Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bizarre reporting or an artifact of Thai education?

The headline of the article below piqued my interest to find out with bated breath what those "educational strengths" are (especially irrestible for one who has long experience in Thai education). More often than not, my experience in this country tells me that "international courses" mean Thai lecturers use English to teach Thai students. The primary motivation (as with evening, training, up-country courses) is to generate money for the institution.

The story begins by relating that a group of "relevant agencies" (starting) to encourage the Education Ministry to seriously strengthen the country's transnational education.

So now I began to wonder with a tinge of impatience ..... the headline implicity asserts that Thailand has strengths in transnational education... what are these strengths? In what sense are they considered strengths?

Further down the lines, you find out these consist of "medical fields; nursing; tourism; service and hospitality; food; and agricultural fields" being "accepted internationally". Is anyone aware of these facts? A professor at Siriraj Hospital Faculty of Nursing told me that they barely manage to have 2 to 3 nursing students (who receive some kind of international scholarships). These students come from Bangladesh, China, Laos, etc. on the purportedly south-south kind of "cooperation". (This is the premier Faculty of Nursing in Thailand). Tourism? Hospitality?

When I worked at Mahidol University, the number of students studying hotel management at the international college was rather conservative and consisted mainly of rich Thai kids. Food? I wonder how many international students are studying in private universities in Bangkok to be chefs? Agricultural fields??? Really? Are these not in fact "spectacular claims" that have no bases in fact? "Accepted internationally" in reference to which countries, may I ask?

Instead of being enlightened, I became more confused with the seemingly illogical thought process of the reporter. It reminded me of the incomprehensible answers I get from my students in their test papers which they directly attribute to their lack of competence in English. (i.e., had they written in Thai, their thoughts would come out clearly.)

As you read further down the quote of the Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU)'s vice president, Prof Paitoon Sinlarat - you would have thought that in desperation, Thai universities are being encouraged to attract drug addicts to come to study to Thailand with the addition of "indigenous drugs" to international programmes. Thailand may have a few liberal notions about some areas of life, but I can assure you this is not one of those that Mr. Taksin believed when he conducted his drug war while Prime Minister. And how will that strengthen international programmes? Surely, in more civilized societies a vice president of a university saying that would end up in public disfavor and ridicule! But not in Thailand. Perhaps, the news reporter misquoted or did not probe for clarification from the distinguished Prof Dr (a statement is enough whether you understand or not because it comes from a professor)? or maybe it was a matter of poor translation and editing?

My acculturated Thai self tells me not to pursue 'deeper' thoughts. Farangs must conform to Thainess not the other way around. In the same way that I believe there was no flood mismanagement, and I believe the government when it guarantees that there will be no more flood next year (2012). (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/270327/govt-promises-flood-free-future)


Focus on Thai educational strengths, govt told
Wannapa Khaopa

The Nation December 20, 2011 1:00 am

With demand for education growing and student mobility increasing due to globalisation and internationalisation, Thailand must act now or risk lagging behind other countries in this field. Relevant agencies are starting to encourage the Education Ministry to seriously strengthen the country's transnational education (TNE).

In particular, they have urged the ministry to promote TNE by focusing on those educational fields in which the country has already gained acceptance, instead of pushing Thailand as an education hub, arguing that the latter strategy is too difficult to achieve, Sudhasinee Vajrabul, deputy secretary general of the Office of the Education Council (OEC), said yesterday. Sudhasinee was speaking after a meeting with representatives from the Commerce Ministry's Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN), the Office of Higher Education Commission, the Office of Vocational Education Commission, and universities.

They agreed that the ministry should promote Thailand as hub in the medical; nursing; tourism; service and hospitality; food; and agricultural fields. These fields were accepted internationally, so Thailand would be able to succeed more easily in promoting these specific fields, rather than relying solely on the education hub strategy, to which the overall quality of education and English language literacy in the country are important barriers, they said.

Sudhasinee said the OEC would present the proposals to Education Minister Woravat Auapinyakul for consideration next Monday(Dec26) to seriously push Thailand's TNE forward.

"Universities in Thailand have provided international education, which is part of TNE, but it is like fashion. Some universities have opened international programmes just to promote themselves, but they are unable to generate profit. International education in Thailand is seen as second-class international education. Thus, we have to seriously provide quality programmes to lure more foreign students," Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU)'s vice president, Prof Paitoon Sinlarat, said.

He recommended the universities add something special or unique to their international programmes that students could not learn in other countries, like indigenous drugs, to make their programmes more attractive.

In addition to offering English language instruction, Paitoon urged officials to promote Thai language and Thai studies among Asean countries to increase the country's influence in the region, which is similar to what China has done. The idea was backed by many participants at the meeting.

More people in Asean - especially in Vietnam - are studying the Thai language, according to information presented at the meeting.

DTN official Ronnarong Poonpipat said Thailand should promote four areas of education to drive TNE - distance or online education; international education that brings foreign students to study in the country; international education in which foreign universities open branches or offshore campuses in Thailand; and "flying teacher" programmes.

"The Asean Economic Community is coming in the next three years... If we don't prepare for changes in education, Thailand will become a new educational market for other Other countries which have prepared an aggressive TNE strategy," Sudhasinee said.

OEC secretary-general Anek Permvongseni said he planned to host a national conference on TNE to discuss the issue more thoroughly, and a regional conference with Asean countries to learn from their experiences in promoting TNE.

"Singapore and Malaysia have aggressively promoted TNE. We should learn from them."

Agreeing that disjointed educational policies formulated by different political parties when they come to power posed a crucial obstacle, the meeting's participants agreed to look for ways to develop more seamless policies.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Degrees for sale


Degrees for sale : the cancer in our education system goes beyond
By Chularat Saengpassa
The Nation
Published on May 2, 2011

In the past week, nothing in the education world has been hotter than reports about degrees and diplomas for sale from the E-Sarn University . But just as authorities are frantic to find solid evidence against the university, it is worth asking about the twists in our education ethics, and perhaps our social values.

Frankly speaking, word had spread for quite a long time that people could buy degrees if they wanted too.

A private university, for example, had openly advertised that, "If you pay all tuition fees, you get a degree for sure".

Some other higher-educational institutes may be less open. Still it is widely known that many such institutes have introduced rather expensive courses to generate profits and help their students - so much so that a 'fail' grade is out of the question.

Are such practices a form of degree selling? The answer is perhaps "Yes".

Moreover, thesis services are indeed available for students who can afford them. With many graduate students struggling hard with thesis writing, they opted to turn to such services in a bid to ease their ordeal.

Apart from word of mouth, people offering such services have advertised their expertise on the Internet too. Thesis writers usually charged a graduate student between Bt25,000 and Bt500,000 each. They have charged people seeking a doctorate between Bt200,000 and Bt500,000 each.

In many senses, the service users should be called degree buyers too - because if students don't pay extra, they will not get the master/|doctorate degrees they want.

The Office of Higher Education Commission (Ohec) secretary-general Sumet Yaemnoon has said that it is depressing enough to see some universities let their students pocket degrees so easily, as if they did not care whether the students learned something or not.

"But things are getting worse. Now, the degree sellers have allowed the buyers to get the degrees without any need to sit classes," Sumet lamented.

Several people have said the E-Sarn University contacted them about degrees for sale with the tempting condition that they didn't have to sit classes at all.

Many had taken up the offer, as they knew higher degrees would pave the way for their career advancement.

With the doctorate degrees, they could even apply for posts as university lecturers and enjoy many money-making opportunities.

It is widely believed that not just the E-Sarn University but also many other universities have been involved in degree-selling.

If one Googles "degrees for sale", one will easily find an advertisement listing the price of genuine certificates and degrees.

The advertiser guarantees that the degrees are not forged, payers can even get student ID numbers and check their records with institutes in which they have been enrolled.

A bachelor's degree costs between Bt37,000 and Bt90,000. Payers can attend the conferral ceremony too. For a master's degree, it costs between Bt120,000 and Bt280,000.

By paying an additional fee of Bt7,000 the payer can attend the conferral ceremony as well.

The advertiser does not allow the payers to choose which institutes they want to be linked to, but points out that the buyers can select their preferred field after which they will be able to jump into for the career they want.

Buyers are also promised nice grades and other documents to back up claims they have really studied at the institutes.

All this is closely linked to the labour market. For decades, Thai employers warmly embraced those with degrees from foreign universities, regardless of their international rankings and the degree holders' actual knowledge.

Now, as the labour market opens to degrees from local universities, all who can afford the prices do everything to solidify their social |status.

And now the market complains about degree holders' inability to perform their jobs and how some turn to local wisdom or knowledge from lay persons who hold no university degrees.

In Thai society, as long as these values do not change, it is guaranteed that degrees for sale will be here for a long, long time.




Friday, April 1, 2011

Too good to be true but this is Thailand



Is this an April Fool joke?

Published on April 1, 2011 The Nation

Re: "Plan to hire native English speakers", March 30.

As a former English teacher, I nearly spilled my participles when I read that the Office of the Basic Education Commission plans to hire 300 native English-speaking teachers at a salary of Bt83,000 per month.

Those happy teachers will think they have died and gone to heaven, considering the pittance English teachers usually receive in Thailand. Even foreign ajarns at one of the major government universities start out with a basic salary of only Bt19,790, regardless of qualifications and experience, supplemented by a housing allowance of Bt8,000. Teachers at less prestigious institutions receive considerably less. The Obec will have hungry applicants lined up all the way from Bangkok to Korat. What godlike qualities will successful candidates possess to justify such a salary?

This looks like another one of those quick-fix ideas that occasionally surface in Thai bureaucracies - the magic bullet that will solve all problems. Hire 300 foreigners, throw money at them, and lo, problem solved. Thai students will be magically and instantaneously transformed into youthful Oxonians, all rattling away in English with perfect fluency and posh accents.

I wonder if the originators of this plan have considered how Thai teachers struggling to survive on Bt9,000 a month will feel when they find out that their foreign counterparts are raking in Bt83,000 a month.

If you want a recipe for rock-bottom morale among your Thai teachers, this is it.

Here's a better idea: If the quality of English-teaching in Thai schools is not up to snuff, train the Thai teachers you've already got. Once they're trained, give them decent working conditions and a substantial pay raise. There's nothing wrong with Thai teachers that adequate training, adequate pay and decent treatment won't fix. Yes, training them will be long, hard and expensive. It will also require sustained effort. Most worthwhile endeavours usually do. In teaching English, as in so many other activities, quick fixes rarely work, and there is no magic bullet.

S Tsow


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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Creative economy in Thailand sounds like an oxymoron

Creative economy needs protection

Published on March 3, 2011 The Nation

"Innovation is key to the golden age." This is how the media recently summed up a well-received and thoughtful speech by Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul, in which he urged the country to focus on innovation as a key to future competiveness.

His comments were yet another sign of growing support for invention in Thailand. On a national level, we are being encouraged to take part in a creative economy. We are being told that this will help Thailand to out-innovate and out-create our country's strongest competitors.

The government is also backing up this effort to build a creative economy with financial support. Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot recently announced a Bt7-billion investment in building Thailand's creative economy this year.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, the creative economy is much more than a political platform. It is - as one software innovator described it - a big step in the right direction that needs to be followed up by enforcement of intellectual-property rights created by the campaign.

"Encouraging the country to innovate is so important," says Thai Software Enterprises' managing director Somporn Maneeratanakul. "But protecting these innovations is equally important. Without good protection for intellectual property, what incentive is there to innovate? Can a creative economy excel without strong protection for the owners of innovations? In my experience, the answer is no."

Consider Somporn's situation. In 1997, he took a financial risk and invested in the copyrights to locally made software. He hired a team of programmers and researchers, established a sales team and began the process of building his business. Yet, 14 years later, Somporn still faces a software-piracy rate of 75 per cent of his product offering.

"With lower levels of software piracy," he says "we would have the resources to create and innovate at much higher levels. We would create more jobs, more wealth, more new ideas. But as it stands, we spend a lot of time and energy protecting our intellectual property."

This is not to take anything away from the strategy behind the government's creative-economy plan. It is, in principal, a sound initiative and our government leaders should be applauded for their focus on innovation and invention.

But for movements such as this to truly take root and develop into viable, wealth-producing, job-creating industries, Thailand must better focus on protecting the intellectual capital created by motivated entrepreneurs.

Given all that Thailand's innovators and creators sacrifice, the least we can do is to protect their innovations and respect their intellectual-property rights.

I fully agree that innovation is the key to the golden age. And I am optimistic about the potential for a creative economy. Thailand clearly has huge potential as a place to be creative. But let's also remember that protection of intellectual-property rights is a critical part of the equation. Without good protection for intellectual property, the golden age will remain something we can only hope to achieve.

Varunee Ratchatapattanakul is a consultant with the Business Software Alliance. She is an attorney specialising in intellectual-property rights.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Buying Grades, Selling Souls

Bought grades, sold souls an all-access pass through the halls of higher learning
Published: 2/01/2011 at 12:00 AM Bangkok Post
Voranai Vanijaka

Want a bachelor's degree? One can be had for between 37,000 to 90,000 baht, depending on the institution. There's a service that will hack into a university's computer, insert your name on a degree and voila, you can even join the graduation ceremony.

Want a 3.5 GPA? No problem. A hacker can arrange it. Want to be on the honour roll? Just pay a little more.
In fact, your kids can even obtain a primary school certificate; that's only 5,000 to 8,000 baht.
Too dumb to do an MBA thesis? No problem. For anywhere between 120,000 and 280,000 baht, someone will write one for you.

A friend of mine owns a learning institute (one of the many in the country) that caters specifically to rich little boys and girls who are too stupid to write their own theses, but whose parents nevertheless love them very much. Business is always brisk. Want to have the title ''Dr'' precede your name? A doctoral thesis will cost you just a bit more.

Don't want to cheat too blatantly? Want to at least make the effort of pretending to go to school? No problem, a few Thai institutes of higher learning offer ''pay and pass'' programmes. As long as you pay your tuition, you will graduate.

Unofficial, but highly popular, eight- year programmes are also available so that they can milk as much money from parents as possible.

A colleague of mine, who I refer to as ''the walking encyclopaedia'', is currently writing doctoral theses for a few of the 111 banned politicians. They plan to make their return to politics with a PhD because it will look good to the voters. Business is brisk.

Pay to pass is old news. Hiring a ghost writer to complete a thesis is common, so is the straight-up purchase of a a degree. It's the same old story. The emergence of computer hackers who can give you a degree and put you on the honour roll is just a new twist.

In all of these cases, it is not the sons and daughters who are paying for the grades and degrees. It's the parents. It's not the students who sell the grades and degrees, it's the adults. And oftentimes, it's the teachers, the administrators and the institutions themselves making the profits.

Put all that together with the news in recent months that teachers are failing exams in basic subjects like maths and science, and that they are coming up with substandard questions for the O-Net exam, and what do we get?
Cheating and corruption is the norm at all levels of society, and incompetency is the sum of our failings.

Consequently, both the government and private sectors are replete with executives and ministers, managers and bureaucrats with snazzy overseas degrees on their walls and little of anything in their brains.

It is no wonder then that we are not ready to open our industries to foreign competition. We just don't have the skills or knowledge to compete, even with the fancy degrees. Of course, there are many genuinely brilliant and honest minds in Thailand. But we have to compete as a whole, not by the handful.

I recently finished my first semester of lecturing at a university. There are those students who are brilliant and meticulous. It was a joy to teach them. There are those students who are very creative, but bored to death with education. Give them a project that challenges them and gets their creative juices flowing, and they will dazzle. Give them an assignment or an exam that requires researches and study, and witness an exercise in mediocrity. It is then the job of the educator to find a way to stimulate them.

There are also those students who couldn't care less; those who cheat without batting an eye.

There's an old but true answer to that question, one that has no boundaries and is not specific to any culture.
From Bangkok to Timbuktu, we know that leaders need to set an example for their followers, that adults must provide an exemplary model that the young can emulate.

Ladies and gentlemen, a typical classroom is simply a mirror-image of the society at large.
Should we be surprised that the young prefer cheating, when the parents are only too eager to help them do so? Should we be shocked that students don't care about education, when teachers aren't qualified to educate?
Constitution Court judges vehemently deny (allegedly) being caught on tape (allegedly) involving them in an (alleged) exam leak scandal, and there's no investigation, no repercussions. Doctors, who have sworn an oath to heal without discrimination, declare that they will refuse to treat patients if a bill that will allow them to be sued for medical malpractice is passed.

Should we be baffled that students display no guilt or remorse when caught cheating?
Cheating politicians are allowed to run in by-elections and return to their posts. Half of the country supports a former prime minister who was found guilty of corruption and who fled the country. The other half supports a prime minister who condones the rampant corruption in his government.

Should we then be perplexed that students believe they could and should get away with cheating?
If, according to an Abac poll, 76.1% of Thais believe that corruption is OK, as long as the country prospers, does that mean adults and parents believe students' cheating is OK, as long as they pass and graduate?

If 16-year-old Orachorn Thephasadin Na Ayudhya (who now claims she is 17) believes that she should get away with hitting a van on the tollway and causing the deaths of nine people, should we only blame the girl and her well-connected family? Or should we recognise the fact that this is how society works _ and that is because we, the Thai people, work it that way?

If we want to solve Thailand's woes, overcome our failings and progress into the brave new world, we need to stop pointing fingers at others and start accepting responsibility for the things we do each and every day of our lives. There can't be a crisis among the younger generation unless the old generation instigates it.
No doubt, there will be those holier-than-thous who will insist, ''Not me! I'm not responsible for any of this! It's all of you! But not me!'' Well, fine.

As for the rest of us, we all have done things we wish we hadn't.
Just last week, I woke up thinking to myself of a deed (or misdeed) that occurred the previous night. I thought, ''Blast it, I hope there wasn't any CCTV around.''
The young will aspire to be whatever the adults show them they could or should be. We adults have set a very poor example.

There will be more mistakes, more failings, but at the end of it all, there are better things that we can do in life.
It's the second decade of the second millennium, and we could and should give the future of the Thai society a second chance by setting a better example for our children, stumbling along the way as we might.

Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email atvoranaiv@bangkokpost.co.th

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Opinion > Opinion
Thai women work better than Thai men
Published: 16/12/2010 at 12:00 AM
Bangkok Post

In answer to Sethaput Suthiwart-Narueput's question, ''Where have all the men gone...?'' (Bangkok Post, Dec 14) may I humbly suggest that, in order to find answers to this question, he simply visit any school in the kingdom.

Amongst others, I teach two Mathayom 2 classes. One class, predominantly boys, the other, predominantly girls. Both classes suffer from the usual Thai student diseases _ OBD (Obsessive Blackberry Disorder), narcolepsy, chronic copying, creativity deficiency syndrome, and aural disagreement with oral overload _ but, despite these generic (genetic?) afflictions, the girls still manage to find a way to do their classwork, do their homework, ask intelligent questions, keep their books and the classroom clean, and generally be interesting, respectful and, most importantly, responsible human beings.

The boys, well, not so much. They like pretending to be kung-fu masters, spinning their pens, making ''miaow'' noises, jabbing sharpened straws up each other's derriers, and generally doing all the things that your average Western kindergartener is already starting to think a little juvenile.

I have a friend who runs a factory in Thailand. In their first year, they had so many problems that they nearly went under. The staff were constantly absent, constantly hung over (or drunk), constantly sneaking off for naps, constantly delivering the kind of shoddy work that you see everywhere, and constantly demanding more money be cause, as they put it, ''I want it!'' He then discovered a pattern. The problem staff were all Thai men. In fact, it was fair to say that the Thai men were all problem staff.

The factory now has a policy. For any job where it is even remotely possible to employ a woman, even if that woman is initially less qualified than the male applicants, they will employ her. The factory is now doing very nicely, thank you (and the place smells much nicer, too).

Now, I could tell you what the root cause of this is, what the root cause of pretty much all of Thailand's woes is, but the only people who would agree are those Westerners who don't have ''some lovely Thai people at work who sort all that stuff out for me'' and the odd Thai who doesn't adhere to the Kasit Piromya school of how to deal with constructive criticism, i.e. ''No... you are!''

So, what can be done about this? Well, I would say, please don't do anything about this. Let the trend continue. Actively encourage it! The sooner Thailand is run by responsible, intelligent, diligent, mature and reasonable Thai women, the better for Thailand.

Thai men are welcome to rebut, though I imagine most of them will be either too lazy to do so, too busy jabbing sharpened things where sharpened things have no business being, or too incapable of even reading this in the first place.

Let me stress that I am not a feminist. I like my girlfriend to wear her hair long and her skirts short. She does the ironing, cooking and cleaning way better than I ever would see the need to. And I expect her to give up work and take care of any sprogs we might fashion in the future.

But then I don't have to give her all my wages every month because I can't be trusted to not spend it all the first week on Regency with my buddies at the marble checkers table outside the local shop; I don't think it's okay to have women on the side; I don't exist in a perpetual state of grumpiness and aloof disinterest with her; and I would employ her before I would employ myself any day of the week. I am, after all, a man as well.