Secondary education is divided into three years of lower secondary and three years of upper secondary education. To expand educational opportunities in remote rural areas, the Office of the National Primary Education Commission (ONPEC) has established extensive lower secondary programs around the country. Also, inspired by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the Ministry of Education has established a Sema Life Development Project to provide special scholarships for secondary education to rural girls vulnerable to potential exploitation by the commercial sex industry.
Upper secondary education is divided into two basic tracks: general academic and vocational. Of those in upper secondary, 57 percent take the general academic track and 43 percent the vocational. In both lower and upper secondary, students study for a total of 1,400 hours per year. The curriculum of both lower and upper secondary have four basic elements; Core subjects such as Thai, mathematics, science, and English which must be taken by all students; Prescribed elective subjects which differ according to local conditions and needs (the special needs of schools in Islamic areas of the south); Free elective subjects depending on the interests of learners; and Activities.
Enrollments at the secondary school level are critically important for economic and social development. This is an area where Thailand has lagged behind many of its Asia-Pacific neighbors. Japan and Korea, for example, have achieved universal secondary education. Also in terms of secondary school enrollment ratios, Thailand lags behind its major Southeast Asia neighbors like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. As late as 1990, only 39 percent of those finishing government primary schools continued on to secondary education. As the result of historically low secondary school enrollments, in the year 2000 around 80 percent of the total Thai population was not educated beyond the primary level.
In recent years there have been significant improvements in the transition from primary to lower secondary education, resulting in higher secondary enrollment ratios. By 1999, the transition rate from primary to lower secondary education had improved to 87.1 percent. Also from 1995 to 1999, the overall secondary school ratio improved from 53 to 71 percent. Despite such important improvements, nevertheless, 30 percent of 12-17 year olds have no opportunity to study at the secondary level. Thailand's net secondary school attendance rate of 47.6 percent (1997) ranked it much lower than many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Another serious problem relates to regional disparities in the access to lower and upper secondary education. In the whole kingdom 43.3 percent of the population received 4 years of education, 90.8 percent had completed the primary program, 74.2 percent the lower secondary, and 47.4 percent had completed the general and vocational upper secondary programs. Percentages for the central region show 42.1 percent had completed 4 years of education, 100 percent had completed the primary grades, 78.4 percent the lower secondary program, and 51.2 percent the general vocational or upper secondary programs. Percentages in the northeast, north, and south were somewhat less than the central region, with the remotest and most economically disadvantaged northeast lagging behind other regions.
The less than complete enrollment ratios at both the secondary and primary level are reflected by the significant numbers of youth not in school. Some 143,900 children between the ages of 6 and 11; 231,000 between the ages of 12 and 14; and 231,000 from ages 15 to 19 are not in school. Of the population between the ages of 20 to 24, some 5,043,000 are not in school.
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