Following the most recent announcement from the education minister that the new Thai curriculum will focus on history, social studies and developing students’ loyalties to the three pillars of society, hopes of genuine education reform appear as evasive as ever.

Extensive education reforms are essential for Thailand to stand any chance of competing in the knowledge economy. Thai students continue to learn from teachers employing outdated pedagogies, with a nonsensical ‘no-fail’ policy, poorly designed assessments and an overwhelming curriculum. While other countries engage in debates on the advantages of specialisation over breadth, Thailand’s high school students find themselves overburdened in a system that tries to achieve both, forcing them each year to spend an extra 400 hours at school when compared to their European counterparts. After 12 years in education, these additional hours result in Thai students averaging less than 50% in core subjects such as Mathematics and Science. The education system requires strong and decisive actions that trigger significant changes if it is to be improved.

Education reform is a monumental task. It can take up to 10 years for national reforms to influence student performance, but over the past decade a number of countries (including Germany, Singapore, Vietnam, Peru and Ecuador) have successfully reformed their education systems.

One solution that a growing number of schools have turned to is the International Baccalaureate (IB). Thailand tends to associate the IB with prestigious international schools in and around Bangkok, but the IB is a common feature of state school systems elsewhere in the world. Over the past decade the popularity of the IB has significantly increased in both developed and developing countries. The IB can now be found at state schools in a diverse range of countries, including: USA, Norway, Turkey, Mexico, Ecuador, Hong Kong and Singapore. The IB is available globally at many more state than private institutions.

The International Baccalaureate was developed in Geneva during the 60s as a course of study for globally mobile families. The curriculum was designed to be academically challenging whilst encouraging inquisitiveness, creativity and the development of cultural literacy. The IB’s mission statement summarises its international ethos, “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

Educators, parents and policymakers are realising the importance of preparing learners for the globalised world, causing the introduction of international education programmes in schools to become increasingly popular.

Some countries, such as Turkey, Mexico and Ecuador, had been suffering problems similar to those Thailand is currently facing- outdated teaching pedagogies, insufficient teacher progression and poor performance in international education rankings- but these problems have diminished since the IB was introduced. Before fostering the IB, Mexico’s PISA results had positioned the country among the lowest in the OECD, and Ecuador’s Language and Mathematics results had deteriorated between 1996 and 2000. Both countries have seen notable improvements since adopting the IB.

Ecuadorian state schools offer the IBDP to high academic performers, but despite limiting the programme to specific groups, the IB has influenced the education system as a whole by demonstrating exactly how things could be done better. A 2013 report by Elisabeth Barnett concluded that the IBDP “appears to be having a profound impact on state education in Ecuador. The schools that initially undertook the challenge of implementing the programme are gaining a vision of what it takes to offer a meaningful, life-changing education and improving their capacity to do so… teachers are growing as professionals.” An early indication that Ecuador’s education system is improving comes from the recent World Economic Forum reports in which Ecuador took the lead for progress in its Global Competitive Report as a result of developments in the country’s infrastructure and education system. Ecuador now has more than 120 IB schools and the country is en route to having 500 IB schools by 2018.

The IB has been hugely successful in the U.S, making impressive improvements to education in lower income urban areas. A 2012 report from the University of Chicago concluded the IB “accomplished something very rare in urban education: it took economically and socially disadvantaged students and radically changed their long-term educational prospects by making them world-class learners”. There are now over 1,400 state schools offering the IB across the U.S.

The IB was first introduced to Thai international schools in the 1980s, at which time Thai nationals were forbidden to attend these schools. The 1991 Education Act changed these regulations and opened the door for Thai children to enrol at international schools. In recent years, the number of Thai students receiving an international education has dramatically increased and there are now 20 IB World Schools in Thailand. Presently, only students from privileged backgrounds may benefit from the IB, a situation that does nothing to decrease the country’s widespread inequality. If Thailand were to follow in the footsteps of countries that have introduced the IB into school systems, a greater proportion of students could benefit from a world class education.

Implementing the IB in selected government schools would not only directly benefit these students, it could also become a catalyst for widespread changes through providing teachers, administrators and education leaders with examples of how teaching, learning and assessment could be conducted more successfully.

Despite the success the IB has brought to other countries, it can not be considered a quick fix that would instantly improve Thailand’s inadequate education system. However, given the country’s consistently poor performance in education and the vast amount of money spent on previous ‘innovations’, such as the provision of free tablets, the introduction of the IB in selected government schools could be an investment well worth making.

This article was first seen on Asian Correspondent. via Shutterstock.

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