Mahidol wisdom trickles down

Art April 12, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

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The university has established an international demonstration school for Grades 10 and up

Mahidol University president Rachata Rachatanawin doesn’t want the school’s graduates to become “merely” doctors, engineers or businessmen. “I’d like them to be socially responsible,” he declared at a recent conference unveiling the Mahidol University International Demonstration School (MUIDS).

MUIDS, based at the school’s Salaya campus, will coach youngsters from Grade 10 onwards in a bid to reform education “toward globalisation”. Former Senator Damrong Puttarn, businessmen Choke Bulkul and his TV newscaster-wife Sukwan Bulkul, and architect Duangrit Bunnag were speakers at the conference.

Professor Rachata pointed out that the university aims for academic excellence in the arts and sciences based on “social morality”. It takes pride in having represented “the wisdom of the land” for the past 70 years, he said. But pre-university education in Thailand is lacking.

“We all know that educational efficacy in our country is needed from elementary through secondary levels. Mahidol University has given serious consideration to making available quality secondary education that will prepare high-school students for successful and productive higher education.”

As well as promising a “world-class education”, MUIDS will focus on cultivating students’ intellectual understanding and developing wisdom, fostering ethics and integrity, and helping them build support networks.

It touts “LIFE Skills”, forming the acronym from Learning Approach, Inner Values, Future Connections and Excellent Academics.

“We will use English as the language of instruction, but we’re different from the international schools in the sense that the educational process will cultivate ‘Thainess’ in our students,” Rachata said.

“I don’t want our students to be just doctors, dentists, pharmacists, engineers, businessmen, sociologists or experts in any particular fields. I’d like them to be socially responsible people in Thai society, to be a part of making Thai society and the world a better place. Problems like corruption are still a big issue in our society, so all students should learn to be disgusted at this practice and other mischievous behaviour and understand that it’s unacceptable.”

Damrong pointed that many Thais hold university degrees and even doctorates, and yet Thai education ranks poorly compared to most other Southeast Asian countries.

“There are a lot of problems in Thai education, but the tutorial school is the key indicator that shows how poor our system is. Parents want their children to attend university even though that might not be what the children want.

“Thai education reform has failed because educators tend to copy foreign modules that aren’t suitable for us,” the former senator said. “Meanwhile school administrators tend to improve their facilities rather than the children. Many of our teachers have insufficient time to concentrate on teaching because they’re required to constantly improve their own academic skills. And these are just some of the problems.”

Businessman Choke Bulkul said Thai education lacks a sound strategy. Thais tend to be “followers”, he said, content to admire other people’s achievements without striving for their own. “Even though youngsters might study in an international programme, speaking English with foreign teachers, their parents often don’t realise that kids also need to understand Thai ideology, tradition and values.”

Sukwan suggested that academic excellence isn’t as important as acquiring morality and a social conscience. “It’s very important to be able to choose between right and wrong,” she said. “Every action must have its consequences. If children don’t do their homework, their teachers will punish them. Children should learn this.”

They also need to appreciate traditions like showing respect to images of the Buddha, to monks, teachers and their parents, even to the extent of lying prostrate before them, no matter how “out of date” some people regard such practices, Sukwan said. “Thais should always keep to our roots.”

Just like in a basketball game, said Duangrit, a new father, what’s on the education scoreboard doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual situation. “There is no guarantee that an excellent student will be successful in life. I think, to be a success in the future, a student has to know himself, so that he can produce a given outcome. I don’t want my child to grow up and be giving orders to others, but to be inspiring to others.”