11 July 2024

A recommendation by the World Bank in 2018, for the merger of small schools in Thailand to reduce education inequality, may have struck the right chord with those in charge of education – but definitely not with a seventh grader in Ratchaburi, a province not far from Bangkok.

“I think studying in a small school within my community is like studying in my comfort zone. Otherwise, I would have to travel to another school located downtown,” said Waen Noeur-an, a seventh-grader at Phothawatthanasenee school, a junior high school in Ratchaburi.

Waen Noeur-an, a seventh-grader at Phothawatthanasenee school, a junior high school in Ratchaburi.

She graduated from the school about a year ago and was invited to seminar on small schools in Bangkok to share her experience and thoughts. Speaking to Thai PBS World, she said her life at Wat Kok Thong has been best memory.

Despite attempts by education authorities to merge small schools, due to a shortage of teaching staff and the diminishing numbers of students, according to data from the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) there are still over 900,000 students around Thailand in small schools.

Among the 29,711 schools under the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC), 14,660 schools have fewer than 120 students. Additionally, 3,378 of them are on the list for mergers, as they teach fewer than 40 students.

Over the past five years, 663 small schools have been merged with larger schools located in urban or downtown areas. While the World Bank agrees with such a policy, to ensure that students have enough teachers in well-equipped schools, the issue highlights the inequality of education in Thailand.

Undoubtedly, transferred students can get access to better education in well-equipped schools. Yet, some argue that such mergers only aggravate the already poor conditions of low income families.

“My grandchildren would have to travel 17 kilometers to a larger school in another district if their current school gets merged. I would be worried about their safety. Besides, I would have to shoulder additional expenses, such as for transport. I prefer them to go to the school in the community, which costs us nothing,” said a grandparent of children at the small Baan Chompoo School in Nan.

Students at Baan Chompoo school

Baan Chompoo School is known as a stand-alone school, meaning it is the only school within a 6-kilometer radius. As such, the school cannot be merged, according to the school merger policy of OBEC. The school has to keep running with 45 students and 5 teachers.  The issue remains regarding insufficient school subsidy.

“Of course, the student subsidy itself does not cover all the expenses that we have,” said Atchara Srisopa, director of Baan Chompoo School. “Fortunately, we have financial support from our community, alumni and school networks during hard times.”

Atchara Srisopa, director of Baan Chompoo School.

According to OBEC, the student subsidy is provided based on the number of students in the school. In the context of small schools, however, it might be different.

Speaking to Thai PBS World, secretary-general of the education council, Pattama Aiamlaong, painted a clear picture of education inequality, especially among small schools in Thailand.

“For example, let’s say a student’s subsidy is worth 10 baht, and there are 10 students in a small school. The total subsidies for them would be 100 baht. Small schools and large schools are entitled to the same rate, which is 10 baht. That means there will never be enough subsidies for schools with small numbers of students,” she explained.

She added that small schools have different contexts, such as school locations, school staff and other additional fees compared to large schools.

The proper student subsidy for all schools to achieve education equality means that those schools should already have the same basic infrastructure, such as teacher resources. In reality, however, most small schools are located in rural areas and, therefore, there will be additional expenses, such as maintenance and transportation, she said, adding “Providing the same rate of subsidy to the schools that have different contexts will increase inequality in Thailand.”

Pattama Aiamlaong, policy analyst at office of the education council

Another small school in Nan, Baan Hua Wiang Nua School, was once threatened with closure, but parents and members of the local community joined forces to keep it running.

“Raising funds to keep the school should not have been the responsibility of the local community. The government should do something,” a member of the school network of Baan Hua Wiang Nua School said.

Meeting with school networks

Talking to teachers and school networks during a recent meeting at the school, Thai PBS World was told that the school has been in the community for almost 40 years. This means that it is well-bonded with the community and is has earned the trust of the local people.

Supakorn Kattiya, whose son attends Baan Hua Wiang Nua School, said the school has more potential to take care of students thoroughly than do larger schools, which have too many students and greater competition in education. He added that it could be too difficult for students from small schools to fit in.

“Actually, I have the inclination to send my son to a private school or a school that is very highly competitive, but my son would not be happy studying in that kind of environment. Though Baan Hua Wiang Nua School is an answer, for me, what matters is my son’s happiness. It is proven when my son comes home and tells me how happy he is with the school,” he said.

Supakorn Kattiya

The seminar came up with a policy proposal, to be conveyed to the Education Ministry. It basically calls for an improvement of teacher resources, adjusting student subsidies and the school curriculum and opening opportunities for the private sector to help small schools.

By Warissara Sae-han, Thai PBS World