Development of Literacy and Nonformal Education in Thailand
At present, literacy has been accepted as a vital fundamental part of the national development or the growth of the country. It is also considered as a key factor indicating the quality of the people that affects to the development of the country. The government therefore has tried to solve this problem since the past to the present time by placing it at the top of the government‟s priority list. Literacy campaign in Thailand has been continuously conducted for hundred of years from Sukhothai period, in which the King Ramkhamhang the Great invented Thai
alphabet as the evidential appearance on the Stone Inscriptions stating about moral, intellectual and cultural education, to Ayutthaya period until the early period of
Chakri Dynasty. During these periods, education was provided in the temples, the King‟s palaces and the schools.
In the reign of King Mongkut (1851-1865), Thailand began being affected by
the growth of western influence, leading to the modernization in various ways. For example, the first printing press was set up. Education patterns of Thai children were restructured to respond to the new needs of the nation. English language became a necessary tool and English teachers were hired to teach the royal children. The King himself had mastered English and Latin.
Realizing the need for personnel development for royal and government services, King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) opened a school and an English school in
the palace to prepare princes and court children for further studies abroad. Formal schools were also established outside the palace for the children of commoners. The government textbooks were also printed for students in Bangkok and later in other provinces.
In 1887, the Department of Education, upgraded to be the Ministry in 1892, was established with the full responsibility for education and religious affairs of the entire country, resulting in the establishment of primary schools throughout the Kingdom. In 1898, the first national education policy was proclaimed.
In 1916, the first university in Thailand,Chulalongkorn University, was founded.
In 1918, the Private School Act was passed. This has made the private sector participate in the national education for the first time.
Later on in 1921, during the reign of King Vajiravudh, the Compulsory Education Act was promulgated requiring all children aged 7 and above to attend
1 school until the age of 14 or until they finished grade 4.
Along the process of this development, the definition and the emphases of literacy and nonformal education, together with the target groups also have had to evolve accordingly. In this book, historical development of literacy and nonformal education in Thailand will be divided in 5 periods, which starts the first period in 1940.
The First Period (1940-1947)
Along with the attempt to provide mass education for children and youths, Thailand had as well recognized the importance of literacy education for adults.
The most important event for solving illiteracy problem of adults began when the Kingdom of Thailand in the reign of the King Rama VII, under the absolute monarchy system, changed into the constitutional monarchy system in 1932 with a peaceful revolution by a party of high-ranking military officers and civil service officers, all commoners. After the revolution, King Rama VII abdicated the throne in 1935. The Revolutionary Party proclaimed the so-called six Principles as guidelines for national development, one of which stated, “Education shall be provided fully for the people” Literacy campaign for adults was then launched during 1940-1947 which was regarded as the first attempt of the government. The target clients of literacy in this period were mostly adults, the “literacy and adult literacy” was therefore used
as an interchangeable term.
In this period, basic literacy was defined as the ability to read and write simple Thai language of adults, as well as understandings in civic duty of the citizens in a democratic system.
1 External Relations Division Office of the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education, Thai
Education in Brief: Its Past, Present and Future (n.p., 2000), pp. 1-2.
The Important Policies and Practices, Events and Programmes
According to the first national census conducted by the Ministry of Interior in 1937, out of the population of 14,464,105, 6,888,548 were illiterate, accounting for
2 68.9 per cent of the total population.
To achieve the objective for mass literacy as well as education for citizenship and democracy, the new government led by General Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena saw this problem be the government‟s urgent need to eradicate illiteracy, which was
considered a significant problem as a basic factor to make the Thai citizens understand in democracy under the constitutional monarchy system that affected to the change of the country‟s politics and economics. In 1940, the government declared
that citizens had the duty of learning to read and write the Thai language and of guiding and assisting others to become literate in Thai, the national language. After that, the adult education played a vital role to eradicate illiteracy and later on, under the government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, the Adult Education Division, attached to the Office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education was established on August 6, 1940 to carry out mass literacy as its main goal. The first Chief of the Division is Mr. Boonchuay Sompong. Literacy and adult education since then were under the responsibility of the Adult Education Division.
The government also decided to embark on a nation-wide campaign to
eradicate illiteracy by providing education for the out-of-school people. Adult education was thus formally introduced.
The first literacy campaign was remarkably 1.4 million successful, enabling to read and write which reduced the number of adult illiterates in the age range of 20 to
345 years old from 6.8 to 5.4 million or about one in every five.
Apart from this, in late 1943, a law was promulgated that all citizens aged between 20-45 who were still illiterate had to pay an annual education fee by 5 baht a year until they could prove themselves literate based on the criteria specified by the Ministry of Education. The law was repealed in 1945 due to the outburst of the World War II. However, the success in reducing the illiteracy rate as mentioned above was not the law enforcement (This law was never brought into effect because of the
2 Sunthorn Sunanchai, “Fifty years of adult education and nonformal education in Thailand,” in Adult
Education And Development (Bonn: Druck Center Meckenheim, 1989), p. 8.
3 Ibid., p. 10.
increasing intensity of the war situation) but was the strong co-operations among
various parties, as well as the government‟s ceaseless campaign to encourage people to participate in the programme on their voluntary basis.
In this period, the main programme was literacy, plenty of adult schools therefore were established in the existing facilities of formal schools as the evening classes in the adult schools and were taught by formal school teachers who were trained by professional trainers to understand the learning-teaching procedures for adult learners.
The curriculum and learning-teaching materials were developed by Division of Adult Education. The mentioned materials were developed in a form of simple exercise sheets or work books. The contents of the exercise were related to civic duty of the citizens in a democratic society. At the end of this period, there were 8,272 adults schools operating around the country. In 1945, there was an enrolment of about 599,089 in the post literacy programme in these schools.
There was also an agreement among the committee members who were in charge of establishing the Division of Adult Education that: Adult Education should not be regarded as the task of one specific agency but the collaborative task among various government organizations concerned and the public. The provision of adult education in this period therefore was the co-operative efforts between the Division of
4Adult Education and other organizations concerned within the Ministry.
In the duration of 1945-1947, the implementation of literacy and adult education had ceased due to the end of the World War II resulting in the depression extended beyond the war years, and also in the adult education problems, such as cancellation of the 1943 law for literacy promotion, decrease of the enrolments of adult learners across the country, etc.
4Office of the Non-Formal Education Commission, Policy and Practice in Literacy and Non-Formal
Education in Thailand (n.p., n.d.), p. 6., cited in Sunthorn Sunanchai, “The Overview of the
Implementation of Adult Education and Non-formal Education,” in The Development and the
Evolution of Non-formal Education (Bangkok: Kurusapa Press, 1990), p. 23. (mimeograph)
The Second Period (1948-1960)
Early this period was the duration for recovering from the Second World War, adult education in Thailand was slowed down temporarily. However, things soon became better after this stagnation. Participation of UNESCO in the international scene of education was a very important factor. The Framework of literacy and adult education was therefore strongly influenced by international and national development policies. In 1949, Thailand became a member of UNESCO. At the same time, the concept of fundamental education was introduced to replace the original literacy programme of the war years because UNESCO realized the importance of literacy in the creation of better international understanding and the creation of world peace and equality. Literacy only could not bring about a high standard of living, vocational skills had to be integrated so that the learners could successfully apply the knowledge in improving their quality of life.
The main target of adult education was the same target group of the first period. They were out-of-school population-both children and adults. There were also sub-categories of the target e.g., rural and urban adults, minority groups of hilltribes, Thai Muslims,etc.
The definition of literacy was defined broader than the first period by adding the ability in calculation, as well as some knowledge and skills necessary for the improvement of everyday life.
Also, adult education was no longer confined in the domain of literacy but expanded to fundamental education and vocational skills training, education for community development. Adult education was thus organized into four main programmes as follows:
Fundamental education programme which was introduced to
replace the original literacy grogramme comprising 3 R‟s skills, civic duty, vocational knowledge and skills appropriate for rural people. The successful method of Dr. Frank C. Laubach, a UNESCO expert who introduced “Each One Teach One”
5method was implemented in this regard. Later on, the Division of Adult Education
5 Sunanchai, op. cit., p. 11.
had developed this programme in Adult Functional Education or Adult Functional
(equivalent to grade 2), level 2 (equivalent to grade 4) and level 3 Literacy level 1
(equivalent to grade 7). The subject contents of these three levels of Adult Functional Literacy were pretty much similar to those of formal school curricula.
Popular education programme which was organized for providing
knowledge and information to large groups of people in terms of informal education, such as educational audio-visual aids, public libraries, exhibitions, etc.
Vocational training programme which focused on short-term
vocational skills training.
Adult basic education programme which the government renewed
interest for adults with more emphasis on continuing education up to grade 7 and 10 during the last 2 years of the Second World War. This programme was provided to illiterates on a voluntary basis. Textbooks and the teaching-learning methodology were improved so as to suit the requirement of adult learners. 170,000 learners
6graduated from this programme in this period.
The Important Policies and Practices, Events and Programmes
Over the years, new ideas, strategies for organizing adult education and a number of projects for improvement were introduced and launched. For instance, in 1957 Thailand-UNESCO Fundamental Education Centre (TUFEC) was established in
Ubon Ratchathani in 1954, which was cooperative project between the Thai government and UNESCO to train fundamental education supervisors to work with the people in rural areas, helping them to understand their own environments and problems and to know how to utilize local resources to improve their own economic and social conditions. The Centre offered a two-year course leading to Secondary Teachers‟ Certificate in Fundamental Education. The course was composed of 5
subject areas, namely agriculture, health, rural construction, social welfare and education.
TUFEC was the centre originally designed to serve educators from various countries in Asia. It had not functioned very long when most of its graduates were
6 Department of Non-Formal Education, Literacy Situation in Thailand: A National Study (n.p.,
1983), pp. 5-6. (mimeograph)
transferred to work for local development in the Ministry of Interior. It produced seven batches of trainees, totaling 451. It was remarkable that fundamental education employed a community approach in working with people but it was yet widely used
7 by educators in the field of adult education.