Thailand is planning to step up spending on information and communications technology (ITC) in order to strengthen the education system and better prepare the country's youth to work in an increasingly knowledge-based society.
As part of a programme of reforms for the education system, the government has announced it will quadruple the number of computers in classrooms, broaden the use of advanced technology and revamp school curriculum to reflect the needs of today.
On November 15, the education minister, Jurin Laksanavisit, said ICT was to be the driving force of education reform in Thailand, central to improving standards at schools in remote areas of the country.
Having carried out some reforms already, including improving management and budgetary practices and upgrading infrastructure and personnel development, there will now be an increasing focus on ICT and its role in the education system, Jurin told an international education conference in China.
A total of $1.15bn had been set aside from public investment programmes to fund eight dedicated projects to spread the advantages of ICT as wide as possible throughout the education system, he said.
Included in the ministry's plans is a proposal to increase the number of computers in schools from one for every 40 students to one per 10 by 2012; develop a programme of long-distance learning by utilising satellite communications to support schools in remote regions, with up to 9000 schools expected to be making use of this technology by the middle of 2010. In addition, the ministry aims to ensure that all schools had high-speed internet access.
Though the government is committed to investing in technology to raise standards in the country's schools, it also has to invest in human resources to make best use of it. This could be more difficult than just installing equipment, some experts believe.
Even though there are a number of government programmes in place to enhance teachers' ICT skills, there remained some resistance to change among some older educators, according to Thanomporn Laohajaratsang, the director of the IT Service Centre at Chiang Mai University.
Up to 75% of Thailand's basic-level education teachers were aged 45 and above, which posed a challenge to human resources improvement, Thanomporn told a seminar on e-education in late October.
Increasing ICT infrastructure and equipment ratios alone was not going to improve educational standards, this needed to be backed up with digital content for every subject area and at each learning level, said Thanomporn.
With some 500,000 teachers currently working in the system, the task of providing them with the necessary skills to make full use of the more advanced technology, and the ability to pass those skills on to students, is in itself a considerable undertaking.
The difficulty of providing ICT-capable staff is compounded by the ongoing shortage of teaching personnel in the public school system, with estimates putting the shortfall at up to 100,000. Not only does the state have to encourage more people to take up teaching as a career, but it also has to ensure that both private and public institutions equip them with the tools needed to operate effectively in the rapidly evolving educational environment.
According to Jurin, this task will be completed by 2010, with the Ministry of Education designating 20 universities that will work with the Office of Basic Education Commission to design the retraining course, retrain the trainers and administer the workshops in coordination with the education service area offices in each province.
"In this way, all 500,000 teachers will be trained to a single standard, using one high-quality curriculum," he said in an interview with local press in early October.
If the ministry's reforms are implemented in full and Thailand is provided with an education system that weds modern technology with an advanced curriculum taught by a trained and specialised teaching fraternity, both the country and the economy will benefit. However, such a complex task, involving as it does retraining all of Thailand's teachers, rewriting the curriculum and wiring up the country's classrooms, may yet prove to be a tight timeframe.