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In Thailand, no child left without a tablet

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The government of Thailand, only a couple of years removed from deadly political turmoil, has embarked on an ambitious educational reform. Every one of the country’s 9 million schoolchildren is to get a tablet computer.

Education leaders say that putting 21st century technology in the hands of students is a dramatic leap forward, especially for those from poor rural areas. But critics wonder if it’s not a gimmick diverting attention to more serious problems of corruption and poor teacher training.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head explains the issue in this video clip.

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Yingluck Shinawatra, campaigning on a tablet platform: Reuters photo

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra campaigned on a “one tablet per child” platform during the 2011 elections that brought her party to power. It was probably her most popular proposal.

The program began rolling out last year with the distribution of 860,000 tablets to first graders, according to the Bangkok Post.  The $32.8 million purchase was the largest tablet-distribution deal to date, Digital Trends reported in 2012.

The students are to hold onto the tablets for the rest of their school careers. This year, the government is providing 1.8 million tablets to the new crop of first-graders and to seventh-graders.

Is a blanket infusion of technology the best way for Thailand to catch up? Some have their doubts.

The Economist:

The chief problem is that children’s educational attainments are falling, even as more money is being lavished on the schools. Thailand now spends about 20% of the national budget on education, more than it devotes to any other sector. The budget has doubled over a decade. Yet results are getting worse, both in absolute terms and relative to other countries in South-East Asia…

Why does Thailand fare so badly? Somkiat Tangkitvanich, an expert at the Thailand Development Research Institute, claims that there is no mystery. Most of the swelling education budget has gone on higher pay for teachers (who now often earn more than the starting salary of a university lecturer), yet no improvement in performance has been extracted in return.

Mr Somkiat argues that schools have to be made more accountable to the people who use and pay for them.

 

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