Top academics oppose computer tablets plan
But govt advisers say first handouts to schools in 2012
Academics have warned the Pheu Thai Party not to continue its election promise to hand out computer tablets to children, without consideration of the software needed to promote technology-driven learning. But Pavich Thongroj, an educational adviser for the Pheu Thai Party, insisted the party would go ahead with the handout of tablets, with netbooks or notebooks for older students. He expected the Pheu Thai-led government to begin implementing the policy by giving the tablets to 800,000 Prathom-1 students in the 2012 fiscal year. "It will cost about Bt4 billion," he said. He said secondary students were likely to get either notebooks and netbooks instead of tablets, which have more limited functions. Chainarong Indharameesup, chairman of Boyden global executive search, who is also on the education reform policy committee, and Maitree Inprasitha, dean of Education at Khon Kaen University, are against the tablet PC per child policy. Maitree said: "It's useless if you [Pheu Thai] just give them tablets, while there are no e-books or other software that will help arouse their learning. Lots of students now cannot even [calculate numbers], which is a basic skill." He said the party should pay more attention to students' learning, not technological devices. It would be better to give Bt20,000 to Bt30,000 to each school to provide good and interesting instructional media items - such as magnetic blackboard. That would enable children to learn from different activities with the blackboard rather than just writing. "Doing that would be is better. It would help students learn and have fun together." Sompong Jitradab, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education and member of the education reform policy committee, said the Pheu Thai plan was "a double-edged sword". Personal computer tablets could make children addicted to computer games and spending time alone or with just a few friends. "Such lifestyles hinder children's physical and emotional development," he noted. Sompong said research had shown most young children use computers for playing games, with only 15 per cent using them for learning. "Research findings have confirmed computer-game addiction is the reason behind so many dropouts," he said. So, the Pheu Thai Party must implement its plan carefully if it wants to honour the promise to hand out tablets to children. "They need to choose the right age groups and train teachers how to supervise their students' use of tablets. Without careful planning, the handout would do more harm than good," he warned. Chainarong wanted the party to not only dump the policy, but forego other handouts, including increases in teachers' salaries and academic standing payments and other educational investments, like infrastructure and facilities to make "quality schools" for each tambon. Past governments invested huge amounts of money but had not managed them transparently and effectively. He preferred the party to focus on managing good educational resources and transparency. Maitree urged investment in quality schools, improving them not only in terms of infrastructure but also students' performance, making parents trust their quality of study. To achieve this, Maitree said universities would have to take responsibility as well. They should work closely with schools. He thought mass teacher training in every region and the Teachers TV scheme should be canned, feeling they were a waste of money. "Such projects are not useful. They cannot change teachers' teaching behaviour." Dr Wijit Srisa-arn, a former education minister, said tablets would be just a tool. He said the key to good educational services was content. "We have to improve the quality of education. We have to improve the quality of teachers. Also, we need to place emphasis on morality. We need ethical people not just capable people," he said. Chainarong said the government should education reform as an urgent priority, as education was in crisis and reform progress slow. For long-term educational development, Maitree urged universities producing teachers for basic education to have practical innovations to prove their effectiveness in real teaching situations. These should then be implemented in classrooms. Practical teaching, with best practices gathered in reports to the Office of the Education Council, would also help. "We should put such best practice into action," Maitree said. Chainarong said the government should raise awareness among parents, local administrative bodies and government officials about the educational crisis and make them understand the problems clearly - that Thai education was poor and ways needed to lift it to a higher level. "It's crucial to make them realise educational development is every sector's responsibility so they will give it a hand." Maitree and Chainarong agreed that Pheu Thai, as leader of the coming government, should be in charge of the Education Ministry as they hoped it would use its power to push education forward. Thais are now looking forward to seeing what will happen to their country's education under the new government.