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Fast track for bright science students

Talented youngsters can sit in on tertiary classes

A new initiative is up and running to give secondary-school students with talent in science an opportunity to sit in on some university classes.

The talented students will also be able to claim credits from the courses taken at the campus.

When the initiative takes full effect, bright students will no longer remain stuck in school classes where the content may prove too simple for their brains. To ensure their full potential is not wasted, these students will progress to universities where a higher level of academic knowledge is available.

An initiative to offer a fast track to excellent pupils to help fulfil their dreams has now begun in Thailand. The National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and its partners told a press conference last week they were working together to set up the Thailand Children's University project with expert assistance from Germany.

Thaweesak Koanantakool, president of NSTDA, said: "In 2002, the University of Tubingen organised the first children's university in Germany. Later many other institutions followed this Tubingen Children's University model. Now, lots of universities in every province of the country have provided science education to school students. We've received assistance from Bielefeld University, a German university that has successfully run a children's university."

German secondary-school students who excel at science can be fast-tracked and given the chance to study at participating universities. As a result, high-flying students will be able to accumulate credits while still at school, and that would aid them in their progress at university, he said.

"These students can graduate with a bachelor's degree within a year-and-a-half or two years after they accumulate the credits while they are in secondary schools," Thaweesak said. "We hope to offer the fast track to Thai students, too.

"We are now seeking universities in Thailand as partners, and communicating with schools about our project," he said.

Duangsamorn Klongsara, deputy director of the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST), said: "We have hundreds of thousands of excellent students participating in our Junior Science Talent Project who are the targets of the Thailand Children's University. We will rank them and select the most eligible to enjoy fast track learning."

King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi has already been confirmed as a partner.

enjoyable learning

Not only will clever students enjoy learning science, but also other students will find learning the discipline is enjoyable as the participating universities will offer exciting experiments aimed at injecting fun into learning science. It aims at fostering a positive attitude among students from upper-primary to upper-secondary education towards science learning.

Duangsamorn suggested that handicapped students and also students in vocational education as well as those from private schools should be given a chance to try the experiment activities, which would arouse students' curiosity.

NSTDA is disseminating information about the initiative among schools and universities. It kicked off science camps under this project last year and has so far hosted 500 secondary-school students. It plans to host camps to reach more students in every part of the country.

They have learned to do experiments on the chemistry of milk, citrus fruit, paper and ink, and nanotechnology. The titles include plastic from milk, milk Olympic games and magic colour from curd - for experiments on the chemistry of milk; scent, acid, magic, oil from peel, citric acid from lemon juice and vitamin C - for experiments on citrus fruit; recycle, ink from tea and magic of ink - for the experiments on paper and ink; and fullerenes, lotus effect and nanocluster - for experiments on nanotechnology.

Thaweesak said the work and experiments had been inspired by activities designed by Teutolab Chemistry at Bielefeld University. IPST would provide more experiment activities.

"Such interesting and enjoyable learning activities will make students feel more positive about science and less afraid of the subject," Duangsamorn said.

"They offer an opportunity for students to learn science from objects or things around them and they will find that science is not too difficult to understand. We hope they will inspire more students to choose to study science and work in science-related fields."

Moreover, schoolteachers will get training from university researchers and scientists in how to stimulate their students' thirst for scientific knowledge.

The project was initiated after suggestions and assistance by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. She was impressed by the success of the children's university project at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences during her visit to China in 2010. It had spread originally to China and Egypt from Germany, Thaweesak said.

The German Academic Exchange Service and Thailand's Office of the Basic Education Commission are also backing the project.

The Thailand Children's University will be officially launched by HRH Princess Sirindhorn on October 30 at the Sirindhorn Science Home in Pathum Thani.


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