Interview: Pirom Kamolratanakul
How is the kingdom developing its education standards to prepare for ASEAN community activity?
PIROM KAMOLRATANAKUL: The emergence of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 will bring about a lot of trans-border trade. Cooperation and competition among the 10 ASEAN member countries will increase substantially. On the whole there will be plenty of opportunities, and to benefit fully, each country must have qualified citizens who are well educated, possess essential skills and have high proficiency in English – the official language of ASEAN. This requires Thailand to quickly develop the skills of our people. Education standards at all levels have to be improved to meet the challenges and fulfil the needs of our economy and society. The government has taken steps to redesign primary and secondary curricula, putting more emphasis on science, mathematics, technology and language. Thailand has taken a pro-active role in the ongoing development of an ASEAN-wide qualification framework through the ASEAN University Network, which would significantly help higher education institutions in Thailand prepare regionally harmonised standards of education. This process is being modelled on the Bologna Process and is also supported by the EU.
What are the main challenges in positioning Thai schools in an ASEAN regional context?
PIROM: The AEC is going to transform the region in a major way over the next decades. The main challenge for our schools and universities is how to remain at the forefront of such a transformation. Language proficiency is one of our priorities, and we must improve the teaching of English and the languages of other ASEAN member countries. Beyond language proficiency, we must educate our population on other ASEAN countries, including their cultures, religions, economies and political systems. Businessmen must be equipped with essential knowledge on how to invest and do business in ASEAN. Our engineers, doctors and other professionals must be ready to compete in the region.
How is the education system developing skill sets students will need in a dynamic labour market?
PIROM: Thailand has far too few technical schools and colleges. Hence, the skilled labour force in the country remains comparatively small. The government must address this problem urgently, otherwise the country’s labour force will not be able to compete against the skills and competencies found in neighbouring and regional economies upon the formation of the AEC.
Progress has been made on this front, particularly in the context of cooperative education, which encourages study at the workplace, helping students to gain the skills required for a competitive labour market. In addition, universities must realise that an improvement in the soft skills of their students, such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, independent inquiry and communication, are paramount. Adding project-based and problem-based learning into the curriculum is essential. Implementing such a strategy is not easy as it requires sweeping pedagogical change.
To what extent is research and development (R&D) being supported at Thailand’s universities? How will this benefit the expanding creative economy?
PIROM: Thailand’s tertiary-level institutions, especially those categorised as research universities, have received reasonably good support to carry out R&D.
However, the main obstacle to R&D development is frequent changes in the country’s research policy. Over the past few years the majority of the research budget has gone to applied research not basic research. The government aims to obtain results from research projects that can be used immediately and directly to benefit the country. Research projects in agriculture, for example, have received substantial support, whereas research projects in pure science have received comparatively less. This trend could be detrimental in the long run. Research in the basic sciences and humanities that are essential to sustainable development will require more attention from the relevant agencies.
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