The Chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group Dhanin Chearavanont made his radical thinking on education public at the World Education Forum in Paris this week. The Thai conglomerate is the biggest feed producer in the world, owner of the world’s biggest insurance firm, as well as a host of other well known Thai concerns such as the 7/Eleven chain and True Corporation.

Thailand’s richest man and the boss of what is one of the world’s biggest privately-owned conglomerates employing over 300,000 people has advocated a revolution in Thailand’s education system and the approach to preparing adults for the new economy.

The Chairman of Thailand’s largest firm and one of the world’s largest conglomerates and family-owned firms Charoen Pokphand Group, Dhanin Chearavanont, laid out his vision for a revolution in education in Thailand which would see less time spent in school and university. It would mean more time working and see students prepared to use technology in the real world for problem-solving and learning through experience.

Thailand’s richest man Dhanin Chearavanont, the Chairman of one of the world’s biggest conglomerates, Charoen Pokphand Group, has said that the country’s young people need to spend less time in school and has called for a revolution in the country’s education system. The eighty-year-old business boss was speaking at the World Education Forum in Paris.

University students should be readied for work at 18

Dhanin Chearavanont called for university students to be ready to enter the workforce at 18-years of age and has recommended that Thailand scraps what he described as old curriculum producing workers that are not suited to the workplace at this time.

Currently, in Thailand, many students who attend university or even vocational technology institutions do not begin to look for work until their early twenties.

Artificial intelligence and technology has transformed work so that school curriculum lacks relevance

Mr Dhanin particularly emphasises the revolution that is occurring in the workforce through the use of artificial intelligence and robotics.

In his speech, he decried the need for much of what is thought today in Thailand’s schools.

Among his proposals was that the time spent by children in primary schools should be cut from six to four years, that high school be reduced to merely two years and that universities prepare students for the reality of today’s workplace at 18 years of age.

The mission of educators need to change

Indeed, Mr Dhanin questioned the nature of today’s education mission suggesting that it was more important that students entering the workforce be thought how to continue to learn and develop skills rather than being ordained as professionals without proper work experience.

‘I, myself, learn something new every day’

‘We have to give our children unique knowledge, so machines can never catch up with us – knowledge like values, belief, independence of thought, teamwork, caring for others,’ Mr Dhanin said in his extraordinary speech to the international body forum in Paris supported by the UN,  the World Bank and the Asian Bank.

 ‘I, myself, learn something new every day. People should embrace new technologies and innovations, not fear them,’ he told his audience.

Mr Dhanin told the forum that the arrival of information technology with knowledge available at a touch of a button and processing capability, meant that much of what is thought in school today must change dramatically from what it has been before.

Students must be prepared to problem-solve

He told the gathering that real learning is about dealing with life’s problems. ‘In the classroom, you only get second-hand knowledge, while life is all about the experience,’ he pointed out.

Education a ‘noble’ profession – teachers must be well paid in a rejuvenated profession

At the same time, the business tycoon underscored the ‘noble’ nature of teaching as a profession and called for higher pay for the teaching profession which he foresaw could be rejuvenated by its new mission in preparing people for real-life work experience.

Problem if radical changes are not made

However, if things do not change quickly and radically, Mr Dhanin foresees problems.

‘Students are not armed with the right skills to meet the demands of the labour market. If we cannot fix this problem, it will get out of hand in the future,’ he warned.

Minister has already indicated a change of direction

It comes just a week after the Thai Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan announced a move to reform the country’s approach to education to attract more technological advanced firms to Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor project.

The minister revealed that he had been told by foreign ambassadors since last July that bigger and technological advanced firms would not come in large numbers until Thailand could deliver a highly educated and proficient workforce to meet the requirements.

CP Group is one of the world’s most successful firms

The speech by Mr Dhanin in Paris comes from the head of one Thailand’s and indeed Asia’s most successful companies.

In recent days, that Charoen Pokphand has announced that the Panyapiwat Institute of Management (PIM) corporate university which is part of the groups will open a new campus next year on a  20 rai site in Pattaya within the Eastern Economic Corridor.

CP Group is also the key driver of a consortium developing the high-speed rail link to the new development region.

In October, the consortium signed a huge construction project with the Thai Transport Ministry to undertake work on the new high-speed rail link to the corridor linking the key international airports Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-Tapao in Rayong.

The railway contract for ฿225 billion is one of the biggest ever signed in Thailand as a public-private partnership agreement.

Already employs over 300,000 people worldwide

The Charoen Pokphand Group employs over 300,000 people worldwide and is the biggest producer of animal feed in the world as well as owning significant stakes in conglomerates in both China and Japan. The business empire extends from agriculture products to telecommunications, retailing and the insurance business.

It also owns the 7/11 franchise which operates over 11,000  shops all over Thailand as well the telecommunications firm True Corporation and a restaurant chain.

The extent and reach of the conglomerate is vast and represents certainly one of the worlds most successful family-owned firms.

The first firm to invest in China

It has also been firm which has shown foresight being the first firm in the world to undertake investment in China when the Communist Party introduced reforms in the 1970s and one that currently is at the fore in the practical use of artificial intelligence in its retailing business.

Two penniless brothers who set up a seed shop

The business began as a small seed shop established by two virtually penniless Chinese brothers Chia Exchor and Chia Seow Nooy in Guang Dong in 1921. Mr Dhanin, born in 1939, is the youngest and fourth son of Chia Exchor.

OECD report shows Thailand languishing towards the bottom in education standards achieved

The radical programme advocated Mr Dhanin come as Thailand fares poorly in the just-announced survey results of the annual Programme of International Student Assessment conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and which were published on Tuesday.

66th out of 78 countries in reading

Out of 78 countries, Thailand emerged at 66th in reading, 56th in mathematics and 52nd in science out of 79 countries.

In recent weeks, the country has also been shown to be losing ground at English fluency which is today essential in the world of business.

Breathtaking change and transformation

Many leading officials even today within Thailand’s education sector and those involved with the Eastern Economic Corridor project have long talked about the direction that Mr Dhanin appears to be pointing towards. However, what they advocate is not the breathtaking and radical transformation he seems to envisage.

It is almost certain that the conservative nature of Thailand’s educational establishment will lead to resistance to such changes.

Indeed, such a vision could unite both conservative thinkers and more progressive educationalists in opposition to it, so revolutionary is it.  

The economy caught in the middle-income trap

However, for a country that is losing the race in education, that has a severe demographics problem and an economy caught in what economists term the middle-income trap where it is losing out lower-cost competitors and does not enjoy the cutting edge knowledge and expertise of highly developed economies, such a gamble might be worth considering.

Bring education back to opening minds

For those who would argue that what Mr Dhanin is proposing is to undermine pure education beyond work, think again, he is simply advancing the notion that education should be about creating an open mind and his ambition as stated is to reinstill its real value, not today’s lip service and faux,  politically correct ideology which has left millions in the western world saddled with debt for pieces of paper that represent nothing but snob value.

Further reading:

7 Eleven expands business in Thailand, with the economy looking up, it embraces change

A politically incorrect economic success: Thailand is home to some of the world’s richest people