A new World Bank report shows a decline in student performance in reading and a stagnation of scores in math and science, and links it to disparities in allocation and to inefficiencies of investments across schools in Thailand. Impacts of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic may accelerate these trends, the report warns.
The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluates skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, math, and science, and collects information on students’ attitudes, home background, learning experience, and school contexts. Thailand has participated in the PISA assessment since 2000. Of the 79 participating countries, Thailand ranks 68th in reading, 59th in mathematics and 55th in science, ahead of only Indonesia and the Philippines in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) Region. At the same time, around 60 percent of students scored below the minimum proficiency level in reading, 53 percent were unable to attain the minimum proficiency level in math, and 44 percent did not reach basic proficiency in science. Students in Thailand also reported higher levels of student absenteeism and a weaker sense of belonging at school compared to averages across the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and countries in the EAP region.
The report, “Creating inclusive learning environments in schools to help improve Thailand’s education performance,” further finds that investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources were especially low in disadvantaged schools (ranked at the bottom 25 percent of the PISA Economic, Social, and Cultural Status (ESCS) Index), private schools that receive more than half of their funding from government, and rural schools.
The report finds that there are several distinct drivers of the Thailand 2018 PISA results. First, total spending per student in Thailand from Grades 1 through 9 is USD 27,271 (in PPP), less than one-third that of the average spending per student across OECD countries. Second, compared to other countries with the same level of spending per student, Thailand’s performance is lower than expected. Further, while inequalities in resources allocated for teachers and other educational resources exist in many countries, disparities between schools with higher and lower socioeconomic status students in Thailand are more pronounced than in other countries in the EAP region and the OECD. Other key drivers of inequality in performance across schools include the quality of instruction by teachers; student absenteeism, especially among boys and socially disadvantaged students; and exposure to bullying in school.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed inequities in education systems across the world including Thailand,” said Birgit Hansl, World Bank Country Manager for Thailand. “The educational disruptions earlier this year created by the pandemic and the threat of a second wave pose an urgent need to build educational foundations for success in Thailand as disadvantaged young people are most affected. All schools should have the resources they need so that every student has an equal opportunity to learn and succeed.”
Wide gaps in access to digital learning resources between rural and urban schools, and between government and independent private schools have threatened to worsen learning inequality, especially during the prolonged period of school closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. While close to 90 percent of relatively wealthy students have a home computer, and nearly all have internet access, only 20 percent of students with low socio-economic status reported having computers for schoolwork and 61 percent reported having internet at home.
Findings of the 2018 PISA assessment are reflected in Thailand’s performance on some key dimensions of the Human Capital Index 2019, such as learning adjusted years of school, a global measure assessing the highest level of productivity children born today will attain in adulthood.
The report highlights three critical areas which policymakers and educators can address to improve students’ learning outcomes:
- Ensure that all classrooms are adequately staffed with qualified and well-trained teachers and material resources to improve learning outcomes of students, especially those in high-need schools.
- Enhance teaching methods and classroom management to make effective use of learning time.
- Provide a safe and welcoming learning environment to keep students in schools.