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School with only one teacher in dire need of staff
« on: September 06, 2018, 10:44:00 AM »

School with only one teacher in dire need of staff

Sommai Wichai, the director and sole teacher at Wat Hong School in Phichit province, (centre left) appeals to authorities to provide more teachers for the small public school, which relies on the goodwill of volunteer staff, including retired teacher Janya Phetphong (centre right). (Photo by Sitthipoj Kebui)

Come rain or shine, Sommai Wichai is always busy - teaching pupils from kindergarten to primary education level, attending regular meetings and doing everything else that needs doing at Wat Hong School.

The 56-year-old teacher has her hands full indeed. She is the only person on the staff of this small public school at tambon Yan Yao in Muang district, which is in dire need of more teachers.

Ms Sommai, officially the director of the school, spoke her mind on Wednesday.

“I once felt discouraged and wanted to quit. Then I thought twice, and decided to stay," she said.

"If I resigned, abandoned my students, I would be no different than a murderer. I could not stand seeing my students left 'adrift on a raft' in the river. This is what keeps me here, doing everything.’’

The teacher-school director appealed to education authorities to provide teachers for the school, which has 28 students, ranging from kindergarten 1 to Prathom Suksa 6 (Grade 6).

Pol Lt Kitti Srisophon, 57, a member of the school’s education committee, said he was an alumnus of Wat Hong School and a native of the community. In the past, the school had at least 10 teachers, but now there was only one teacher left, and one janitor.

He expressed his concern for the future of the students. Most were the children of farmers and hired-hands who left them with their grandparents. Most came from poor families who could not afford to send them to schools in downtown areas, he said. 

The government’s policy encouraged students to study at schools near their homes. But many small schools were facing a shortage of teachers, he said.

Janya Phetphong, 61, fondly called “Khru Ed’’, said she had taught at Wat Hong School for 31 years, until her retirement. She now lived on a monthly pension of 48,000 baht.

She and her husband Jensak Phetphong, or ”Khru Berm’’, who had also retired from the teaching service, were worried about the students' education. The two of them voluntarily teach at the school from Monday to Friday, but are not paid for it. In fact, they dig into their own pockets to provide scholarships for needy students.

“Since our retirement, we have taught at the school. We will continue doing this until we get too tired to do so. We will send all students to shore [help them finish their studies]. Even if there is only one student here, we will not leave him or her,’’ said Khru Ed.

She recalled that the school had as many as 120 pupils and 10 teachers in 1997. The number of teachers dwindled as they transferred to other schools.

Puritya Ranmee, 31, who has a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology, and Pichittra Srichoo, 25, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in environmental health, were of the same view as Ms Janya. 

The two young women are alumni of the school. After completing their university studies they returned to their community to do integrated farming on their families’ land in this lower-northern province. They had pity on students at the school where they used to study, and decided to use their knowledge to help them.

Ms Puritya and Ms Pichittra work as volunteer teachers and receive 6,000 baht a month each. The money comes from local residents, leaders and education committee members, who donate to the school’s education fund for hiring volunteer teachers.

Even though their salaries were small, they were happy to do their bit in helping to educate the children. They wanted them to have a better future. They also called on authorities to help Wat Hong School, and other rural schools in a similar position.

Ms Sommai thanked the local people and volunteer teachers for their moral support and help. What she wanted most was more teachers for the school. The school also welcomed people who could provide free lunch or scholarships for the students on special occasions.