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Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

As illustrated by the sweeping educational reforms introduced by the visionary monarch, King Chulalongkorn in the late 1800s, education has been strongly influenced by politics in Thailand. Until 1932, Siam had a system of absolute monarchy, which was transformed in a bloodless revolution into a constitutional monarchy in June 1932. From 1932 to 1973, the military dominated Thai politics for much of the period, and there were often significant constraints limiting the freedoms of Thai intellectuals, scholars, and students. A major student revolution, which erupted in October 1973, fundamentally changed the future direction of Thai politics and education. Three military tyrants were expelled from the country and replaced by a prime minister who had been a professor at Thammasat University. From 1973 to 1976, Thailand experienced its most open period ever in terms of intellectual fervor and the tolerance of diverse perspectives. Great concerns about educational equity and equality emerged and were addressed in a major educational reform initiative. Unfortunately this reform movement was cut short by a counter coup by the police and military on October 6, 1976, when police stormed Thammasat University, which was housing student protesters. The more open environment was restored after another coup in October 1977, which ushered in the current democratic period. In the subsequent period there was only one successful military coup in February, 1991, which was reversed in a people power confrontation with the military in May 1992. This event opened the door for the political and educational reforms initiated in the late 1990s.

Prior to 1980, there were three separate ministries administering education: Ministry of Interior (most primary education), the Ministry of Education (secondary education and some postsecondary education), and the Ministry of University Affairs (responsible for institutions of higher education.) In 1980, demonstrating able leadership and vision, Dr. Sippanondha Ketudat, a Harvard-trained technocrat serving as Minister of Education, orchestrated a transfer of authority for basic primary education from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Education. Since the budget for basic primary education represented approximately 10 percent of the national budget, this was a remarkable example of the potential for structural change in Thai education.

The administration of Thai education is exceedingly complex given the multiple actors and agencies involved. A number of different ministries and agencies are involved in administering education in Thailand. They are the Ministry of Education, Ministry of University Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Ministry of Transport and Communications, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment, Ministry of Justice, and the Thai Red Cross Society.

There is considerable overlap and redundancy among ministries and agencies providing education. This has made effective planning complex and difficult. For example, both the Ministry of University of Affairs and the Ministry of Education have been actively involved in preparing teachers. This created a crisis in a tremendous overproduction of education graduates relative to need. Also nine different agencies are involved in providing primary education.

In general, the system of education is highly centralized, especially the part administered by the Ministry of Education, which houses a large bureaucracy in the capital of Bangkok. The 14 departments within the Ministry are extremely strong and are even commonly referred to as the "14 fiefdoms." This over centralized system results in excessive funds being spent on administration rather than for educational improvements. Also, this over centralization has contributed to inefficiency and an inability to be responsive to the diverse needs of local communities.

In terms of educational finance, Thailand actually spends an impressive amount of both its GDP and national government budget on education. In 1998, the government budget for education was 3.9 percent of GDP and despite the serious economic crisis of the late 1990s, education in fiscal years 1998 and 1999 was about 25.0 percent of total government expenditures, the highest ever. The budget approved by Parliament for the year 2000 represented 25.7 percent of the national budget.

While the majority of funds for education come from the national budget, over time an increasing amount of local funds have become available to support education. This has been particularly true of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), where 28.1 percent of its budget is derived from its own local funds. In the future it is likely that other wealthier urban areas, such as Haadyai, Pattaya, Phuket, and Chiang Mai, will provide considerable local funding in support of education.

Thailand also receives considerable international assistance in support of education in the form of loans and technical assistance. Major multilateral assistance has been received from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the OECF. Major bilateral assistance has been provided by Austria, Denmark, and Germany.

Compared to other countries of its size and stage of development, Thailand has produced extensive educational research and the Thai publishing industry has grown dramatically in recent decades with much research published in Thai as well as in English. The origins of Thai educational research date back to 1955, when the International Institute for Child Study was established in Bangkok. The Institute has now become the Behavioral Science Research Institute and has conducted both basic and applied research. In the 1960s, the Thai government began actively supporting research, primarily done by divisions of the Ministry of Education and the National Education Commission. In 1974, the Office of University Affairs issued new regulations requiring research work for the promotion of faculty, which led for the first time to the systematic encouragement of research. In the Thai context, the development of textbooks was counted as "research" for purposes of promotion. In 1998, only 21.5 percent of faculty in public universities and 7.8 percent in private universities had Ph.D. research degrees, which is an important barrier to Thailand's overall research capacity at the university level.

Extensive educational research is conducted by the Office of the National Education Commission (ONEC), Thailand's major educational R&D center, which is part of the Office of the Prime Minister. This office did important and extensive research underlying the education reform initiative (1999-2002). Another major source of research is provided by the faculty and students of Thailand's many universities, especially in faculties of education. Some research is also done by the Ministry of Education itself, particularly by its Department of Curriculum and Instructional Development. That research focuses on testing, curriculum, and text development. Combining English and Thai language materials, there have been more than a total of 1,000 publications of educational research in recent decades.

Another important research-oriented institution is the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST), which is responsible for R&D and related training to improve the teaching of science and technology in Thailand. IPST participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. To facilitate research, a new Library Network has been established in Thailand that will electronically link the National Library, university libraries, the Rajabhat Institute Library, the Rajamangala Institute of Technology Library, and other libraries around the country.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceThailand - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education