Elite+ had an opportunity to speak with Privy Councillor Kasem Wattanachai about education, medicalcare and the sufficiency economy philosophy. In 2015 the 10 nations of ASEAN will form the ASEANE conomic Community (AEC), and medical care, education and the economy will benefit people across borders and boost the collective competitiveness of the region.
“Many sectors will link together in the AEC,” Privy Councillor Kasem said, “but the most important one is education. We must boost the quality of education.” There are good aptitude tests now that important in measuring progress, he said, such as the worldwide Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development,or Thailand’s Ordinary National Educational Test (O-NET). “Education is my highest priority, ”Privy Councillor Kasem affirmed. As a former minister of education, he is especially concerned with vocational education, hoping to coordinate various sectors in order to raise Thailand’s ranking in the region, which has fallen to eighth. The attitude of today’s youth concerns him.“We are researching the best waysto improve the quality of education inThailand, and we can do that,” hesaid. “But it shouldn’t be solely the responsibility of the minister of education. Every sector in the country needs to be involved in improvingthe education system.”
hub Everything is connected to health, and health is related to general behaviour and activities, exercise and the eating habits of people. The highdeath toll on the country’s roads, forexample, results from not respecting the laws of the road. “We have a good medical care hub for the high-end market,” Privy Councillor Kasem said. “The wealthy come to see top quality doctors. Ten years ago we couldn’t compete with Singapore, but now we do it better and might be the No. 1 hub for medical tourism. However, we have to be wary of Korea. Korea might join forces with Myanmar or another country in the region,” he added. A greater concern than medical tourism, however, is grassroots health care. “I don’t pay attention to medical tourism much, since the companies involved are well known for the quality of medical care. But I am concerned about overall medicalservices, especially for the poor. Fortunately we’ve made a lot of progress in medical care.”
Privy Councillor Kasem is very positive about Thai politics and the economy. “It is important for the region to remain peaceful and to keep our political stability.”ASEAN is often compared to the European Union, but Privy Councillor Kasem feels the two bodies are very different in many respects. Even in ethnicity and religion, the EU has more unity,” he says. The countries of ASEAN are quite disparate in background, religion, history and ethnicity.“We should not copy the EU,but we can learn from them. And we must learn from each other, such as emulating what Singapore has done regarding transparency. Other countries in the region rank very low in the global corruption index, so we such find out how Singapore deals with corruption and rise up to their level to benefit regional unity. “We can also apply the sufficiency economy philosophy across the region to help us understand one another. Greater understanding will mean lessconflict,” Privy Councillor Kasemsaid.
Thailand’s secret weapon
Thailand is strong as a travel destination and a place to invest and set up factories. “The manufacturing industry used to enjoy cheap labour but it’s not the case any more. Everythingis changing, but Thailand still manufactures a lot of original equipment as well as products and components for international brands.
“We have to be more innovative now and perform better, not just buying machines from Taiwan or Germany. Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are all developing theirin frastructure as well. Thailand must change its mindset for the AEC, not only following trends but finding new ways to be competitive. In this respect vocational education is very important. We must enhance the skills of workersin the labour market. A freshly graduated student here has novocational skills at all, which is not the case in Germany, Japan or Korea.We must work closely with the government to improve the situation.
”We asked Privy Councillor Kasem what the strength of Thailand is. Why do people still come to Thailand despite the political turmoil? “The hearts of Thai people are very good,” he concluded. “The charisma of the people is the reason why tourists and investors keep coming.”