11 July 2024

The National Education Bill is set to enter the Parliament for further deliberation in September, sparking new hope for some but concern for others. 

The passage of this bill is likely to be concluded before the end of the year, and once it is enforced, it will affect not just students but also teachers and parents. Since education lies at the foundation of life, work and national prosperity, this bill will be responsible for shaping the future of everybody in Thailand.

Does it offer hope?

Education Minister Treenuch Thienthong says the bill, if passed, will be a key turning point for Thailand’s educational sector as it focuses on students’ performance and ability to apply their knowledge to real-life situations. It also aims to develop quality teachers who can educate children for a successful future.

Tanawat Suwannapan, who represents the Kru Korsorn group of educators demanding to teach rather than focus on extracurricular activities, said he hopes the bill will ensure teachers can devote their attention and time to teaching and child-development activities. He hopes the new law will also allow teachers to function with efficiency and enjoy a better quality of life.

“We want assurances,” he said, adding that he does not understand why teachers are expected to make sacrifices and not question anything. He said teachers are forced to accept the current system despite decades of talk about the need to promote critical/analytical thinking among children.

Recently, many groups of teachers have been complaining loudly about the fact that teachers are often so overwhelmed with other tasks that they have no time to teach. In some places, teachers are having to cook for their students and sometimes even stand guard. When some teachers refuse to do tasks that are not related to their job, they are labeled selfish or inconsiderate.

Their complaints, however, are not without merit. For instance, one teacher lamented online that his school principal was so desperate for awards that students and teachers are more busy preparing for contests than focusing on the curriculum or schoolwork.

Many teachers say they barely have time to actually teach, given that there are so many other responsibilities to handle, including paperwork and support for special events. For instance, every time an important figure visits their town, students and teachers are required to show up and welcome these guests of honor. They are also expected to attend local cultural events or festivals.

One young female teacher recently posted her resignation online, saying she preferred quitting because the current system does not let her teach.

“Even when I do manage to find time to be present in class, I usually have not had time to prepare for the lesson,” she lamented.

Dr Kanok Wongtrangan, an educator, said the Education Ministry is aware that many good teachers have given up their jobs for such reasons. Yet, it has no plans to get to the root of this problem.

Amnart Witchayanuwat, a member of the House’s ad-hoc committee vetting the National Education Bill, said Article 14 (11) of the bill requires measures to stop teachers from being forced to carry out tasks, projects or activities that can prevent them from fulfilling their main duty. It also demands that students be given enough time to focus on their studies. Amnart was formerly secretary-general of the Office of Basic Education Commission.

“This article [of the bill] also specifies that chiefs of relevant authorities will be punished with disciplinary action if they fail to support proper educational services,” Amnart said, pointing out the benefits of the draft legislation.

Concerns for many

Natthameth Dulkanit, an educational supervisor based in Bangkok, believes the bill is actually designed to ease teachers’ workload and not directly related to teaching. However, the problem does not end here.

“The next question is, who will take over those tasks from the teachers?” he asks. “Big schools may have enough funds to hire staff to tend to jobs like school-supplies management, but small ones do not have such luxury.”

Move Forward MP Kunthida Rungruengkiat, who is also a member of the ad-hoc committee overseeing the bill, said its content reflects distrust among parties concerned.

“If you pore over the content, you find many questionable details,” Kunthida said. “Apparently, the drafters are afraid that people will not comply with the law and have tried to plug all loopholes.”

For instance, this bill bans entrance exams for kindergartens but stipulates that all 7-year-olds be admitted to Pathom 1.

“What happens if some children at that age are still unable to read or write?” Kunthida asked.

In her view, the National Education Bill – which will eventually become the guiding law for the country’s educational sector – may not need to micromanage every aspect of teaching and education. Instead, she believes, it should just create a framework and leave the details to action plans or organic laws that can be amended more easily should any problem arise during implementation.

Kunthida also voiced concern that “patriotism” is highlighted in many parts of the bill. Article 8, for instance, states that schools should ensure students recognize the importance of the nation, religion, monarchy, and constitutional monarchy. It also expects teachers to instill in them a sense of duty to the community, society and the country.

“What if social context changes and these aims become irrelevant?” she said.

The MP said she can’t help but feel that students and teachers working under this law will only be expected to obey orders.

Any possible changes?

The House of Representatives has approved the National Education Bill in principle, and it is now being reviewed by the House ad-hoc committee that includes Kunthida, Amnart, and several other MPs.

“Most committee members agree with 60 to 70 percent of the bill’s content,” Amnart said, adding that the remaining 30 to 40 percent may require some rewording or additions that ensure the educational service works efficiently for the benefit of learners and institutions.

However, even if the committee makes changes, there is a possibility that the House of Representatives may vote against these amendments.

“We will not have the final say,” he said.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk