How a radical new approach to teaching is bearing fruit

national March 05, 2018 04:00

By CHULARAT SAENGPASSA
THE NATION
Satun

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“AS THE WORLD is propelled forward by dreams, I want to make school a place to teach pupils to become quality humans rather than walking textbooks.”



This is the view of Anuban Satun School director Sutthi Saisunee, who added that teachers must not push away parents who are “a key force in implementing this new approach to education”. 

Under a project implemented at the school, teachers have become coaches who promote learning rather than just give lectures, he said. In this way, pupils learn to think and solve problems, and develop life skills. 

With the Thailand Research Fund (TRF)’s Satun Community-Based Research Coordinating Centre as their ally, Sutthi and his colleagues have created a revolutionary approach by promoting a 10-step community-based research project for each class.

Anuban Satun student Pattarapol Sukkhao, right, and a classmate |discuss a research project.

Under the scheme, primary students take on a project that is carried out by the whole class over the course of the academic year. They find their own topic and the answers to their questions through the 10-step learning process. In the first semester, they complete the first five steps: exploring a close-to-home topic, finding background information to help them understand the topic, identifying a compelling research question, developing detailed questions, and finding a suitable method for data collecting. 

Before the school break, they present their projects on stage to hear input from parents and experts from various agencies, allowing them to adjust and improve their work.

In the second semester, the pupils proceed to the remaining steps: conducting a field study and collecting data, analysing and processing the data, conducting an experiment, gathering information to be concluded as a body of knowledge, and presenting the study result to the public.

This large urban school has been following this programme since 2010, and has come up with several projects of use to the Satun community. A prime example is a project by Prathom 4 Class 6 pupils two years ago about 350-million-year-old bivalve shell fossils in Muang district’s Tambon Kuan Khan, which has been developed as a learning source. 

Team member Pattarapol Sukkhao, now studying in Prathom 6 Class 6, acted as a tour guide on a recent media visit arranged by the TRF.

“We researched background information about the area, and studied fossil types and in which layers of the earth they could be found. As fossils have been found in the nearby Thung Wa district, we thought our area should have them too,” he said.

“An earthen well was dug up on privately-owned land in Ban Pokoh Yamu, which matched our study. So we requested permission to survey the site for fossils and we found many of them,” Pattarapol added, before expressing regret there were fewer fossils at the site now as some visitors were pocketing them as souvenirs. 

The project also included a campaign to raise local adults’ awareness of conservation. Classmate Kankanit Sukaew said she wanted people to understand the importance of conserving fossils. Another sixth-grader, Bachla Kepan, said many people viewed fossils as rocks, but for her they were “the earth’s treasure reflecting geological fertility and internal changes over time”.

Sutthi credited the then-fourth graders’ fossil discovery to the shift in the learning process, because it allows pupils to think, research, and do analysis and synthesis. 

Students learnt all through the various steps, including voting for a topic after discussing its pros and cons, formulating an action plan, delegating tasks, and even writing a permission-seeking letter to the property landlord, said teacher Chawiwan Ha-ura, who served as the project adviser.

Sutthi said the success of the fossil project made him confident this innovative research-based learning approach could help facilitate educational reform and the country’s class-time-reduction policy to boost students’ “4Hs” – head, heart, hand (vocational skills) and health. It would also attract more participation from parents and local administrators.

Anuban Satun School’s success story is among those studied by well-known academic Sompong Jitradap. Over the past two years, Sompong has led a team in a TRF-sponsored research project “to study and synthesise community-based research-based learning patterns that propel forward educational policies from bottom to top” so as to find fresh alternatives. 

Sompong urged other schools to let children learn from real life by embracing community-based learning and linking local knowledge with policies. He also praised Anuban Satun School’s success in changing its teachers’ way of thinking.

“A nearly-retired teacher who has taught for over 30 years admitted he felt like a true teacher with solid principles by teaching children in this new way,” Sompong said.

The teacher also noted that parents had become convinced about the success of this new method because they could see a transformation in their children, who became confident in thinking, expressing opinions and speaking in public.

“This raises the question of whether it is right to limit a child’s education to just 200 days a year in a classroom,” Sompong said.

Dr Charas Suwanwela, chairman of an independent committee for education reform, said the case of Anuban Satun School showed that educational reform can come from the bottom up – if schools are freed from the tight grip of the Office of Basic Education Commission. He said the commission should shift to a mentoring role and encourage various models of teaching practice.

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