January 07, 2004 1 min read
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Thai Up

Thailand’s ambitious efforts to improve its education system have faced numerous political and cultural challenges in recent years, and now an episode involving the Royal Palace has added a new twist to the saga.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s immensely popular monarch, recently declined to sign an education bill that had been approved by the parliament. The bill aimed to shift decisionmaking authority over certain school personnel matters more to the local level.

In Thailand, legislation passed by the elected body goes to the monarch for approval, but the king almost always signs such measures. Indeed, while the king plays an important ceremonial role, he rarely weighs in directly on matters of policy.

Officials with the office of Thailand’s prime minister said the rejection was due to “technical” glitches in the bill’s wording, and that the administration would fix the problems and reintroduce the bill, government sources said.

Political opponents of the prime minister seized on what has been portrayed as an embarrassing gaffe for the government as an opportunity to criticize his administration.

Education policy has been a hot topic in Thailand since 1999, when lawmakers called for an overhaul of the school system. (“Turning Point,” Sept. 26, 2001.) Philip Hallinger, a former education professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and an expert on Thai education, said the shift in school policy has been controversial, given the scale of the changes.

“This is a major restructuring of power relations within a system in which those relations had been quite certain for some time,” said Mr. Hallinger, now the dean of a management school at a Bangkok university.

Jeff Archer


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