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Finally, there seems to be discussion concerning the differences in educational demands between the Bangkok metropolis and outlying areas. Recent newspaper articles reporting the progress (or not as the case may be) of the government’s free education and school equipment programme has highlighted a divide between those living in the capital and parents and students from the provinces.

 

The proposal is for all children to be guaranteed fifteen years of free education and this is to include the provision of school uniforms as well as other school materials to needy children. Already I can see problems. How do we provide the uniforms and school materials and how do we decide who is needy?

 

One area for concern brought up by a recent public hearing would be the issuing of coupons for use for school supplies as this would burden the parents from rural areas with additional travel costs.

 

Coupons are a good idea; however, if the Basic Education Commission is in charge of this initiative, then maybe it would be a good idea for them to purchase and deliver the goods up country, cutting out all the middlemen who would normally profit from a venture such as this. This would also work out in places like Bangkok.

 

Apparently, officials are still undecided as to how they should spend the 3.6 billion baht budget which has been allotted for student school equipment. There is also 6.2 billion baht available for textbooks on condition that students return them for future use. I don’t think that one is going to work!

 

Have you seen the materials that some schools have to use? Some rural schools depend on the teachers themselves putting their hands in their own pockets to make do with resources for the school. The children at these schools have to be taught how to take care of books and learning materials as they have not been told how to do this by their parents.

 

In addition, books that are reused become out of date and as we have seen from past experiences, there are those in society who can see the opportunity of a “quick buck” and will try to profit from this for themselves.

 

This initiative would mean that each student would have up to 400 baht for textbooks, which at the recent public hearing, was pointed out as not enough for those in private schools.

 

In my opinion, it is time to use some common sense when dealing with this allocation of funds. There are many in Thailand who have the money available to pay for their children’s education and put their children through private school. These people don’t need 400 baht per students for textbooks.

 

If we are able to identify those who are needy using some form of means testing, then we would be able to allot more of the money to the families of students who need it most. If you can afford to pay 20,000 baht a semester for private tuition, then you can afford the extra 400 baht.

 

It boils down to Thailand showing some kind of social responsibility, where we have to realise that those who are in the higher echelons of society have a moral obligation to take care of those who are not. This is nothing new; this is one of the cornerstones of Thai culture.

 

 

Free education

 

An example of a self access classroom in rural north-eastern Thailand.
(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 17th March 2009)

 
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