How Socioeconomic Status Affects Thai Education Inequity and How Stakeholders in the Community Can Address It

January 8, 2024

Pobtawan Tachachatwanich

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Image by UNESCO Bangkok

The playing field of education shouldn’t be tilted by wealth, but in a world where socioeconomic status (an individual’s social standing based on economic status) casts a long shadow, it often is. While differences in race, gender, or nationality can shape life trajectories, disparities in income paint an even starker picture. In Asia-Pacific, according to Asia-Pacific Social Science, for instance, the richest 25% of households enjoy opportunities 13 times greater than the poorest 25%. Enter the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) movement, a beacon of hope aiming to bridge such divides. But what does DEI look like in a country like Thailand?

Here, the education gap reigns supreme. FleishmanHillard Research (2023) found it the top DEI priority. Thailand’s educational landscape is booming. International schools sprout like mushrooms, even going public, while top schools boast cutting-edge tech classes like blockchain and AI. Yet, only those with deep pockets can access this gilded future, evidently shown by Thai students’ very low on PISA index in every factor. This ironic reality – where advancement widens the gap instead of closing it – demands immediate attention.

This article delves into the heart of this matter, dissecting how socioeconomic status breeds educational disparities, followed by our thesis of how we can collectively address these disparities. Then, we will also make distinction between two important concepts, Education Inequality and Education Inequity, and argue that solving Education Inequity is most paramount. We’ll explore the role of EdTech, a potential equalizer, and alongside other diverse stakeholders can collaborate to bridge the educational divide. Join us as we embark on this critical journey, where the future of Thailand’s children hangs in the balance.

 

What Is DEI and What Is Its Relevance To Education?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a part of the ESG movement, specifically the Social part, that aims to create a world where everyone is equally worthy, able to strive, and lives in harmony despite all differences. Though the concept of DEI originated from the issue of race and gender, it has been developing to cover all other aspects including education, political beliefs, and socioeconomic status. Let’s get to know each component:

  • Diversity: Acknowledging the richness of human variation, encompassing not just visible traits like race and ethnicity but also invisible factors like socioeconomic background and educational attainment.
  • Equity: Leveling the playing field by providing targeted support and resources to bridge the gap between different groups. This goes beyond equal access to ensuring equal outcomes.
  • Inclusion: Creating a sense of belonging and value for everyone, regardless of their background. This fosters a sense of community and empowers individuals to contribute their unique perspectives.

By understanding these interconnected elements, we can see how DEI directly addresses the challenges of education equity, urging us to recognize the individuals’ different background and circumstances (e.g., socioeconomic status) and provide equitable resources to ensure the same educational outcome. It’s about dismantling barriers and fostering a system where every student, regardless of their socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

 

Beyond Equality: Why Education Equity Among Socioeconomic Status is Thailand’s DEI Imperative

While the DEI movement in the West often focuses on race and gender, in Thailand, it takes a different form. As FleishmanHillard research (2023) reveals, a staggering 32% of Thai people identify education inequality as the most pressing DEI concern, placing it at the pinnacle of the DEI issues that need to be addressed. This is no mere coincidence.

Source: FleishmanHillard Research, 2023

While “education equality” aims to provide equal resources to all students, it doesn’t guarantee equal outcomes. This is where “education equity” steps in. It strives to ensure that despite differing backgrounds, all students reach similar educational benchmarks and are equipped to compete in the job market and have an equal chance for social mobility.

Think of it this way: providing every student a book (equality) is meaningless if some lack the support or environment to read effectively (equity). Education equity addresses these disparities by offering targeted resources and support, such as scholarships and financial aid workshops, specifically for students from low-income families.

Source: McGraw Hill PreK-12

In fact, when we take a look at what factors prevent Thailand from achieving education equity, research by Asia-Pacific Social Science Review (2022) reveals that while various factors like language, disability, and location contribute to education inequity, socioeconomic status consistently ranks as the most impactful component in Thailand. The parents’ socioeconomic status has played a significant role in children’s opportunities in higher education. This critical issue deserves attention for two key reasons:

  • Sizable Affected population: According to KKP research (2021), the richest 10% own over 77% of the country’s wealth. Given such a high level of wealth disparity, a significant portion of the population is struggling to afford quality education for their children.
  • The Persistent Loop of Poverty: Limited education often leads to lower income, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports, a university degree can result in wages nearly 2.5 times higher than a lower secondary degree. Without education equity, this gap widens with each generation, trapping individuals in a cycle of disadvantage.

In summary, achieving education equity among socioeconomic status is not just a moral imperative; it’s an economic necessity for Thailand’s future.

 

Unequal Playing Field: Navigating Education and Employment by Socioeconomic Status

Socioeconomic status casts a long shadow on Thai education and employment opportunities, creating distinct tiers with varying access to resources and success. While acknowledging the complexity of such categorizations, we can broadly divide Thai society into three segments based on their educational and economic realities: the Privileged, the Mainstream, and the Strugglers.

The Privileged: This segment enjoys abundant resources and opportunities. Their families can afford quality education, extracurricular activities, and skill development, often equipping them with advanced qualifications and specialized knowledge. This translates to access to high-paying jobs in professional fields and the potential to further accumulate wealth.

The Mainstream: This segment comprises a significant portion of the population with sufficient resources to attain basic education and essential skills. They are actively engaged in the job market, securing skilled positions and earning enough to cover their needs. While financial security is attainable through hard work and dedication, upward mobility within this group can be challenging.

The Strugglers: This segment faces significant economic hardship and limited resources. Meeting basic needs consumes their energy and income, leaving little room for education or skill development. They often rely on low-paying jobs with minimal opportunities for advancement, perpetuating a cycle of poverty. This lack of access to quality education and resources severely hinders their ability to break free from this cycle.

 

The Urgency of Equity: Empowering the Strugglers

While all groups navigate challenges, the Strugglers face a unique predicament. Without external support, their ability to break the cycle of poverty through education is severely restricted. To put this simply, they lack the means to access the tools needed for upward mobility on their own.

By focusing on bridging the educational gap for the Strugglers, Thailand unlocks the potential of a large segment of its population. This, in turn, fosters a more equitable society with a broader tax base, increased productivity, and a more just distribution of wealth. Ultimately, investing in the Strugglers is not just an ethical imperative, it’s a strategic investment in the future of Thailand.

 

The Path to Equity: A Three-Pronged Approach for Thailand’s Strugglers

Bridging the educational gap for Thailand’s Strugglers requires a multi-faceted approach that tackles the Strugglers’ unique challenges. Here, we propose a three-pronged strategy involving various stakeholders to pave the way for educational equity:

  1. Freeing the Strugglers from Financial Burden: Kick-starting Successful Learning Journey

The financial hardship casts a long shadow on a Struggler’s educational journey. Parents grapple with the impossible choice between immediate survival and investing in their children’s future. This burden manifests in several ways such as child labor and parental pressure for children to contribute financially, and limited ability to afford financial resources. To address this issue, there are several potential areas to be addressed such as:

  • Targeted financial assistance: Scholarships, grants, and loan forgiveness programs, either channeled directly to the families or schools, specifically designed for Strugglers can alleviate the immediate financial pressure of school fees, uniforms, and educational materials.
  • Conditional cash transfers: Providing financial assistance directly to families, on the condition that their children attend school regularly, can incentivize education and reduce child labor.
  • Subsidized childcare and after-school programs: Freeing up parents’ time by providing affordable childcare and after-school programs can allow them to work without sacrificing their children’s education.
  1. Uplifting the Landscape: Building Equitable Learning Environments

The next step is to address the disparities in educational resources and infrastructure. This requires a concerted effort to ensure Struggler schools are equipped to provide quality education on par with the Mainstream. This disparity manifests in several ways such as teacher quality, limited and out-of-date equipment and facilities, lack of community support, and obsolete curriculum and teaching materials. To bridge these disparities, below are some areas that would benefit from immediate intervention:

  • Targeted investment in rural and underserved schools: Increased funding and resource allocation specifically for schools catering to Strugglers can ensure they have access to qualified teachers, modern technology, and up-to-date resources.
  • Teacher training and support: Providing ongoing training and professional development opportunities for teachers in underserved communities can equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively support Strugglers’ learning.
  • Curriculum reform: Integrating real-world skills and relevant job market trends into the curriculum such as coding, basic technology knowledge like Blockchain and AI, or sales and presentation skills, can prepare Strugglers for future success and make learning more meaningful.
  1. Empowerment and Personalization: Tailoring Education to Individual Needs

At the heart of any successful learning journey lies a strong internal drive to learn and succeed. For Strugglers, it is often hard to imagine life beyond the status quo given their limited exposure to role models and information about diverse career paths. Additionally, witnessing their parents’ struggles can lead to self-doubt. Negative experiences or societal stereotypes can also lead to feelings of inadequacy, hindering Strugglers’ belief in their ability to achieve their goals. Below are some solutions that can address the issue:

  • Mentorship and career guidance: Connecting Strugglers with mentors from similar backgrounds or experienced professionals can provide invaluable advice, role models, and networking opportunities, helping them navigate career choices and access job markets.
  • Internship Opportunity: Providing Strugglers with a field to exercise their classroom knowledge in real-life situations not only strengthens their skills but also increases their recruiting opportunities.

Educational equity demands a move beyond one-size-fits-all approaches. Each Struggler student has unique goals, learning styles, and aspirations. This diverse landscape requires personalized learning pathways based on their learning style and goals, personalized mentorship and career guidance, and targeted skill development programs suited for excelling in the job market.

  • Adaptive learning platforms: These platforms personalize learning pathways based on individual student progress, strengths, and weaknesses, ensuring efficient knowledge acquisition and catering to diverse learning styles.
  • Micro-credentialing and skills-based learning: Offering bite-sized, skill-focused courses allows Strugglers to acquire relevant skills in short periods, even if they cannot pursue full-time degrees. This can be particularly helpful for those seeking immediate employment opportunities.

 

Building Bridges, Not Walls: A Collaborative Approach to Education Equity in Thailand

Bridging the educational gap for Thailand’s “Strugglers” demands a collective effort, not a solitary sprint. Each stakeholder in the education ecosystem plays a crucial and unique role in dismantling barriers and building a future where every child, regardless of background, has the chance to thrive. The discussion below provides a general frame of thought on how each stakeholder could mainly contribute. Much of what is being described below has already been done sparsely and uncoordinatedly, but Thailand as a nation can do so much better to ensure equitable education for the Strugglers.

Governments act as architects of supportive infrastructure. Firstly, infrastructure can be leveled by equitable resource allocation, either in the form of fiscal budget allocation or tax incentives for other stakeholders to contribute, ensuring that Strugglers in rural and underserved schools have access to qualified teachers, modern technology, and up-to-date resources. For more thoughts on closing the digital inequality, please visit Beacon VC’s article here. Secondly, infrastructure can be future-proof by integrating real-world skills like coding and AI into the curriculum preparing Strugglers for the job market and making learning more relevant to their aspirations. Lastly, infrastructure can be more inclusive by implementing programs that provide financial assistance to families in exchange for their children’s school attendance can incentivize education and reduce child labor. This requires close collaboration with social welfare ministries and community organizations for effective implementation.

Financial institutions act as fuel for change. Leveraging the financial capability, access they have to Thai communities, and the amount of human resources they have, financial institutions can catalyze the transition at both macro and micro levels.

At the macro level, financial institutions can join hands with several stakeholders, such as government and NGOs, to structurally build equitable education systems, through targeted scholarships and loans designed specifically for Strugglers, families can prioritize education without sacrificing immediate needs. Additionally, financial institutions can also channel investments into areas that would advance solutions tailored to Strugglers’ unique challenges, such as EdTech’s affordable learning platforms, adaptive online learning technologies, or micro-loan programs for schools. Financial institutions can also play an active role in shaping financial literacy for Strugglers about budgeting, saving, and responsible credit management can empower them to make informed financial decisions regarding their children’s education.

At the micro level, financial institutions can have a direct and profound impact on individual Strugglers who have the potential to excel. Through specially designed initiatives for Strugglers like internship/ apprenticeship programs or mentorship and career counseling programs, in partnership with local schools or vocational institutions, Strugglers can get inspiration and obtain relevant skills within the field and inspiration to push their career forward. Inversely, financial institutions will have direct access to a talent pool that is trained specifically for their unique organizations’ business and operational requirements.

NGOs and surrounding communities act as networks of support. At the national or municipal level, using their collective voice, NGOs and communities can advocate for the awareness of Struggler’s situation and raise public support for policy changes. At a community level, providing affordable daytime childcare and after-school programs can free up parents’ time and allow them to work without sacrificing their children’s education. Lastly, at the individual level, there’s also an opportunity for mentorship and career guidance programs to connect Strugglers with mentors from similar backgrounds or experienced professionals, providing invaluable guidance and role models.

EdTech startups act as architects of personalized and accessible learning. At the heart of education equity, there’s an important recognition that all students learn differently, at a different pace, and for different purposes.

On one hand, EdTech startups are well equipped to address this through the ability to tailor learning experiences down to different individuals using AI/ML in their adaptive learning platforms, tailoring courses based on individual strengths and weaknesses. Micro-credentialing and skills-based learning allow Strugglers to pick-and-choose relevant skills to acquire in short periods, even if they cannot pursue full-time degrees.  On the other hand, EdTech startups can also assist schools to partially overcome resource constraints in teaching or tailoring students’ education pathways, starting from solutions as fundamental as helping teachers track their students’ homework to tools to run remote classrooms for students in hyper-rural areas.

By working together, each stakeholder becomes a vital link in the bridge, not a barrier on the path. Only through collaborative action can we dismantle the walls of inequality and build an education system that truly empowers Strugglers to reach their full potential. In the next section, we’ll zoom in on the Thai EdTech landscape, examining specific examples of how these innovative tools can tailor learning, dismantle barriers, and empower Strugglers on their path to success.

 

Bridging the Gap: How EdTech in Thailand Can Contribute Through Personalized and Accessible Learning

Source: @terrynut, Medium

Edtech in Thailand has been expanding in line with global trends, reflected by the rise in number of users especially after the Covid-19 period. Digital learning platforms and e-learning solutions were becoming increasingly popular, offering a range of subjects and flexible learning options. This aligns with the findings of a survey conducted by Kasikorn Research Center in April 2021, which found that 96% of respondents anticipated a higher inclination towards using EdTech and online learning. This is especially true for regular employees aiming to enhance their skills and make productive use of their free time.

Riding the boom, EdTech startups have the potential to play a crucial role in achieving education equity, particularly for students facing socioeconomic disadvantages, through 1) Uplifting the Landscape: Building Equitable Learning Environment, and 2) Empowerment and Personalization: Tailoring Education to Individual Needs. Let’s revisit the framework for education equity and explore how EdTechs are already tackling the issue:

 

Uplifting the Landscape: Building Equitable Learning Environment

  • Democratize learning Materials: Ookbee‘s digital content platform makes reading materials more accessible and affordable for students from various backgrounds.
  • Enhanced Learning Management Systems: SchoolBright empowers educators with tools for managing virtual, hybrid, and in-person classrooms, improving accessibility for students in rural areas.
  • Teacher upskilling: Inskru is an online platform that aims to connect, inspire, upskill, and empower teachers across Thailand on various topics like coursework management, in-class activities, and student engagement. Starfish Labz curates short courses that aim to equip teachers with tip and tricks to be more effective in the classroom.

Empowerment and Personalization: Tailoring Education to Individual Needs

  • Tailored Online Career Counseling: Platforms like WE Space and Dynamic School Thailand guide students towards informed career choices by offering assessments and suggesting opportunities aligned with their interests and strengths. They also provide access to relevant courses and workshops, fostering a real-world understanding of career paths.
  • Bite-size Online Learning: Platforms like OpenDurian offer affordable online tutoring by connecting students with qualified tutors, regardless of location. Skillane and FutureSkill cater to diverse needs by providing access to up-to-date subjects not always available in schools.
  • Learning Analytics for Personalization: BrightBytes leverages data on student performance and engagement to provide personalized learning experiences, identify individual needs, and track progress, offering valuable insights to educators. Starfish Class helps teachers identify unique talents and potentials of the students to be able to support accordingly.
  • Internship Opportunity Platforms: เด็กฝึกงาน and JobsBD connect students with internship and job opportunities across industries, allowing them to gain practical experience and explore career options.

 

While EdTech has the potential to revolutionize education and promote equity, its journey in Thailand encounters 2 major challenges that hinder its widespread adoption:

  1. Familiarity with traditional teaching methods. Resistance from schools is rooted from the concerns about difficulty in integrating technology into existing curriculum and training teachers in new methods. Thus, they decide to stick with familiar traditional approaches.
  2. Budget constraints. Schools, especially public ones, struggle with the initial and ongoing costs of acquiring and maintaining hardware, software, and internet infrastructure. This burden extends to individual families, who may not be able to afford subscriptions or devices that would grant access to EdTech solutions.

These challenges highlight the need for a collective effort to bridge the education gap. Governments must invest in infrastructure and training, schools need to embrace innovation, and EdTech startups must offer affordable solutions. This collaborative approach is crucial for EdTech to effectively transform classrooms and empower students from diverse backgrounds, paving the way for educational equity in Thailand.

 

Closing Thought: A Future Built on Equity, Not Equalities

Education inequity casts a long shadow in Thailand, yet a collective yearning for change pulsates beneath. The chasm between the Privileged, Mainstream, and Strugglers reveals a stark truth: education is not a mere ladder, but a complex ecosystem demanding equal outcomes, not just inputs.

EdTech emerges as a beacon of hope in this landscape. Its potential to personalize learning, bridge access gaps, and dismantle socioeconomic barriers can rewrite the narrative of Thai education. From online platforms to immersive experiences, these tools empower the Strugglers, the very students whose potential remains locked away.

But challenges stand as sentinels guarding this path. Traditional mindsets and tight budgets threaten to stall progress. To forge a new road, collaboration is key. EdTech startups must champion ease of use, affordability, and platform benefits. Financial institutions can bridge the gap with support, knowledge, and affordable financing. The government’s role lies in building robust infrastructure, promoting equitable resource distribution, and incentivizing innovation.

Through the Beacon Impact Fund, Beacon VC aims to propel Thailand towards educational equity, recognizing it as a crucial social pillar within the ESG framework. The fund aims to provide support and network to fast-growing startup companies that aim to excel education equity and democratize access to opportunities across the country.

This journey towards education equity requires not just technology, but a collective will. When EdTech’s tools align with innovation, collaboration, and a focus on the most vulnerable, the Thai educational landscape can blossom into a tapestry of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is a landscape where every learner, regardless of background, can unlock their full potential and paint their bright future.

 

 

Authors: Woraphot Kingkawkantong (Ping) , Pobtawan Tachachatwanich (Pob)

Editors: Supamas Bunmee (Jae) , Wanwares Boonkong (Pin)

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