BANGKOK – Amid reports that Thai students are lagging behind in academic performance compared to their counterparts in the rest of the region, the Education Ministry has just released a report suggesting that we are producing too many teachers.
Too many low-quality teachers, that is. And that indicates that the hope of improving Thai schooling standards can’t be very bright, at least in the near future.
A senior official from the Education Ministry said recently that, in four years’ time, all the teachers’ colleges throughout the country will produce a total of 240,000 graduates.
That number far exceeds the projected demand, and there is little doubt that things will get more complicated when the quality of schooling is measured in a professional way – which isn’t the case at the moment.
Thai Education Minister Pongthep Thepkanachana has been quoted as saying that a large number of those who graduate from teachers’ colleges do not end up as teachers.
That’s because there isn’t a system under which the annual demand for teachers can be monitored or measured. Neither is there a clear plan for universities to produce teachers of the quality required.
In other words, the country’s system to produce enough qualified teachers is, at best, haphazard. Nobody, it seems, is in charge. That reminds me of a letter by Mr Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, part of which dwelt on this particular issue in the United States.
It reads: “In the past few years, the quest to understand great teaching has been at the centre of the public discussion about how to improve education in America. But for the country’s three million teachers and 50 million schoolchildren, great teaching isn’t an abstract policy issue.
“For teachers, understanding great teaching means the opportunity to receive feedback on the skills and techniques that can help them excel in their careers. For students, it means a better chance of graduating from high school ready for success in life.
“But what do we mean when we talk about great teaching? In my experience, the vast majority of teachers get zero feedback on how to improve.
“That’s because, for decades, our schools have lacked the kind of measurement tools that can drive meaningful change. Teachers have worked in isolation and been asked to improve with little or no feedback, while schools have struggled to create systems to provide feedback that’s consistent, fair and reliable.
“That’s why the Gates Foundation supported the Measures of Effective Teaching, or MET, project. The project was an extraordinary, three-year collaboration between dozens of researchers and nearly 3,000 teacher volunteers from seven US public-school districts who opened their classrooms so we could study how to improve the way we measure and give feedback about great teaching.
“The MET project (has) released its final findings. The report confirmed that it is possible to develop reliable measures that identify great teaching.
“The project also found that using multiple measures to understand a teacher’s performance provides a richer and more reliable picture of a teacher’s strengths and areas for improvement than any one measure alone.
“Knowing how to identify and measure great teaching is a huge step towards providing better feedback and support for teachers, and building a better education system for all our children – but it’s just one step. The challenge now is to use this information to give teachers the tools, resources and support they need to do their best work.”
In Thailand, before we can talk about installing a proper “feedback system” for teachers to improve, the very basic question of knowing how many teachers are needed each year has first to be tackled in a professional way.
The problem lies in the fact that teachers’ colleges respond to students’ desire to study teaching courses – not necessarily because they want to become good teachers, but mostly because it’s the easiest way to get a college degree. By Suthichai Yoon