Thai junta invokes absolute power to slash local education boards

Amid criticisms of proposals to centralise Thai education via the latest draft of the constitution, the junta leader invoked his absolute power to slash local teacher committees and form a regional education reform committee[AB1] .

On Monday, 21 March 2016, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Orders No.10/2016 and 11/2016 were published on the website of the Royal Gazette.

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, invoked his authority under Section 44 of the Interim Constitution, which gives the regime absolute power, to issue the orders.

In brief, NCPO Order No. 10/2016, ‘Procedures for Regional Education Reforms under the Ministry of Education’, will establish a Regional Education Reform Committee (RERC) with the Minister of Education as its Chair and the Permanent Secretary of the Education Minister as the Secretary General.  

NCPO Order 11/2016, ‘Regional Education Management under the Ministry of Education’, will dismiss teachers and other public servants working for the Educational Service Areas (ESAs), regional based primary and secondary school management boards under the Office of the Basic Education Commission of Thailand.

The Order dissolves ESAs nationwide.

In their place, Order 11/2016 establishes Provincial Education Committees and Sub-committees to manage primary and secondary schools.

The NCPO gave the reason that there are a many problems in how primary and secondary schools are managed because of inefficiency and a lack of unity. Therefore, the Orders are necessary.

Athapol Anunthavorasakul, lecturer in the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University, decried the Orders, reasoning that they will not bring about education reform, but will only make things worse.

He said the Orders will centralise the educational system of the country and negate the process of education decentralisation which began after the promulgation of the 1997 Constitution.  

“It’s like taking a time machine back to 17 years ago,” wrote Athapol on his Facebook profile. “It’s sad that some people really believe that this centralisation process could bring about education reform.”

To deal with an education system characterised by oversized classrooms, unqualified teachers, and rote learning, the Thai military government in early 2015 dissolved three education boards, including the country’s Teachers’ Council, in a move viewed by many as a step towards education reform promised by the coup-makers. However, signs of improvement of the appalling state of Thai education are yet to be seen.   

Recently, many teachers and education activists complained about the fate of Thai education under the 2016 draft constitution, which will reduce the state budget for free compulsory schooling from 12 to only nine years.

Parit Chiwarak, Secretary-General of Education for Liberation of Siam, a group comprising mostly high school students campaigning for progressive education reform against the junta’s controversial nationalistic 12 Thai values, expressed concerns about the draft constitution, saying that many students studying in higher secondary school already face financial problems and that the draft will only worsen the situation.

“The dropout rate of higher secondary school pupils is already quite high, so by withdrawing the budget for these students, inequality in education can only rise,” Parit told Prachatai. “Not only will students in regular schools be affected, but those in vocational schools as well. It might be even worse in vocational schools because this means that the budget for acquiring equipment, which is important for these schools, will also be cut.”