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Thai Law Insights

Raising Education Results in Rising Bureaucracy — A remark from a legal practitioner

Chonmapoom Ngampoopun

In the recent years, the educational system in Thailand has been improving, in particular, with regard to development of language schools. This development has been spurred on by changes insociety and culture, which have,in turn, resulted in an increased necessity for learning a second language. One of these changes, soon to be realized, is the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which has the potential of providing many benefits for Thailand.However, in order to take full advantage of the new AEC framework, Thais must improve their language and communication skills.

In 2007, Thailand passed a new law in place of the old law for a fruitful education system reform to regulate the operation ofprivate schools known as the Private Education Act of 2007. The Act divides private schools into two categories: 1) formal education,and 2) non-formal education, which also called Non-Formal Education Schools (“NFES”).

The Act provides that language schools are within the scope of NFES. NFES are divided into several categories depending on the objectives of the school, which include tutorial schools established for the purposes of enhancing knowledge acquired in a formal school setting. Usually, the objective for both the school and its students is to improve career opportunities by way of increased language and communications skills.

As the Act places a special emphasis on the educational institution’s purposes, in establishing a language school, the operatoris expected to focus on the objective or objectives of the school,such asenhancing knowledge provided in a formal school setting, improving test-taking skills for recognized English-language tests such as TOEFL, IELTS or TOEIC, or some other clearly defined purpose which will be useful to students.

In order to establish an NFES, one must comply with a number ofprocedures, but the main hurdle is obtaining a license. Before being granted a license, the aspiring NFES operator must prepare the the school’s facilities, buy theteaching equipment, and hire personnel. Thereafter, the operator must submit a proposed curriculum to the Ministry of Education. If the school is to be established in Bangkok, upon approval of the curriculum, the operator must file an application with the Office of the Board of Private Schools Commission. If it is tobe established in outside of Bangkok the application must be filed with the Office of the Primary Education in the respective province. After filing, an official is sent to inspect the proposed NFES location.

As one can see, when establishing an NFES, officials have a broad legal authority and discretion when inspecting a school and screening a NFES application, whichin all fairness, is helpful in weeding out fly-by-night operations. However, in some cases, it is possible that favoritism of certain well-connected applicants or discrimination against others may come into play. Ideally, officials should perform their duties honestly, openly, and fairly. Anything short of that is almost certain to result in applying an unequal standard from one NFES to the next. Inspectors and other functionaries should be reminded of the limits of their authority as the overall quality of NFES rests on their shoulders, and in the long run, Thailand’s ability to successfully integrate into the AEC. No matter how well they know an applicant or do not know another one, each application should be considered on its own merits, without favoritism or discrimination. Therefore,still, in a perfect world, the officialswould not be given too much legal authority, because as the famous saying goes, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” - John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton.