act could go a long way toward helping resolve the issue of isolation.
The internet would allow rural students to see their parents more than twice per year, providing the children with much-needed support.
Teachers in turn could receive regular online training and attend conferences. And the internet would help teachers–particularly those who work in remote areas–feel more connected to their profession.
Digital classrooms would also increase student engagement. Tools like discussion boards, voice threads and video chats would facilitate more collaborative work.
Schools would also become more affordable. A typical parental remittance is about 3,000 baht ($86) per month, which covers only 18 percent of tuition for public secondary schools (food expenses excluded).
Online content delivery would reduce tuition since the biggest obstacle for rural students is transportation. The OECD estimates that up to six percent of a rural family’s income is spent on physically getting to school.
And Thai classrooms are already wired. A University of Minnesota study found that over 12,000 schools already possess satellite link capabilities, but only 41 percent of teachers utilize this technology.
“Political factors have not really been favorable to educational reform,” Pongwat adds.
– Alfredo Cumerma