Partnership for Quality
This article examines the Kiwi connection in Thailand’s education reforms. Although few would know it, New Zealand played an influential role in the drafting of Thailand’s National Education Act (1999), which mandated setting up national education standards.
What does Thailand _ with its 65 million citizens and 67 percent rural population _ share with New Zealand, a small country with only 4.1 million people of mostly European origin and an 88 percent urban population? The answer is both countries are working together to achieve quality education through carefully crafted standards and assessments methodologies.
New Zealand set up an organizational framework to regulate, measure and achieve national standards of quality in education with a major education act in 1989, which was later expanded to include industry training legislation. The goal was to create a transparent process for schools to be consistently evaluated while self-enhancing their growth to local and international levels. Simply put, this legislation cleared a path for education institutes, government offices and the local populace to work together for better education.
New Zealand has worked with Onesqa from its inception. When Thailand drafted its National Education Act in 1999, which mandated setting up national education standards, New Zealand became an ally in assessments. And when Onesqa finally became operational in 2000, New Zealand was a friend indeed.
The Kiwi way
New Zealand Quality Assurance (NZQA) was created to monitor over 2,700 schools and promote national guidelines in its education system for the benefit of 740,000 students. NZQA is considered a sister organization to Onesqa, and both institutes assess the activities and processes of education providers for quality assurance.
NZQA also supports the development and review of academic qualifications, which involves evaluating the overseas qualifications of people wanting to live and study in New Zealand.
The reforms took a participatory approach. Parents elect a board of trustees at each school, which becomes responsible for the management of finances, personnel and curricula development. NZQA chief executive Dr Karen Poutasi says, “Schools must own the process if quality is to be improved.” She feels that education reforms should focus on the grass roots level and views NZQA’s governmental role more like helpful doctors checking the pulse of education.
The Education Review Office (ERO) carries out evaluations. New Zealand has 150 trained and qualified review officers, spread across 10 local offices, to conduct reviews in three-year-cycles. The way it works is that schools are first notified in advance. ERO will initiate discussion and provide them with written guidelines. Eventually, a group of two to six review officers visit the school to collect evidence and synthesize findings into a report after much discussion. The review is then given to the school, which has an opportunity to contest the findings and to set targets as future goals. Afterward, a confirmed report is presented publicly in a transparent manner.
ERO reports about individual schools, national aggregates, and other education-based studies are easily available online for parents or students.
Frances Salt, ERO national manager of reporting services believes, “Schools need to be confident that this will help and not worry so much about judgment.” She points out the reviews are amicable arrangements with schools.
The ERO carries out 900 school evaluations per year, as well as 1,200 reviews of early childhood education providers.
In the past 18 years, a total of five schools have been closed. Salt points out that this action is not done after only one poor review.
“We try to give schools as much help as possible,” she says, “our incentive is not to punish schools, but rather to encourage improvements.”
For New Zealand’s eight universities, the evaluation process is slightly different. Since 1993, reviews have been carried out by an organization that is independent of governmental influence _ New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit (NZUAAU). Nevertheless, the approach is the same in that evaluations are considered a partnership that enables universities to enhance quality.
The school has ownership of the process and selects its own goals. Director John Jennings believes that “schools are essential to community empowerment,” so he prefers to celebrate the strengths of a school rather than dwell on its weaknesses.
Can NZ’s system be applied in Thailand?
New Zealand’s efforts toward national standards and quality education are commendable, but the question remains if its system will work in Thailand.
After all, Thailand has a much larger population with less financial resources to be spread around for proper assessment of schools. It has a different culture and tradition of education.
There could be lapses as review officers are trained to provide services for an abundance of Thai schools, and these institutes may be concerned about “losing face” once reviews are made public.
The ground level involvement from parents to an elected board of trustees also presents some cultural difficulties. However, Poutasi points out that, despite Thailand’s size and culture, basic quality assessment principles work the same in both countries. Schools set their own targets and goals. “We have to support and work with people if we want change,” she said.
Salt observes, “Since New Zealand is small, we can change reasonably quickly,” but also acknowledges Thailand’s love of its children as a strength, “If the focus is not on the child or the learner, you forget what education is all about.”
Thailand’s concept of a sufficiency economy will also play a key role in improving education. A solid supporter of the philosophy, Jennings notes, “Knowledge is fundamentally important, because knowledge and learning lead to a nation’s quality.”