Bhunthin Attagara


Honorary Degree (1986)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John W. Ryan


The ideals and administrative vision of Bhunthin Attagara in the service of his country have had far-reaching impact on the development of Thailand as a land of growth and opportunity. Dr. Bhunthin saw clearly not only the problems of Thailand's educational system when he first became involved in its administration during the 1950s, but also the goals that needed to be achieved and the steps to be taken in achieving those goals as quickly as possible. With this vision, he built, by innovative means and through his support of new ideas, a program of professional teacher education throughout the country, creating a remarkable and rapid advance in the quality of education available to the people of Thailand.

After preparatory schooling in Thailand, Dr. Bhunthin pursued studies in physics in England from 1929 to 1936. He then returned to Thailand as a teacher in private schools. In 1950 he became director of the Department of External Affairs in the Ministry of Education, and in 1957 Director General of the Department of Teacher Education. In 1970 he was appointed to the post of Under Secretary of State for Education, the highest non-political position in the Ministry. He served as Under Secretary until his retirement in 1974, and during 1971 and 1972 was Minister of Education. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Chulalongkorn University in 1967 and by Srinakharinwirot University in 1969. In 1954 Indiana University entered upon an eight-year contract with the Ministry of Education in Thailand to design and implement programs for a national College of Education to train teachers for the whole country. This contract has been described by U.S. government officials and by scholars in several fields as one of the most successful projects in education assisted by funding from the United States government. Its success was due in large measure to the administrative leadership of Dr. Bhunthin and his perception of the most effective means of achieving the goals of the project within the context of the Thai culture.

From the outset, the education contract with Indiana University came under Dr. Bhunthin's supervision. As director of the Department of External Affairs of the Ministry of Education and later as Director General of the Department of Teacher Education, he had access to sources of authority in the Ministry of Education and in other agencies of the Thai government. Indiana University personnel involved in the project depended heavily on Dr. Bhunthin for guidance. In addition to support in negotiations with government agencies and the U.S. foreign aid office, he assisted members of the Indiana University team to understand and adjust to an unfamiliar cultural environment. Dr. Bhunthin also provided invaluable support in a second contract undertaken by Indiana University through the Ministry of Education, the development of an Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University. Dr. Bhunthin's goal was to set in place a formal teacher education program of national scope. Working in cooperation with Indiana University in the College of Education project, he undertook the immense task of upgrading the skills of teachers already working at the primary and secondary levels. He saw that it was possible to create a nationwide system of well-prepared teachers without having to wait for a new generation to acquire professional education. He believed that it was imperative to have both quality and quantity, and he had to an outstanding degree the dedication, political expertise, and ability to inspire others that were required to bring this about.

A severe shortage of teachers existed in Thailand in the 1950s when Dr. Bhunthin became director of the Department of External Affairs. The typical rural school teacher had less than four years of education, and remote village schools, where they existed, held classes for only two or three months a year. The literacy level of the country at that time was approximately fifty percent. Over the next few years, working with the Indiana University project staff, Dr. Bhunthin established a system of professional in-service training for teachers that included evening programs and summer courses. To support this program, he created a network of branches of the College of Education in regions around the country, enabling teachers to enhance their skills while continuing to teach. The success of Dr. Bhunthin's work was founded on the standards of quality to which he was committed and his ability to inspire this same commitment in those who worked with him. He convinced his staff throughout the country that their work was as important as any in Thailand, and their dedication and sense of purpose as a result of his leadership were very high.

Today the College of Education at Prasarn Mitr is a university of major standing, handsome, well-equipped, and enriched by an excellent library. Its additional campuses with modern facilities serve all regions of the country. The literacy level in Thailand has now reached ninety percent, a truly remarkable advance that has been made possible in large part by the work and vision of Dr. Bhunthin. Bhunthin Attagara has maintained warm ties with Indiana University and has been a frequent and honored visitor over the years. Members of his family have come to Indiana to complete their studies and returned to Thailand to make their own contributions to the progress of the country, following the example of his distinguished achievement.