During the International Conference on Equitable Education: All for Education, held on July 10-11, 2020, Prasarn Trairatvorakul, chairman of the Equitable Education Fund (EEF), delivered a speech underlining the organisation’s commitment to advocate for educational equality for all Thai children, and set for achieving sustainable development goal it has promised.
The following is the summary of his remarks:
The EEF was founded to tackle the issue of educational inequality in Thailand. It was inspired by the work of international organisations such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the Education Cannot Wait (ECW), which it looks up to as a model for policies aiming to build equity education in the country.
As chairman of the EEF, I hope to cultivate even stronger partnerships to support disadvantaged children, especially during the crisis of COVID-19 pandemic. The year 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the World Conference on Education for All, proclaiming the Jomtien Declaration in 1990. Now, only ten years is left to achieve one of the United Nations’ fourth Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – equal access to quality education.
Over the past 30 years, the Jomtien Declaration has been upheld as a standard by a number of educational organisations, both locally and internationally. The objective is to build equality and reduce educational gaps for every child around the world, and ensure progress in efforts by the movement Education for All (EFA).
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the pace of a number of its missions, and exacerbated inequality even further in 2020. It has become a greater challenge to achieve the goals set ahead, to keep the pledge to give education access to all children and youths by 2030.
In the past two years, the EEF has gained experience working toward building educational equality for Thai children while handling epidemics, especially among the vulnerable children. The organisation has therefore set up five strategies for such situations.
In March 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic reached its peak in Thailand and schools remained open, the EEF board members assigned a team of administrators with an urgent task to conduct a survey, and study impacts that could have happened to children and their families. It saw the need to be prepared in case schools had to be shut down, and come up with a proper response in time.
A comprehensive survey of over 10,000 teachers and school administrators found the immediate problem more serious than school interruption is the risk of starvation, especially for children from the poorest households.
The EEF then quickly approved an emergency fund of over 500 million baht for food aid. However, this amount of money could feed the 700,000 vulnerable children for only 30 days. The organisation then held a fundraiser and collected donations of subsistence supplies. It was able to raise over 16 million baht, which would be used to help more 30,000 disadvantaged and acute malnourished children.
Social protection and educational equality
Building up to quality education, children must first be in good health to be ready for school. Every child must have enough food. No kids should suffer starvation nor face risks while commuting to school.
Equitable education therefore means more than equal access to education. It also covers security in life, whether food or safety in families, communities and schools. It’s an essential base of educational equality, especially during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Organisations and networks must reconstruct their collaborations with new partners to incorporate their knowledge and reduce gaps in the workflow. When children face a sudden crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, these networks must be able to respond swiftly.
Educational equality is not only about learning in a classroom, but also about building social security for children in every aspect. Most importantly, schools must be ready to provide quality education for the students everywhere regardless of the circumstances, whether at home, school, online, including public space.
Freedom in the mission
The strategies mentioned above can only be accomplished with freedom in the following aspects:
Having freedom in information is fundamental to effective crisis management. With time constraint and restriction of distance, finding a creative way to gather and analyse data is important for overcoming the crisis. It’s even more essential to be able to incorporate data from different agencies for crafting policies that are collective, inclusive and practical.
Adequate resources are needed for organisations to respond quickly to different kinds of situations and problems. They must be capable of gathering resources fitting to a unique context of each issue. Some of the resources do not need to be collected only through the EEF. It can build a collaborative strategy with its allies to become even more competent in handling a crisis.
4.3 Decision making
Working toward equity education must be independent from political and bureaucratic influences. The 2017 Constitution and the 2018 Equitable Education Fund Act, with the latter drafted by the Independent Committee of Education Reform, indicate that the EEF must have a creative freedom in its work and an independence in its decision making to a certain extent.
That point is crucial, especially during a pandemic crisis that an urgent decision must be made through public participation, and collaboration between several private sectors and non-profit organisations to help children and youths overcome the most critical challenge humanity has ever encountered.
During its first two years, the EEF had vigorously learned and shared experiences with its network both domestically and internationally for its mission to achieve educational equality for all, and move closer to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030.
Education is not only the responsibility of schools, but also of everyone in society whether civil society or private sectors, including the family institution. All must work together, for all to prevail in the crisis together.