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Somjai Suwansupana: Achieving educational equality through decentralization

Somjai Suwansupana: Achieving educational equality through decentralization

During the Equitable Education Conference 2020 ‘All for Education,’ hosted by Thailand in July, 60 world-renowned thinkers, reformers and educators gathered to discuss a way forward for equitable education as the planet faces the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 – and what may come after it. 

Somjai Suwansupana, the Phuket City Municipality mayor, is one of the leaders spearheading education reform on the island through an “educational blueprint.” Its aim is decentralization – empowering local people in an effort to gain an accurate understanding about problems in a particular context of their areas.

สมใจ สุวรรณศุภพนาPhuket is known as a major tourist destination rich with both natural and cultural attractions. Besides its beautiful scenery, the island is also called “the city of education.”

Somjai said over 9,800 students under the Phuket City Municipality’s umbrella are extensively supported and looked after thanks to the development of this unique educational strategy that utilizes an intricate data collection of the students.

“Phuket City Municipality is now working towards decentralization, starting from creating educational blueprints that can be applied to all levels of education, whether formal or non-formal. The blueprints help solve problems in a way that fits the needs of the local people by allowing citizens’ participation throughout the process,” she said.

She thinks decentralization is the most important step towards building educational equality, as it prioritizes the benefits of the people.

“We focus on data and performances, including assessment of students in every grade. We also always listen to public opinions, whether from entrepreneurs, parents, the student and youth councils, local communities, business owners, educational workers or religious leaders.”

Somjai believes all agencies must coordinate their efforts in order to achieve a sustainable solution to educational inequality. They also must listen to opinions from every sector to be able to identify the needs of people in the area, which will allow them to design an efficient development strategy in both local and national levels.

“The data we receive after listening to these groups will be incorporated in the process of making the educational blueprint, which aims to help all students improve their academic performances, and elevate the education quality to meet international standards,” she said.

The blueprint is a key development tool for Phuket. It helps the administration set up its educational goals, and build an inclusive system that operates with student data collection whether about their performances or backgrounds. It also includes other relevant information from private sectors, such as demands in job markets, to assess the students’ opportunities after graduation. 

This information will help teachers understand their students better. That is a crucial ground building up to an all-round improvement mechanism that truly answers to the students’ needs.

 “It shows that Phuket City Municipality has been paying great attention to keeping track of all students and assessing them. We have been able to cover nearly 100% of our students. The blueprint empowers local authorities to take part in tackling the issue of education inequality,” Somjai said.

“The work is not only done by the Education Office, but by all agencies to ensure success in our outreach efforts. We learn and collect information about the students’ families, their parents’ occupation, family income and health. Once we identify a problem, we’ll be able to quickly help them.”

The blueprint has helped the authorities gather an extensive data collection of every student, not only about their class attendance, personal proficiencies, critical thinking, reading and writing skills, strengths and weaknesses, but also their dietary information for developing policies regarding students’ health.

In 2018, Phuket City Municipality saw 96 of its students dropping out of schools, and found up to 5.6% primary school pupils and 13.2% secondary school students with substandard grade point average. After applying the blueprint’s strategy, the administration has been able to effectively prevent students from dropping out of the education system. It has also seen improvement in their performances. The rate of underperforming students in primary and high schools fell to 1.8% and 6.05% respectively. 

It also keeps track of those who have dropped out and increases a chance of bringing them back into the system, or encourages them to find a way of learning that better fits their needs, such as non-formal education or vocational training.

“As I said before, Phuket City Municipality doesn’t work alone. We also work with other agencies such as the Equitable Education Funds, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, including other relevant foundations and organizations involved in budgets and resources management,” Somjai said. “The information from the blueprint helps reflect real local situations and the people’s needs, so the relevant agencies can develop the best policies to address the issues.”

 She concluded that decentralizing national powers to local authorities is a significant force in solving education inequality, because municipalities are the ones working the closest to local people. They take care of their people from the cradle to the grave, and are responsible to improve their people’s quality of life, whether about education, health-care or environment.

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