Pattanida Punthumasen
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Thailand has been reforming its education system since the promulgation of the National Education Act of 1999. We have initiated a lot of projects aligned with the National Education Act, to try to make successful reforms. But it has not been easy to achieve some goals due to the fact the type of graduates coming out of local universities has not matched the type of graduates needed by business entities.

One major problem is choices made by students for upper secondary and tertiary educational courses. Many students complete lower secondary education do not want to do vocational studies. In many cases that is due to biased views shared by their parents on the lower social status associated with vocational education.  An increasing majority of students choose to pursue a general stream of upper secondary study at high school in order to undertake university entrance exams, with the goal of getting into a famous university and earning bachelor, master’ s or even doctoral degrees.  

The concern is that, from a national human resource development point of view, this general education stream of upper secondary and tertiary education focuses more on theory than practice and does not offer students enough practical experience to adequately prepare them for private sector jobs. Companies who hire these students must invest a lot of time and money to get these graduates to be useful.

According to a study by the Office of the Education Council (OEC) in 2009, the number of graduates who did vocational courses was 167,994 while the number of general stream graduates was 308,103. That is 35 and 65 per cent, respectively, of the 476,097 total graduates. In contrast, the total number of skilled graduates that industries and companies needed was 396,000 in the same year.

Another study showed the proportion of students doing vocational study versus those doing general university degrees was 41.2 to 58.8, 39.8 to 60.2 and 38.8 to 61.2 in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. It was clear the ratio of students choosing vocational options declined each year from 2006 to 2009. Consequently, there have not been enough skilled workers for a range of industries.

However, in reality, the quality and content of vocational education has developed very quickly since the new millennium. Many vocational schools have launched very good courses for students. With best practice and concrete examples, some vocational schools and institutes-such as Panyapiwat Institute of Technology-can offer good courses which educate students with both theoretical and practical knowledge by working closely with large companies.

Students can be confident of guaranteed employment after graduation and can access scholarships easily. Also, they can become apprentices and receive remuneration throughout the year, thus having the advantage of earning an income while gaining valuable experience in real work situations during their study. Moreover, after graduation, working in valuable jobs and gaining stability in daily living, they can further their studies whenever they want or need, because our society now promotes opportunities for lifelong education.

At the moment the quality of new graduates from general education is unsatisfactory, due in particular to the lack of practical experience and critical thinking.  In contrast, vocational education is meaningful and valuable for developing Thailand’s economic growth.  One of the strategic goals in the second decade of education reform (2009-2018) is to change the proportion of students doing vocational study and the general stream-from about 40: 60 to 60: 40. But effective ways must be found to help the parents and students realize the advantages and adopt a positive attitude towards vocational stream education.