Those of us in despair over Thai education were given fresh hope this year by new and innovative ideas to improve the system.
The ideas came not from government policymakers – whose repeated reform failures are reflected in Thailand’s steady decline in the international education rankings – but from individuals desperate to see our children succeed.
A year ago, education experts arrived in the lion’s den of rote learning (Thailand) for a “Critical Thinking in Classrooms Regional Workshop”.
A few months later, Krating Poonpol of small-business investor 500 Startups called on his fellow entrepreneurs to join forces to create five education-tech startups to deliver learning opportunities for all Thai children via the Internet.
Fuelled by the same passion, I climbed aboard the bandwagon with my own humble project, publicising significant issues like education inequality, the foundational “4 Cs” of 21st-century learning (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity) and the critical thinking at the core of Thai Buddhism.
Now, concern at the poor state of education seems have spread into pop culture. The track “Equality”, by 17-year-old Bangkok rapper Elevenfinger (Thanayut na Ayutthaya), addresses Thai politics in general and the ailing education system in particular. In a recent AFP report, Elevenfinger is pictured with a group of fellow students in public school uniform, rehearsing rhymes with a strong theme of critical thought.
Asked questions like, “What positive changes would you like to see in this school”, the schoolkids launched into a rap battle that lit the fuse for an explosion of ideas, analytical thinking and dissent over the way they are being taught. Encouraging rational argument and dissent among students is especially important in Thai education. Plato stated that in order to debate and dispute, one needs to think critically. Without cultivating this ability, which is actually embedded deep in Thai culture with the Buddhist Kalama Sutta teachings, the much-publicised leap to Thailand’s next stage – the so-called 4.0 economy-society – simply cannot happen.
Elevenfinger may still be too young to join politics, but such awareness and concern for education among the younger generation is a positive sign that Thailand 4.0 can be launched before the country is stuck forever in its middle-income quicksand. It’s a promising note on which to kick off the new year.