Teacher supply and quality is still strained and thin in rural areas

Teacher supply and quality is still strained and thin in rural areas
A kindergarten pupil at a Bangkok slum school.

The issue of teachers is important both in Thailand and Laos, but in a different way.

Thailand has over 450,000 teachers for 11 million students nationwide. Yet, a concentration of teachers is obvious in some schools but not in remote areas, which suffer teacher shortages. Importantly, quality of teacher is being hotly debated.

Meanwhile, Laos is set to face a severe shortage of teachers, as the government allows the employment of only 1,800 teachers despite an estimated demand of 3,000.

While he was serving as Thai education minister last year, Chaturon Chaisang said the shortage of teachers was most serious at small schools.

The ratio of teachers to students in Thailand is 1:24.4. This figure looks nice on paper. But in practice, many rural schools have to rely on one teacher for all classes - from maths to Science and English to Thai.

While sitting at the helm of the Education Ministry, Chaturon had hoped to amend a regulation to ensure that the government could assign teachers to schools to facilitate a better educational quality.

It remains unclear, though, whether the new education minister, to be chosen by Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, will agree with the idea.

In Laos, even though the government has offered a quota of 1,800 teachers, including administrators this year, it still falls short of the estimated 3,000 teachers required for schools around the country.

Vientiane has cut back from last year's 5,000 teachers and administrators for the Ministry of Education and Sports, with the drastic decrease being put down to the Laos government's budgetary crisis.

The problems have resulted in cutbacks, for not only the education sector, but also for other departments across the country, the education official said.

The ministry's director general of the Personnel Administration Department Chansamouth Keosouttha told the Vientiane Times that the ministry had planned to encourage quality teachers and volunteers to work in rural target areas in order to address the shortfall.

"A lack of teachers means that the provincial and district education and sports sectors will not be able to achieve its 'Education for All' goals by 2015," Chansamouth said.

The ministry set up a master plan for 2011-16, which is a joint initiative between development groups and the ministry to improve teaching and education standards.

"Supporting teachers to take up work in rural areas is also part of the plan. In rural areas, infrastructure improvement is prioritised ahead of education development," Chansamouth said.

However, an assessment of administrative staff, teachers and students shows that there have been improvements in education in some districts compared to past years.

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