Thailand could be major e-learning hub in region

national November 26, 2012 00:00

By Wannapa Khaopa
The Nation

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Despite growing popularity of online education too few

Thailand has hundreds of international programmes, especially in the country’s top performing universities, luring thousands of students from different parts of the world, particularly from the Asean region to come and study in the Kingdom.

Distance education or e-learning can be an opportunity for Thailand to open up a new Asean educational market in which students can spend life at home while pursuing study at Thai universities rather than travelling here.
“Online education is the education of the future. More universities have requested us to review their online or e-learning programmes before they open them,” said Assoc Prof Kamjorn Tatiyakavee, MD, deputy secretary-general at the Office of the Higher Education Commission (OHEC). “Many other universities have combined normal face-to-face teaching in classes with e-learning to enhance students’ learning.”
Associate Professor Chitapa Ketavan, dean of the Graduate School of eLearning (GSeL) at Assumption University (AU) and Assistant Professor Kanda Wongwailikhit, dean of RSU Cyber University faculty at Rangsit University (RSU), also agreed that distance education would become more popular among students as it was more convenient for them to study anytime, anywhere at a lower cost.

 Although these educators see the growing popularity of online education, there are not many universities with international programmes in Thailand offering online or e-learning programmes. The first e-learning international programme was taught seven years ago in Thailand by AU, but other universities with international programmes have not yet offered this convenient style of education.
“Personally, I think we can help push forward the government’s education-hub policy, but the government will have to issue a clear policy and strategy in terms of quality of education. Relevant agencies should also have a clear policy to follow and work in the same direction,” Chitapa added.
“Before we promote our online programmes to open up the Asean market, we must ensure our quality first as well as enhance our English language to be acceptable among other countries that use English, otherwise we will fail,” Kamjorn said.
He added that OHEC was planning to support the country’s e-learning in terms of educational quality assurance. OHEC would use its Thailand Cyber University Project to check if online or e-leaning programmes of each university are trusted, if their students learn from interaction with lecturers and classmates, and the students’ achievements are seriously assessed.
He said even e-learning programmes offered by foreign countries had not demonstrated real standards. “We have to consider the graduates’ performance and how much society recognises them.”
A source from the Office of the Civil Service Commission said it could not ensure it would certify all online or e-learning degrees from other countries for those who wanted to work as government officials. It would certify foreign degree on a case by case basis. The office had certified a graduate from a full online programme and another graduate from a combination programme of on and off campus classes from other countries.
But, for Thai degrees, it could not consider them case by case. It had certified degrees that were approved by OHEC.
Kanda said students at RSU Cyber University would interact with their lecturers and classmates about two to three hours a day and four days a week. Also, Dr Satha Phongsatha, programme director of the Master of Education in Teaching and Technolo-gy at GSeL, said apart from self-learning via gadgets, like mobile phones and tablets, students can also learn from their peers and lecturers via live videos through discussions. The lecturers themselves were active and available to via several online channels.
Students of both institutions said they were satisfied with the way they learned in online programmes and the cheaper expenses.
“We study harder [than those in face-to-face classes]. I have to do assignments and discuss with my lecturers and classmates online almost every day.” said Sawinee Paktapong-pan, 26, a Thai master’s degree student of GSeL, adding that she could read content and listen to her lessons when travelling by Skytrain. 
Patariya Chaum, 23, a Thai bachelor’s degree student of RSU, said she was happy that she could arrange her own time studying and she did not waste time and money travelling to classes. 
“Being an online degree student, I can reaffirm that one has to work with a lot of dedication as you are not in a class physically. You have to meet the expectations and requirements, just as a traditional school would have you do. You must have time management and planning ahead of time, prioritising skills, be super-organised and efficient. If one has these qualities, then I think employers should be completely satisfied as these also happen to be the qualities desired in an organisational employee,” said Rachnida Arora, 35, a Thai-Indian master’s degree student of GSeL.
AU was the first international university offering international e-learning programmes, while RSU was the first university offering Thai e-learning programmes in Thailand.
According to Chitapa, for the past seven years GSeL has had 700 students from 28 countries, 25 per cent of them from other countries – from the US, Canada, China, Europe, Asia and Middle East.
“Many of them are also from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Singapore. The number of Thai and foreign students is increasing. We expect 10-per-cent growth in student enrolment,” Chitapa said.
She said GSeL would use a proactive strategy to promote its programmes among people in Asean countries, asking for help from its partner Asean universities to introduce the programmes to more Asean students. Also its Asean alumni could represent GSeL to disseminate the information to them directly. “Our strength is lower tuition fees and recognition among Asean countries.” 
In response to growing demand in Thailand, RSU was preparing to open a new programme about management and administration, said Kanda.