Thailand in need of a strong civics education programme, says educator

national February 10, 2014 00:00

By Chularat Saengpassa
The Natio

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'Lessons in civics needed to help democracy work'

Murray Print PhD is an adviser to Thai Civic Education. Back in Australia, he is a professor and chair of the Faculty of Education & Social Work at the highly ranked University of Sydney, with rock-solid experience in developing the Australian Civics and Citizenship Curriculum (CCC). 
In Thailand, he has emphasised the need for a strong civics education programme, which he says is vital for the country’s democratic future. In his view, developing a good CCC or a well-designed civics-education programme would be major investment in Thai democracy and future social stability.
Below is an interview he gave to The Nation: 
How long did it take Australia to develop a civic-education master plan, Which organisations were involved?
This has been a three-year process for the Civics and Citizenship Curriculum [CCC] within the context of the recently developed Australian Curriculum [AC]. The AC is new as we’re a Federation and the states have control over education. The lead in developing the Australian Curriculum has been ACARA [the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority] that was created for this task. 
I led the CCC team and in developing the CCC we included people with expertise in the subject. During the three years many organisations were involved through submissions, trial and negotiation.
Did the master plan undergo research stages and public hearings before its implementation?
Yes, the CCC was built on a research base through the preparation of an initial discussion paper and then a major ‘shape’ paper. My team also provided research input. Several public hearings were conducted to gain reactions to the discussion and shape papers, as well as the final CCC document. Many hundreds of people and organisations have provided feedback over the past three years.
When was the master plan first launched? Was there an experimental phase? and What was the response?
As part of the AC the CCC was launched in 2011 with my appointment to lead the team to develop the CCC. My first task was to prepare an initial position paper about what the CCC might try to achieve based on research. During the development process there were many trials with teachers and students on the CCC. The response from teachers was extremely positive: the CCC is valuable, manageable, useful, and able to be learned by students across the school years from 3-10.
How many revisions took place after that? The initial discussion paper was reviewed and revised and reworked into a major ‘shape’ paper that went out for public discussion.
Based on the positive responses from the public [parents, teachers, academics, NGOs, etc] some minor revisions were made in late 2012 and the paper was accepted by all Australian governments. All of 2013 was spent writing the CCC document based on the accepted shape paper.
How is civic education integrated into curricula? Which courses have integrated civic education into their content?
The CCC is based upon an identifiable, separate subject to be taught in schools. It is part of the core, compulsory AC within the years 3-10 [about 8 to 16-year-old students]. It was decided not to introduce the CCC to very young children and the final two years of schooling [17-18] have not been decided yet for the CCC. I believe we will prepare some CCC subjects for students in years 11 and 12 in the near future.
What is at the heart of civic-education development? Is it public participation?
The preparation of active, informed democratic citizens. While we use the term ‘Civics and Citizenship Curriculum’ another we could use would be Education for Democratic Citizenship [EDC]. The goal is to prepare students to become active citizens in their many ‘communities’ [local, state, national and global] who are informed about democracy and the processes of government. This is EDC and is an international trend in the 21st century
Which organisation is in charge of assessing the civic education master plan?
The CCC is the responsibility of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. They will conduct an initial assessment of the CCC in the future. The state governments, usually through their education departments and related agencies, would also be involved.
As an adviser for Thailand’s civic education development, what is your view of the country’s education system? What should be the highlights in civic education here? Could you please identify the strengths and weaknesses in Thailand when it comes to civic education?
Thailand has great need of its own form of civic education. It must have a Thai model of civic education, one owned by the Thai people. 
It needs a form of CCC to help create informed, active, democratic Thai citizens of the future. As such, this is a major investment in Thailand’s democracy, its stability and its ability to resolve differences. The current situation in Thailand indicates that a strong civic education programme is vital for the country’s democratic future. A democracy is only as useful, resilient and sustainable as the participation of its citizens. But in that participation, citizens need to be informed and understand the processes of democracy and this is a major contribution of civic education. When taught in schools civic education would be non-partisan and so provide a balance to other sources of political information in the community.
Curriculum reform has been an agenda for Thai governments in recent years, but change has been slow. A new civic education curriculum needs to be adopted and implemented based on a Thai model of civic education. My sense is there is willingness among Thai educators for a new civic education curriculum. This will require a commitment and investment by national and local governments in Thailand, as well as the provisions of resources for teachers and schools to implement the curriculum effectively. Many Thai teachers will need professional development to assist them to teach the civic curriculum effectively.
All this requires a desire by the Thai people to have a strong democracy for the future. It requires a commitment by governments and associated organisations to facilitate a civics curriculum that will prepare Thai democratic citizens. With such a curriculum Thailand could become the strongest democracy in the region.
Democracy is far more than voting in elections. It is a way of life requiring knowledge, skills and values to be an active democratic citizen. A good civic education programme will enable people to acquire that knowledge, skills and values.

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