About half the present crop of teachers will be retired by 2024. Can we seize this opportunity to recruit new teachers and reform the education system?
More than 180,000 teachers under the Office of the Basic Education Commission are expected to leave the school system over the next 10 years. The retirement of teachers from schools, taking into account the falling birth rate, will translate into the need to hire 120,000 new teachers for the system. The quality of these teachers will determine the future of education reform and learning outcomes of Thai students.
While we are mindful that the problems in the Thai education system are complicated, and there are options to tackle the problems from various angles, we think this mass retirement and replacement of teachers represents a great window of opportunity.
We think the following three measures need to be put in place.
Reform teacher recruitment
The Obec teacher recruiting process is highly competitive. Based on the latest teacher selection round, for every 100,000 teacher applications, only about 1,880 or about 2% are selected. While the supply of teachers clearly exceeds demand, the selection criteria ironically do not lead to the selection of true teaching talent.
This inefficiency exists mainly because schools do not have any say in the teacher selection process. All selection processes are managed by the Educational Service Areas (ESAs) which assign teachers to school based on their exam results. Schools would not have any information on the teaching skills of the candidates. This does not make sense, as supply and demand would never match.
The selection exam is also far from perfect. It assesses only academic knowledge, pedagogy and education laws. Vital practical teaching skills such as the ability to communicate with students and classroom management skills are not sufficiently considered. Exams are also designed separately by each ESA with no clear standards.
Some ESAs spend only a few days developing the exam, and some ESAs intentionally make them easy to ensure they have enough teachers.
We suggest a national list of candidates who pass be created instead of the current local ones. Under this approach, candidates would apply directly for teaching positions at schools. Schools should also be given the authority to recruit and select teachers according to their needs. Communication skills and other soft skills beyond academic expertise should also be assessed.
Teacher allocation Revamp
It is often misunderstood that there is a shortage of teachers in Thailand. Based on data from the Office of the Teacher Civil Service and Educational Personnel Commission (OTEPC), we estimate there are over 4,500 schools in need of teachers. The total number of teachers needed in these schools is about 45,000. However, Obec should have no difficulties meeting this demand when there are over 48,000 excess teachers in some schools. Quantity is clearly not the challenge. The issue lies in the efficiency of the teacher allocation process.
As more teachers retire and new teachers are recruited, we think new teachers should be allocated to understaffed schools.
This is not the case now because teacher allocation is also tied to a teacher’s willingness to move and not a school’s or student’s needs.
We think this can be changed by changing financial resources and incentives. We suggest the teacher salary budget be allocated to individual schools according to the number of the teachers needed, as calculated by OTEPC’s personnel criteria. Doing so, overstaffed schools would not be able to pay for any excess teachers. As a result, teachers would move to schools that are understaffed and have the resources to pay them.
Teacher contract arrangements should also be reconsidered as the current ones do not encourage teachers to improve their teaching quality. As civil servants or karachakan-kru some teachers who make no attempt to improve their teaching skills and student performance would hardly ever have their employment terminated; their contract would only end upon serious violation of school regulations. Evaluations are based on paperwork and academic research rather than improving students’ performance.
Even for teachers who are motivated to improve, current working conditions in schools demand they also spend time on non-academic workload. For example, one teacher might spend two to three hours a day on administration work and two to three months a year preparing school evaluations. Teachers, even ambitious and hard-working ones, are not given the time and space to improve their teaching skills.
While we think a secure life-long contract is needed, the contract should not protect and reward teachers who do not perform. Teachers who develop their teaching skills and seek to improve students’ learning outcomes should have more employment security and a clearer career progression plan.
Given the expected mass retirements and need to recruit new teachers, we think performance-based contracts should be put in place for hiring new teachers. Non-academic requirements not tied to teaching quality improvement should also be reduced to give teachers more time to focus on their individual development. While we understand these problems are challenging because there are many moving parts and all problems are interrelated, we think teacher quality reform is the most important first step.
Supanutt Sasiwuttiwat researches education policies at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). His article is based on research done in collaboration with independent researcher Peeradej Tanruangporn. The Policy Focus column features analyses from TDRI and appears in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.
First published: Bangkok Post, August 20, 2014