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Breathing new life into a venerable old school

At its peak, the renowned Amnuay Silpa School had an annual student body of 7,000, but today that has fallen to only 870.

Published on April 11, 2008

This once profitable school must now find ways to offset accumulated losses. But for many, the school's future is secure, because it now ranks as one of the country's world-class learning institutions.

Since it was established 82 years ago, the school has taught more than 77,000 students. Many have gone on to become government leaders, top politicians and successful businessmen.

It is comparable with Suan Kularb College, a much older school that was formed to educate the sons and daughters of courtiers.

However, Amnuay Silpa has faced trouble ever since the government began setting up public schools 20 years ago. Since then, enrolment has fallen, with rival schools offering more choices and lower fees.

Director Petchuda Kesprayura said the school had to downsize its management and classes to manage costs.

"We had to bring down the number of student in the past 22 years from 7,000 to 1,500 in 1995. In addition, we had to shoulder losses of more than Bt150 million," Petchuda said.

She also faced many challenges, such as adjusting the school's old teaching methods and curriculum and renovating old buildings.

As the third generation of her family to run the school, Petchuda drew up a 10-year development plan for it. She intends to change its traditional system into a bilingual learning environment.

Since 1996, Petchuda has met with parents to explain what she plans to undertake and what the new education system will be like. The programme began with adjusting enrolment fees from Bt2,000 per semester to Bt16,000. As a result, the number of students dropped to 500, which was fully anticipated.

In addition, the school also had to deal with a loss of Bt150 million.

Petchuda has a master's degree in business administration from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She also has a degree in computer information systems from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Her work experience includes an eight-year stint with the Fiscal Policy Office, which she said helped her renovate the school.

An Amnuay Silpa foundation called Chitra-Erb Dansuputra provided Bt200 million in financial support for the school's face lift and to pay off debt. But the grant was given on the condition that the school also became self-sufficient financially in the future.

So far, it still shouldered a loss of Bt3.5 million from last year, as it incurs on average Bt10 million in expenses a year.

The fund allowed Petchuda to start renovating the old buildings, create training programmes for teachers and recruit foreign teachers for its bilingual programme.

"What we planned from the beginning was to turn classrooms into centres of learning. We spent millions of baht to install computer systems, teaching equipment and materials," she said, adding that since 1996, students have been able to connect to the Internet.

Petchuda said the 10-year plan was drawn to improve its primary school levels. Under its second development phase, from 2006-2015, its goal was to become a world-class school.

Under the plan, it will gradually raise its curriculum up from the primary to the secondary level.

Petchuda hopes the school can attract 1,000 students under the new strategy.

Achara Pongvutitham

The Nation

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