written by Jocelyn Pollak
If you ask a Thai person what are the top three things in Thailand that need major reform, education will undoubtedly be included.
Plagued by corruption and ever changing leadership, the Ministry of Education has struggled to implement long overdue reforms, until now. I had the opportunity to sit down with M L Pariyada Diskul (Khun Parry), the Secretary to the Minister of Education, and have a candid discussion about the state of education in Thailand, both on the subjects of public and international schools. She is a true pioneer and has been fighting for education reform in Thailand for decades with some very impressive results. Now, she is working in the Ministry of Education, not as a politician, but as a fierce mother fighting for what is best for the children of Thailand and for the country as a whole.
Khun Parry moved to the UK when she was just 6 years old as her father’s role as a military attaché caused the family to relocate.
When she returned to Thailand as a teenager and had to go to Thai school, she found it very difficult to adjust to the rigid system based on rote memorisation. After completing high school, she returned to the UK for further studies and met and married her husband. A tragic car accident widowed Khun Parry and she moved back to Thailand with her son. From this sprung her early motivation to fight against the antiquated education system in Thailand. Because her Thai son was not the child of a diplomat, he was not allowed to attend any international school in Thailand despite the fact that he had grown up abroad.
Khun Parry saw this archaic limitation as not only a problem for her own child, but for the children and future of Thailand. So, she did something about it. With a small coalition, she fought the bureaucracy to have this law repealed and they had some success; Thais would then be able to attend international schools for three years. Obviously, this was not exactly
what she had hoped for, but it was a success nonetheless and she built upon this momentum and eventually the law was fully repealed, which is why Thais can now attend one of the over 175 international schools in Thailand.
Upon the wings of this initial success, Khun Parry continued to use her world experience to change the minds of some long-established bureaucrats who, amongst other old-fashioned beliefs, thought English education in Thailand was unnecessary because Thailand had never been colonised. In her eyes, this mentality was totally unacceptable in the globalising world and would put Thailand well behind other nations. She became a director of Bangkok Patana School and used her time to fight for reforms which allowed more international schools to open in Thailand with the hope that the country would one day become an educational hub.
When she began her journey, there were only 5 international schools in Thailand; now there are over 175 and that number continues to grow every year. As the founder of the International Schools Association of Thailand (ISAT) and as president for 2 terms, she has used the collective bargaining power of all the international schools to get the government to reform regulations to benefit the students.
On a larger scale, she believes that if excellent students and families can be attracted here because of the top tier educational institutions, their money and their minds will stay in Thailand and help to develop the country economically. On the smaller scale, she believes that parents should have a choice in where they send their children to school and those schools should be of the highest standardpossible.
After being appointed to the Ministry of Education three years ago by General Prayut Chan-Ocha, she has shifted her fire towards a major overhaul of English education in Thailand. As she said, regardless of your political opinions, the current administration has been in place for three years and this has created the much-needed stability that the MoE requires to actually make real changes. Previously, the ministers had changed every year, leaving little opportunity to actually get initiatives off the ground.
With the new Minister of Education, Dr Teerakiat Jareonsettasin and his team at the forefront of these new reforms, there are some truly inspirational changes happening for the average Thai student. There is a current government mandate, which has not occurred in the past, to upgrade the English skills of all Thai students so that they can be more capable of competing in a global marketplace.
After learning that of the 40,000 Thai English teachers in Thailand, only 350 were CEFR level B1 (most teachers are advanced beginners at best) Khun Parry set up Regional English Training Centres (bootcamps) programme in partnership with The British Council, that all teachers are required to attend. This 6 week programme instructs with modern pedagogy that will place the Thai English education system more in line with international standards.
She and her team have built a programme with a career path and incentives for teachers so that they will actually be more motivated and feel more supported than they have ever been in the past. It recently launched for the first groups of teachers and the feedback from the 6,000 so far has already been overwhelmingly positive. The launch of an English teacher development programme like this is truly revolutionary for a system that has seen very little emphasis placed on such a critical part of modern education.
So, what does Khun Parry see for the future of education in Thailand? She envisions a country where education is a major factor behind the wellbeing of the entire population. She wants Thailand to become an example of a country where change is possible; a better education for everyone is possible if you just fight for it. It’s said than an angry mom is capable of getting more done than anyone else and from the beginning, that’s what Khun Parry has been, not a politician or a businesswoman, she’s simply a mother who saw that her children were being limited so she fought for them just as any mother would fight for her children. Her fight has inspired so many others to join her cause and affect positive change in Thailand that has never been seen before.