BANGKOK — Despite being officially “free of charge,” education and universal healthcare in Thailand are still out of reach for many, an economist argued in a new book released earlier this week.

Teachers and doctors are still mostly concentrated in Bangkok and major cities, leaving students and patients in rural areas to education and healthcare of lower quality, Chulalongkorn University lecturer Vimut Vanitcharearnthurn said in the book, which draws from various figures and statistics.

“Schools in Bangkok have better qualified and more experienced teachers than those in Mae Hong Son [province], meaning they are likely to offer quality education,” reads part of the book, Getting Even: Public Policies To Tackle Inequality in Asia.

“It is far more common for teachers to have a graduate degree and significantly more years of teaching experience in the city. Bangkok schools also have more than twice the number of teachers per class room when compared to Mae Hong Son,” it says.

The book was unveiled at a news conference on Tuesday, where Vimut said he’s concerned to see the ultra-rich getting richer at a much faster rate than the rest of the population.

“The closing of the [income] gap cannot keep pace,” said Vimut, who teaches banking and finances.

In his book, Vimut said the share of teachers with graduate degrees in Bangkok is at 19.7 percent, whereas at a typical village school in Mae Hong Son, it’s 8.7 per cent.

Average teacher experience is 25.3 years for Bangkok compared to 10.8 years for Mae Hong Son while the average number of teachers per classroom is 1.61 teacher per classroom for Bangkok versus 0.71 in Mae Hong Son.

Vimut said research shows that around one third of Thai students are functionally illiterate.

“While they know the alphabet and could read, they cannot research for information or identify main messages in a text. This means they lack critical skills for many jobs, especially in an evolving modern economy,” Vimut wrote.

Healthcare isn’t faring much better either. The 30-baht universal healthcare introduced during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration in 2001 has been labeled by experts as “the great equalizer” for Thailand, but Vimut said unequal distribution of resources means access to quality healthcare between Bangkok and the rest of the kingdom differs significantly.

Bangkok has more than twice the number of hospital beds per capita compared to the national average; 203 people per bed in Bangkok compared to 504 people per one bed in the provinces.

Vimut added that Bangkok has around twice the number of pharmacists and professional nurses per person compared to the provinces. Bangkok also enjoys one physician per 722 people. In other provinces, it’s one doctor per 2,613 people.

“As a result, Bangkok and other cities have less congestion and better-quality health services than elsewhere in the country, and despite the progress … a rural urban gap persists,” Vimute wrote.

The economist encouraged a serious tax reform to help close the gap.

“So far it [taxation] has not been used as a tool to intentionally redistribute income,” he wrote. “Reforming the system, so that tax allowances and exemptions and favorable tax regimes do not favor the richest, is key to putting the country on the right path to a more equal society.”

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