Tanakrit is a year 12 high school student in one of the higher level schools in Bangkok, Thailand. Every day he needs to wake up at 5.30 am to catch a ride from the other side of Bangkok to the school before 7.30 am to attend the school assembly; the school usually starts at 8.30 am and lasts until around 4.45 pm; but that is not all, after the school he needs to go to a cram school at the other side of the city and stay there until 9.00 pm and grab the bus back home. To make it better he need to go to that school at 7.00 am and study there until 7.30 pm every weekend and even during the summer break.
“Have you ever feel like stopping all of this?” I asked Tanakrit during one of our phone conversation in December 2017. He was my old classmates and we went through Junior high together, until I decided to resign and enroll at Macleans College earlier in January.
“Heck yes,” said he, “It feels like living in hell, dude, all the assignments and college day works just keep flooding over, I am being torn apart here,” He laughed distressfully.
“But well, not that I can complain though,” he continued, “It is kinda necessary after all. I mean, all of us here are trying to stay alive , and that’s all really matter...”
The conversation ended soon after that, Tanakrit revealed to me that he got a huge load of homework to do and wished to take his leave, so I decided to drop the line. But just before the call dropped he said something to me, something that still haunting me ever since….
“Man, sure it is nice being out of all of this fest, don’t you think?”
Tanakrit wants to be an engineer, his reasons are that engineer, along with doctor, are currently being held in high regards in Thai society. He believes that graduating in these fields from a prestigious university could provide him with a stable job, along with bring a pride to his family. This mindset also being shared with millions of Thais teenagers, craving, twitching and struggling to bring themselves to the top.
Tanakrit’s fate is a common sight in modern Thai society, many students embark on this harsh journey, either by their own ambition or being forced by their families, just to make sure that they could be able to withstand an obstacle which preventing them from achieving their goals, an inefficiency in Thailand education system.
Thailand education system has been a controversial subject for decades. Many governments, both civilian and military, have been trying to solve this Gordian knot, only to be defeated and escalate the problem even further. The roots of the problem including a social mindsets which considering engineering and medical field to be superior than other carriers, and that teaching is a job for the people who can’t afford to enroll in a better faculties; the ever-expanding tutoring industry which extends its roots deeper into the core of the society, undermining an attempts to reform and making the basic education in the school become redundant; an extremely huge gap between the education in a high level school and the local one. The results of these are catastrophic: an utterly inefficient education system with a low quality teachers and unnecessarily competitive.
In 2015, the Organisation for Economic-Cooperation and Development (OECD) hosted a Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which was an international examination which tested worldwide students’ scholastic performance in Science, Mathematics, and Reading. Of all 72 countries joining the test, Thailand’s ranks plunged to 50 - one of the worst in Asia - as the candidates’ scores were underperformed in ALL of the subjects. The result reveals that Thailand education was in the state of deterioration in an alarming rate along with raising the public awareness on the need of educational reform.
After the promulgation of 2016 constitution, in May 2017 the royal Thai government founded an Independent Committee for Educational Reform (ICER) to collaborate with the Ministry of Education for a collective goals - to provide a stable, reliable, and sustainable education system for Thailand. ICER’s main principles focus on something unfamiliar to Thai society - a reform in the education system in order to provide the student a skills in creativity and collaboration along with the academic development, in accordance with the rising global demand for such traits; a better education for the people in an early childhood, with an intention to that make them become more susceptible to a progressive development and to be a productive member of the society.
ICER’s objectives are being supported by contents in the 2016 constitution, which shares the same concept that in order to provide a sustainable development, the changes must be made from the very foundation of the education system. Nevertheless, considering the current situation, the obstacles that awaiting Thailand are tedious. Yet time is running short, and something has to be done in order to make sure that we are not stepping at the same place, and that we are ready to move forward to the brighter future.
It might be too late for people of mine and Tanakrit’s generation. But at least we still have a flickering hope that someday, Thailand’s newer generation wouldn’t suffer in a same fate their predecessor are enduring at this exact moment. That one day, we would be no longer considered by the world as a second rate Asians, that we could stand proudly in this ever-changing world.
Only time will tell….