2014 started in much the same way as many other years, with the deep political divide bringing protestors out on to the streets of Bangkok. Looking back it was pretty obvious where all this was heading - Thailand's 12th 'successful' coup which took place in May.
Schools shut down
For foreign teachers working in Thailand, this event had a number of knock-on effects which started with a couple of days off school as educational institutions were temporarily shut down to silence protests from educators and university students.
Another 'perk' from the coup, which many English teachers were able to enjoy was the free televising of all 64 World Cup games. Before the intervention of the military, RS Plc owned the rights to the games and football fans wishing to watch all 64 games had needed to subscribe to the RS TV networks.
But following a meeting with the military government, RS Plc graciously allowed the games to be televised on national television. For England fans the opportunity to watch the World Cup games was a blessing in disguise as Wayne Rooney and co. put together what was arguably England's worst ever World Cup performance.
During the World Cup the NCPO (as the coup leaders were renamed) began the unenviable task of reforming Thailand's underperforming government agencies - these included the immigration department and the ministry of education
Changes and reform
Changes within the immigration department and the teachers council led to a whirlwind of policy changes, announcements and rumors which had everyone one confused. Fortunately some expats were able to make sense of it all and shared their insights online Things seem to have settled down now - mostly going full circle and returning to how everything was pre-coup!
Reform of Thailand's education system is something that successive governments have promised but failed to deliver. Prayuth Chan-ocha followed in his predecessors' footsteps by admitting the Thai education system has been underperforming and needed reform but the NCPO have only produced limited changes so far.
For example the Social Studies curriculum has been restructured with History being awarded its own place in the school timetable. In another tweak, Thai schools have been asked to reduce the amount of homework students are assigned (although there's little evidence that schools are following this).
The government has also informed schools to ensure their students develop good Thai morals. The 12 Core Values of Thai People were drawn up by the NCPO and schools across the county have been told to recite these to the students on a regular basis.
These three changes hardly constitute educational reform but to be fair, reform takes time and the NCPO have been busy with perhaps more pressing concerns.
Maybe we will see some sign of reform next year when schools are due to receive a new curriculum. Hopefully this new curriculum will contain some genuine improvements to put the Thai education system back on track.
In 2014 the quality of the Thai education system was making headlines once again for all the wrong reasons.
- Thai students' average scores in TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) were among the three lowest for ASEAN nations (narrowly surpassing Lao and Cambodia)
- Students from Thailand were ranked 13th out of 14 nations for IT skills by the International Computer Information Literacy Study (ICILS)
- In the 2014 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Thailand was only able to register one university inside the top 400
Then in October the brutal murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller and the subsequent investigation reminded everyone of Thailand's more sinister side and the inadequacies of the Kingdom's police force. This tragic event is unlikely to have any long term effect on tourism but it serves as an important reminder that the TAT's picture-postcard images are some distance from the reality of life in Thailand.
And looking forward, what might 2015 have in store for us?
Well next year, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will finally arrive and it'll be time to see exactly how Thailand is going to deal with increased competition from its SE Asian neighbours.
Are factory owners all going to relocate to Vietnam? How will Thai graduates fair in competition for top jobs against their Singaporean counterparts?
At some point during 2015 we are also expecting to see a new curriculum for the Thai MoE. It's believed that the English language curriculum will now be linked to the Common European Framework with Prathom 6 students expected to reach A1 proficiency, Mathayom 3 students reach A2 and Mathayom 6 students be up at B1 proficiency.
Measuring the students' ability against an international scale is a great idea, hopefully Thailand's teachers will be given sufficient training and support to make this a reality.
And finally on a political note, anyone hoping to see elections in Thailand during 2015, is surely going to be disappointed. The way things look right now, Prayuth and co. will continue in power well into 2016.
Interesting times ahead...