SINCE the new government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra took office last July, Thailand has been treated to a soap-opera about the supply of tablet computers to all children starting school. Ms Yingluck’s “one tablet per child” pledge during the campaign was probably her single most vote-catching policy, yet fulfilling it has turned into a national ordeal.
A few weeks ago a deal was at last signed with Shenzhen Scope Scientific Development, a Chinese firm, for the provision of 400,000 tablets. On June 7th a beaming Ms Yingluck gave the first batch to a group of smartly dressed pupils.
Some argue that the focus on the tablets has distracted attention from a deeper malaise affecting Thai education. Although the proportion of children attending school has grown over the past decade, the quality of their education has deteriorated.
The chief problem is that children’s educational attainments are falling, even as more money is being lavished on the schools. Thailand now spends about 20% of the national budget on education, more than it devotes to any other sector. The budget has doubled over a decade. Yet results are getting worse, both in absolute terms and relative to other countries in South-East Asia.
Why does Thailand fare so badly? Somkiat Tangkitvanich, an expert at the Thailand Development Research Institute, claims that there is no mystery. Most of the swelling education budget has gone on higher pay for teachers (who now often earn more than the starting salary of a university lecturer), yet no improvement in performance has been extracted in return.
Let Them Eat Tablets
THE ECONOMIST | June 16, 2012