The educational system of the Asian region

The Philippines is the last country of Asia to complete the last two years (or senior high school) of the world standard 12-year Basic Education Program. In year 2016, all Philippine secondary schools should officially have Grade 11 and Grade 12 courses. My article last week focused on the well-established school systems of Europe, whose stable economies are due to the provision of both academic and technological high schools. Majority of European adolescent students prefer to attend the latter to enter readily into the job market. In 1986 when I was a member of the UNESCO Paris Executive Board, my colleague, former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, repeatedly reminded me to let our then Minister of Foreign Affairs Salvador “Doy” Laurel work out the mutual exchanges of college students with Australia. This was not possible since our high school graduates were short of the senior high school requirements. Let’s see how our Asian neighbors worked out the full basic education for their youth.

Indonesia’s struggle to achieve quality education with 249.9M population

The Ministry of Education and Culture (Kemdikbud) and the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Kemenag) manage the educational system of Indonesia. The nine years of compulsory education consists of six years in the elementary level and three in the secondary level. Islamic schools are under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. During the Dutch colonization era, Sekolah Rakjat folk schools encouraged by Theodore van Deventer in 1870 were provided for native Indonesians instead of limiting it to Dutch nationals. This led to the establishment of the elementary school today. In 1973, nearly 20% of youth were illiterate. Then President Suharto used oil revenues for the construction of new primary schools and the repair of old ones. During the financial crisis of 1997-98, education expenditures were cut back affecting the poorest families. But by 2002 World Bank noted that only 2% of young people between ages of 15 and 24 could not read, and by 2009 the literacy rate was 90.4%.

Indonesians are required to attend 12 years of school. Preschool is not obligatory, but it is needed for preparation to primary schools. Most kindergartens however are privately operated. After 1998 the campaign to decentralize the national government, provincial and district-level administrators obtained increasing autonomy to determine the content of schooling.

Rote Learning prevails inside public-school classrooms. Although the youngest children are sometimes allowed to use their local language, by the third year of primary school, nearly all instruction is conducted in Indonesian.

Children aged 6 to 11 attend primary school called Sekolah Dasar (SD), which are mostly government-operated. This accounts for nearly 93% of all elementary schools in Indonesia followed by three years of junior secondary school (Sekolah Menengah Pertama, or SMP). Then students may attend senior secondary school (Sekolah Menengah Atas or SMA), where they may choose any of 47 programs of vocational and pre-professional senior secondary schools (Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan of SMK), covering the areas of technology and engineering, health, arts, craft and tourism, information and communication and technologies, agro-business and agro-technology, business management.

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Teacher training programs are gradually being upgraded. A student of the Teacher-training program at the junior high-school level could obtain a teacher’s certificate. Since the 1970s however, primary school teachers have been required to graduate from a senior high school for teachers, and teachers for higher grades have been required to complete a university-level education course. Teacher remuneration, although low, compares favorably with that of other Asian countries.

Thai education not influenced by colonial power

Through the Ministry of Education, Thailand provides free basic education of 12 years from preschool to high school as guaranteed by the Constitution, and a minimum of nine years school attendance is mandatory.

The school structure is divided into four stages: Prathom Gr. 1-3 is for age groups 6 to 8; Prathom Gr. 4-6 is for age group 9 to 11; Matthayom H.S.1-3, is for age groups 12 to 14. Matthayom H.S. 4-6 for age groups 15 to 17 is divided into academic and vocational streams. Admission to an upper secondary school is through an entrance exam called the NET (National Educational Test).

There are three types of schools: public schools, private sectors and fee paying non-profit schools, which are often run by Catholic diocesan and religious orders that operate over 300 large elementary/secondary schools. Due to budgetary limitations, rural schools are generally less equipped than the schools in the cities. The standard of instruction, particularly for the English language, is much lower, and many high school students will commute 60-80 kilometers to schools in the nearest city.

HISTORY – Formal education has its early origins in the temple schools, when it was available to boys only. Unlike Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia and the Philippines, which had all benefited from the influence of America and European countries with centuries of educational tradition, Thailand has never been colonized by a Western power. As a result, structured education was slow to evolve.

During the Sukhothai period (1238-1378), education was dispensed by the Royal Institution of Instruction (Rajabundit) to members of the royal family and the nobility, while commoners were taught by Buddhist monks. Through his reforms of the Buddhist Sangha, King Rama IV (1851-1865) or King Mongkut, the legendary king who hired Dutch governess Anna Leonowens that inspired the film “The King and I” accelerated the development of public education; during the reign of King Rama IV (1851-1865), the printing press arrived in Thailand making books available in the Thai language for the first time. English had the lingua franca of the Far East.

UNDER KING MONGKUT’S SON, KING RAMA V (1868-1910) – In 1871, with the proclamation of the “Command Declaration on Schooling,” English was being taught in the palace for royalty and nobles. Schools were set up outside the palace for the education of commoners’ children. In 1898, a two-part education plan for Bangkok and for the provinces was launched with programs for preschool, elementary and secondary, technical and higher education. The bloodless revolution in 1932 that transferred absolute power from the king to democratic government encouraged further development and expansion of schools and tertiary institutions. The first National Education Scheme was introduced formally granting access to education regardless of ability, gender and social background.

In 1977, the 6-3-3 year system that is in use today for basic education started. Following the recent military takeover of May 2014, Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha “bestowed” to the nation the “Twelve Values”: loyalty, gratitude, diligence and the preservation of Thai customs. Uppermost is respect towards the King as Head of State, and is expressed by morality, democratic values, obedience to the older citizens and self-sufficient economy.

Almost all villages have an elementary school, most sub-districts (tambon) have a school providing education from age 6 to 14, and all districts (amphoe) have secondary schools of age 12 to 17. Many have vocational colleges for students from age 15. In rural schools, absenteeism of both students and teachers is high due to family and farming commitments.

VOCATIONAL EDUCATION – Currently, 412 colleges are governed by the Vocational Education Commission (VEC). More than a million students are following the programs. In 2014, approximately 380,000 students were studying in 401 private vocational schools and colleges. Technical and vocational education (TVE) begins at the senior high school grade, where students are divided into either general or vocational education. In 1995, based primarily on the German model, Dual Vocational Training the Department of Vocational Education launched the initiative to introduce dual vocational training programs, which involve the students in hands-on training with suitability-selected organizations in the private sector. Unlike regular internships, where students may be assigned to work on unpaid irrelevant jobs, the cooperative education program enables the students of the vocational schools to do field work while benefiting from an allowance to cover living expenses.

Classic Japanese education developed military class, Shogunate bureaucrats, and Samurai elite

Formal education in Japan began with the adoption of Chinese culture in the 6th century but never fully took hold.

When the Kamakura period ended the Buddhist monasteries remained influential centers of learning. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, the daimyo vied for the power in the largely pacified country. Since their influence could not be raised through war, they competed on the economic field. Their warrior-turned-bureaucrat Samurai elite had to be educated not only in military strategy and martial arts, but also in agriculture and accounting. At the end of the Edo period, 50% of the male and 20% of the female population possessed some degree of literacy. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Western learning was adopted as a means to make Japan a strong, modern nation. Students and even high-ranking government officials were sent abroad to study.

POST WORLD WAR II – After the defeat in World War II, the Allied occupation government set an education reform as one of its primary goals, to eradicate militarist teachings and “democratize” Japan. The education system was rebuilt after the American model.

SECONDARY EDUCATION IN JAPAN – The lower secondary school covers grades seven, eight and nine, and children between the ages of roughly 12 and 15, with increased focus on academic studies. Most junior high schools in the 1980s were public. Private schools were costly, averaging 558,592 yen ($3,989) per student in 1988, about four times more than the budget 130,828 yen ($934) per public school student.

Teachers often majored in the subjects they taught and more than 80% graduated from a four-year college. Classes were large, with 38 students per class on average, and each was assigned a homeroom teacher, who doubled as counselor. Instruction in junior high schools tended to rely on the lecture method. All courses contents were specified in the Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools.

From April 2011, English became a compulsory part of the elementary school curriculum. The junior school curriculum covers academic subjects and all are exposed to industrial arts and homemaking. Most students also participate in one of a range of school clubs that occupy them until around 6 p.m. most weekdays as part of an effort to address juvenile delinquency.