Rethinking Thailand’s Education Future
With a growing shortage of high-skilled, technical workers and a rapidly aging population that will shrink Thailand’s workforce in coming decades, the country finds itself facing a critical juncture. Should Thailand continue to compete with low-cost, low-wage countries like China and the Philippines, or pivot itself to compete with higher-skilled, higher-wage economies like the U.S. and Europe?
This question fueled discussions last week at a Special STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Thailand Forum in Bangkok, hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology’s National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI), with support from Kenan Foundation Asia, as part of the Chevron Enjoy Science project.
Nowhere is the issue of developing more high-skilled workers evident than in the education sector. For years, only around 30% of Thailand’s bachelor degrees have been in STEM-related fields (STI, 2011). At the same time, over 40% of Thai firms have reported a shortage of such skilled workers (World Bank Enterprise Survey). Recently, however, there has been growing movement within the government and the private sector to revitalize Thailand’s Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in order to better develop its workforce.
At the Special STEM Thailand Forum last week, policymakers, government officials, TVET experts, and private sector stakeholders came together to discuss improving the current TVET system, as well as the critical role of the private sector in STEM-related TVET education. Speaking at the start of the forum, H.E. Dr. Pichet Durongkaveroj, Minister of Science and Technology, identified four main points that would help to immediately improve the country’s TVET: public-private partnerships, innovative thinking about STEM education, public acceptance and understanding of TVET, and increased international cooperation.
H.E. Dr. Durongkaveroj also stressed, however, that improvements to STEM education and TVET, in particular, cannot simply be supply driven, students must be encouraged to pursue STEM-related TVET. While improving supply can be achieved largely through policy changes and strategic partnerships, enhancing demand for TVET is more nuanced and begins at the classroom level.
Rob Stowell, a Vocational Education Training Advisor Consultant at the Chisholm Institute in Melbourne, echoed such strategies when talking about Australia’s TVET approach. He emphasized that promoting powerful public-private linkages requires countries to use both top-down and bottom-up approaches.
Additionally, private sector stakeholders, like Dr. Sampan Silapanad, Vice President of Western Digital (Thailand) Co., Ltd., spoke about the critical need to retain skilled employees within Thailand who can go on to innovate the country. Such realizations have already driven a number of Thai firms to pursue TVET programs, however, more can be done. In particular, there is a need for a nation-wide strategy that develops TVET standards in coordination with private sector input.
Developing Thailand’s TVET education is not just critical for the country as a whole, it will impact the daily lives of countless individuals, improving wages and helping to foster a more inclusive society. Such progress is both powerful and necessary, and the partnerships forged during this forum will be instrumental in realizing such changes.
This Special STEM Thailand Forum was the first in a number of forums and roundtables that have been planned as part of the Chevron Enjoy Science project, which works to improve Thailand’s STEM education, develop its TVET programs, and raise awareness about STEM and TVET nationwide. Find more information about the Chevron Enjoy Science Project here: Chevron Enjoy Science