When it comes to addressing inequality, be it economic, social, or other, education is a critical tool. According to Dr. Kraiyos Patrawart, Managing Director, Equitable Education Fund, children can escape poverty, whereas their parents couldn’t.
Global inequality is not a newly-encountered issue, but COVID-19 has brought it to the forefront. For children in vulnerable groups, “Learning Loss” became a common experience.
COVID-19 disrupted the educational access of 760 million children during the pandemic’s initial peak in 2020, according to the latest study from UNESCO and UNICEF.
Despite the fact that Thailand is not the only country affected by this issue, the Thai government admits that it is a big challenge to keep all children in school.
Three Years of Highschool Education
Ms. Treenuch Thienthong, the Education Minister, said just another 3 years in secondary school would make a huge difference in their lives.
Learning networks are something we can create quickly. Possibly, smaller schools aren’t quite ready to merge with larger ones yet. Assuming we have a “mother school”, in which the government helps fund facility improvements, we could also refer to it as a “magnet school.” In addition, nearby schools can send some kids first, if they have 20 to 30 students.
These magnet schools are open to children in years 5 and 6 who are able to travel. Treenuch Thienthong, Minister of Education, explained that teachers at small schools can take care of the rest, or if they wish to merge, there is no problem at all.
According to the minister, not all small schools need to merge. In order to ensure that every student has access to learning, she insists that schools in remote areas, such as those on islands or in mountainous areas, will be supported by the education ministry.
The Equitable Learning Fund, or EELF, was established in 2008 to reduce learning inequality through a systematic research program, teacher training, and financial support for vulnerable children and youth.
Every year, the organization provides 2,500 vocational scholarships to over 700,000 students across the country. The group’s primary goal is to return out-of-school children to education or provide them with appropriate training.
Kids Returning to School
For the past few months, the education ministry has also attempted to return kids to school, according to the minister. During the pandemic, 64,000 Thai students dropped out of the Thai education system. Fortunately, most of them returned. However, there are still about 8,000 of them outside the system, and this is a big concern.
Director of UNICEF’s Asia Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO), Debora Comini, said we need to identify what was lost in order to repair the damage caused by the pandemic. UNICEF’s support includes assessing how much was lost.
Comini explained that we must identify the gap, even before the pandemic, in order to know what to do about it.
It is very urgent that all children go back to school, according to Comini. As a matter of safety, UNICEF recommends that schools should be the very last to close and the very first to reopen.
EEF believes in “for-all education” and “area-based” learning for sustainable development. “Since it requires interdisciplinary skills and detailed work, it is almost impossible to complete on a national level. In addition to decentralizing, it must be managed at the provincial level and even more locally,” Dr. Kraiyos said.
To achieve this, he said, educational institutes should have opportunities to work with communities and local agencies. This will enable them to decentralize the system so they can be the answer in their own context.
According to him, you can find the root of a problem by talking to those who are closest to it. The EEF’s role is to provide the tools, technologies, innovations, and knowledge needed to make it sustainable.
In collaboration with the Thai education ministry, UNESCO and UNICEF recently co-hosted the Asia-Pacific Regional Education Minister’s Conference in Bangkok, in order to allow each country to share its knowledge and strategies for recovering from learning loss and looking into the future of learning.
Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Learning in Bangkok, Shigeru Aoyagi, said that the most urgent matter is how to recover from the COVID-19 learning disruption that affected students’ abilities and learning.
What can be done to recover this loss as fast as possible? It is a very urgent matter. In addition to that, it will give us the opportunity to think about the future of education,” said Aoyagi.
There will be a United Nations summit titled “transforming education” in September, which will address how the world recovers from learning loss and rethink the future of education based on the lessons learned from the pandemic.