The Equitable Education Fund (EEF), a pivotal force in transforming the educational landscape of Thailand, has recently thrown light on a pressing concern: the urgent need for the Thai government to ramp up investment in human capital. This appeal was prominently staged at the annual Equity Forum, an intellectual battleground that brought together leading minds to collectively evaluate the possible impact of such investments on minimizing education disparity. The noted venue being the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre made the call even more significant, reinforcing the inevitable intertwining of education and culture.
The limelight of the event was pivoted on Kraiyos Patrawart, EEF’s charismatic Managing Director, as he unveiled an insightful annual report on educational disparity. The report painted a relatively gloomier picture of Thailand’s education system, strained by the persistent shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic and worsened by debilitating inflation. Rising living costs related to education, showcasing troubling spikes in travel and food expenses, further stoke the fires of existing educational inequality.
Patrawart’s analytical prowess led him to foresee the possibility of a precarious K-shaped recovery for Thailand. Within this dichotomy, the prosperous continue their upward financial trajectory while the underprivileged get further trapped in poverty. The current situation implies a widening chasm in the education system, where children from affluent families bounce back from setbacks at a faster pace, whereas vulnerable children risk being abandoned by the education system, potentially leading to a generation left behind.
Patrawart’s compelling argument unraveled the absolute necessity for a paradigm shift in human capital development to avoid losing an entire generation of learners. At the same time, he unravelled the potential consequences of Thailand’s declining fertility rates and its impact on the future student population.
As the discussion delved into the strategies in line with Thailand’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the country’s 13th national economic and societal development proposal, Patrawart underlined the critical role of investing in human capital. A bold claim followed as he stated that such investments could potentially increase the average income per person by a staggering 40% by 2036. This could function as a double-edged sword, enhancing tax revenues, ensuring the country’s economic stability, and bolstering individual financial situations.
A UNESCO study provided a quantitative push to the aforementioned narrative, indicating a potential boost in economic growth by 3%, contingent upon Thailand’s success in curbing educational disparity. As per the projected statistics, Thailand is set to host around 1.8 million underprivileged children within its educational system by the academic year 2023.
The EEF makes a significant impact on this scenario, having extended educational financial support to approximately 1.24 million students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – up from the 994,428 students supported in 2020, as confirmed by the Bangkok Post.
However, the broader issue persists. Despite a policy for free education, it remains an elusive dream for many children from extremely impoverished families. Patrawart revealed that the average income for these families is around 1,039 baht per month. With an estimated daily average of 34 baht, these families fall well below the international poverty line of $2.15; translated roughly to 80 baht per day.
Top academic Weerachart Kilenthong, Director of the Research Institute for Policy Evaluation and Design (Riped), offered a vital perspective – focusing on children with low levels of readiness, who need additional support. His recommendation adds another layer to the discourse on how to best cater to the diverse needs of Thai students.