U.S. private sector helping Thailand promote STEM education

5Fourteen Thai vocational colleges were selected last week to take part in a pilot project to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education that is being supported through partnerships with the U.S.-based Kenan Institute and Chevron (Thailand) Corporation, as a Thai institute announced plans to certify the skills of 300,000 Thai industrial workers by 2020.

The two U.S. organizations signed a memorandum of understanding with the Office of Vocational Education (OVEC) to support the $27.6 million “Enjoy Science” initiative, a five-year project to develop the abilities and potentials of both teachers and students in STEM studies. The project will provide support for 500,000 teachers, educators and students at both formal and vocational schools, while also developing 18 STEM learning centers around the country.

STEM education is an important component of Thailand’s national policy of evolving from an assembly-plant hub to a knowledge-based economy that relies on creativity and innovation. Successive governments have voiced support for the policy as economists have urged the Kingdom to embrace economic transformation to escape the “middle-income trap” in development, and as rival economies with lower labor costs have emerged and become more competitive.

Hatairat Articharte, Chevron Thailand’s manager of policy and public affairs, said Thailand’s competitiveness would depend on promoting good quality vocational students. She said the project would sustainably boost career opportunities for young people and respond to the needs of companies, as a shortage of technology-savvy and skilled workers is becoming a concern in the private sector.

Kenan Institute Asia President Piyabutr Cholvijarn said this project was a public-private collaboration to tackle the shortage of good quality and skilled manpower to meet employers’ needs and increase Thailand’s economic competitiveness with other nations in Asia.

The 14 vocational colleges chosen to participate are spread across every corner of the Kingdom to ensure that students in all regions of the country can reap its benefits. STEM activities would be integrated into vocational education management to develop a network of academic mentors for vocational skills. The integration would focus on four areas: automotive, oil and gas, microelectronics, and agro-industry.

The Thailand Professional Qualification Institute, a public sector organization, is also working to help employers source skilled labor with a new plan announced last week to certify the skills of at least 300,000 workers in industrial clusters by 2020.

The Institute will focus on certifying the skills of workers in the aviation sector, high-speed rail engineering, information and communications technology, English-language teaching and the public utility and service sector. The Institute will increase the number of certified professional qualification-ratifying agencies for the 36 professions for which it has issued professional standards, and launch a database for professional-qualification services next year.