Inaugural Address and Keynote Speech (Asia-Pacific Regional Consultation Adult Education)
September 16, 1996
INAUGURAL ADDRESS AND KEYNOTE SPEECH
by H. E. Mr. Sukavich Rangsitpol
Minister of Education, Jomtien Thailand
16 September 1996
Director-General of the Non-Formal Education Department,
Director of UNESCO-PROAP,
Director of UNESCO Institute for Education,Governor of Chon Buri Province,
Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to have the opportunity to give an address at this regional consultation on adult education.It is also an honour for Thailand to host distinguished participants from all parts of Asia and the Pacific Region. May I extend a cordial welcome to all the participants in this regional conference.
This regional consultation on adult education verifies a strong intention and contribution of the organizing agencies - UNESCO and the Department of Non- Formal Education - in their efforts in the realm of adult education. In fact, during the past decade, the Ministry of Education, the Non-Formal Education Department in particular, has co-ordinated with several internationalorganizations in organizing symposiums, workshops and conferences in education.
The notable ones are the World Assembly on Adult Education and the World Conference on Education for All, organized in 1990, which marked a rigorous benchmark towards eradication of illiteracy, and quality education all over the world.
I strongly believe that, as a citizen of the world, any person has the right to learn and should be entitled to have access to education according to their competency and needs. It is essential that the government provide educational services that respond to the people’s needs.
Education, therefore, has to be organized in such a way that people from all walks of life can participate in educational activities at levels and times of their preference.
At one time, it was reasonably appropriate that we placed more emphasis on eradication of illiteracy, and tremendous efforts were put forward to tackle illiteracy. Those efforts have resulted in a higher percentage of adult literacy. By and large, adult education in Thailand has been very good.
However, I would like to see adult education in Thailand do more with a diversified emphasis on three periods: the short, medium and long-term.For the short-term, it is essential that adult education concentrate on literacy education.
When I say literacy, I refer to not just being able to read and write Thai, or English in your countries, but also literacy in technology. In this era, anybody who cannot operate a computer could be considered technologically illiterate.
For the medium phase, which is particularly appropriate to the Thai situation, we found out that the average unskilled worker in a factory acquired only-a 6-year education. We have to expand to a 9 year education nationwide to provide enough skills to these workers.For the long-term, we are looking forward to providing a 12-year education for all Thai people.
And thus non-formal education will continue its role of providing higher education for the people. This would be a long-term goal for non-formal education to concentrate on. The main reason that we have to gear towards that goal stems from our belief that to diminish poverty of the people, we have to provide them with suitable education.
Education is perceived as a crucial instrument for increasing productivity and income, skills, competency of human resources, and sustainable growth. In the end, education helps reduce social problems, and improves quality of life so that people can live equally with others in society.
The provision of education has to be congruent with the pace of the changing world. This era - the era of globalization where all sources of information can be accessed within a few seconds through Internet and World-Wide-Web linkages, we inevitably have to take a further step beyond literacy level.
The speedily changing world and the growth in business and industrial enterprises have led to greater demand of semi-skilled manpower, who need a higher level of education in order to perform their tasks at the adequate level.To keep up with the speedy change, the educational system can no longer take a passive role.
In fact, there is a need for the reform of the entire educational system to keep up with the challenges of globalization and “information technology” so as to prepare our younger generation for adapting to the upcoming challenges.
The focus of education cannot be merely on general and vocational education.It is equally important that the education system provides its clientele with learning skills, so they have the ability to “learn how to learn”, the ability to make rational judgments, and they are able to express their democratic rights and freedom.
Both individuals and communities must be able to possess the skills and knowledge required to function productively in the changing world.
The changing society, especially in business and industrial sectors, will be the main driving force that paves the way for Thailand to become a “learning society” where continuing and lifelong education will actively play a dramatic role in updating the knowledge and skills of the people.
Realizing the need for changes in educational roles and management, the Ministry of Education, under my administration, has introduced several changes as part of the education reform.
The goal of the reform is to realize the potential of Thai people to develop themselves for a better quality of life and to develop the nation for peaceful co-existence in the world community.
I would like to spend a few minutes more to elaborate on the policy and implementation of education reform after the opening session.That is why I have to call upon academics and officials in the Ministry to launch a reform.
The educational reform has been focused and implemented in four main areas, namely, the school, the teacher, the curriculum, and the adminstrative system.
At the very beginning, the crucial element to be considered for education reform is the management system. The administrative power, in particular, has to be shifted to local authorities, and local participation in the school management is essentially encouraged.
We cannot deny that people who know more about the educational needs of local people are those who work and live within that community.
The reason we have to reform is that there has been a wide economic gap between people in the urban and rural areas. Economic growth in Thailand is one of the fastest in the world with almost double digits every year. Currently, the growth is between 7-9 per cent.
Twenty-five years ago, the per capita income was $100 a year. Now, the average has reached $2500, which is a substantial increase. However, the growth has resulted in inequality of income. The average income in Bangkok is $7500, while the average in the east coast and the northeast is $4500 and $800 respectively.
That is, people in Bangkok earn 10 times more than people in the northeast. The gap between the rich and the poor is very wide. While the unskilled labourers in Bangkok earn $2,000, which is the minimum wage, the people in the countryside earn only $400 a year.
The main question is: how can we expand their level of education to higher levels from 6 to 9 and to 12 years respectively ?
Currently, expenses for formal education, particularly in vocational colleges, can be very expensive. Parents have to pay $1000~$2000, depending on location, to send their children to vocational schools.
Therefore we have to improve and provide free education for poor children up to 12 years in formal schools. Non-formal education, then, should play a greater role in secondary and higher education. What I would like to achieve is to see our educational system assist people to be able to cope with social and economic problems and progress.
Also, it should be a key element to help Thailand catch up with the globalization technology, and eventually, I would like to see the excellence of Thai education by the year 2007, a decade from now.
With regard to the learning society, as I mentioned earlier, optimistically, people from all walks of life should be able to have equal access to education according to their needs and potentials. All sort of boundaries, be their gender, age, socio-economic status, physical or mental disabilities have to be eliminated.
To achieve this, we have to distinctively promote continuing and lifelong education, the form of education which is responsive to individual needs and preferences. With educational facilities and a variety of educational programs available, people can make use of the learning centre as a place to acquire technical skills or knowledge adaptive to their work and daily life activities.
It seems that the more the country is developed, the more essential adult and lifelong education will be. Since a great number of people are outside the school system, adult education will always play a great role in the improvement of our human resources. And, I do believe that your coming here to this conference will make a valuable contribution to the milieu of adult education.
On behalf of the Royal Thai Government and the Ministry of Education, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to UNESCO-PROAP, UIE and the Department of Non-Formal Education who have helped make this regional consultation possible. I hope your endeavours here will be fruitful and beneficial to the organizing agencies, the participants, and eventually the target audience of adult education programs. Also, I hope your stay in Pattaya will be a pleasant and memorable one.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I, at this auspicious moment, declare the regional consultation to be officially open, and wish you all every success in your deliberations.