BANGKOK – The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) recent international student assessment report has triggered concerns over the quality and capabilities of Thai students.
The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, released recently, shows a fall in scores among students in Thailand while Singapore beat China to rank top out of the 70 countries analysed.
Thailand came 54th, with scores dropping in all subjects from earlier assessment 54th in maths, 57th in reading, and 54th for sciences.
Thailand first participated in the PISA test in 2000. The test is a triennial survey conducted by the OECD to assess the ability of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science.
Thailand’s Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology said the PISA results reflect a breaking of the trend: that performance in education is linked to a country’s level of GDP and state expenditure on education.
Athapol Anunthavorasakul, an academic from Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of education, said the PISA results reflect serious disparities between students in well-known schools and students in rural areas.
“It indicates that Thailand is failing to improve equity in educational resource allocation,” he said.
Mr Athapol said the Education Ministry, in the past two to three years, has invested money trying to get better results in the PISA test, training teachers and students for the PISA assessment, but the performance is still poor.
“I think the ministry has made a wrong turn. Instead of spending money on training teachers and students in some schools for the PISA test, it should focus on narrowing the gap between students in elite schools and those studying in underprivileged schools,” he said.
Mr Athapol said schools in each country are randomly selected by the international contractor for participation in PISA, so it is critical to bear in mind that a country’s scores are only the average aggregate results of students included in the sample. One country can have a relatively high average score but also great disparities across different groups of students.
“In the 2012 PISA, there were students from the demonstration schools and Princess Chulabhorn college schools [taking part in the PISA test] and that is why we saw a slight improvement in Thai scores,” he said.
Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin admitted he was also disappointed with the performance of Thai students. The results, he said, reflected a huge gap in ability between students in elite schools and those in underprivileged schools.
Mr Teerakiat noted that the performances in science, reading and mathematics of students at certain schools such as Mahidol Wittthayanusorn and Chulabhorn Wittayalai is at the same level as schools in countries which were placed at higher rankings in the PISA results.
But, the PISA results show the collective performance of students of all schools and, hence, the results are a letdown, said the minister.
For decades, Thailand’s education system has been closely supervised by the centralised bureaucratic system, with little participation from communities or parents.
Initiatives such as the widespread adoption of child-centred learning and the more recent reduction in number of school hours have failed to have a positive impact due to poor implementation and an obvious disconnect between Ministry of Education-sanctioned initiatives and actual schooling.