Thailand takes new tack on education

national January 11, 2016 01:00

By Chularat Saengpassa
The Natio

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Professors favour collaborative approach focused on student learning

DESPITE all the discussion during the past two decades about how to implement reforms, there has hardly been any tangible success for Thailand’s education sector. 
However, since Japanese professor Manabu Sato recently presented his ideas about 21st-century school reform, many educators here in Thailand believe there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel if the concepts can actually be turned into education trends. 
“His ideas are clearly practical,” said Nipaporn Kunlasomboon, an education specialist at Pico (Thailand), a listed company.
She said her company had been distributing Sato’s concepts to Thai teachers for quite a while already, and many who read them had come together to implement the ideas at various schools in Rayong province. 
A professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and director of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division of the Japan Council of Sciences, Sato has published more than 20 books and nearly 200 academic papers.
Many of his works have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Indonesian.
Moreover, he was an Excellence Award winner in the “Asian Publishing Awards” in 2012.
Sato, who now works at Japan’s Gakushuin University, recently made a working trip to Thailand, during which he joined an education forum at Chulalongkorn University and presented his ideas directly to many interested people. 
“You have to create a joyful classroom landscape and understand that children will learn better when they do it with peers, as opposed to learning alone,” he said. 
The Japanese expert said school reform should comprise three main parts: revamped curriculum, revamped teaching style and improved teachers. 
The first of these requires a programme-oriented curriculum that specifies a list of steps for students to follow and prescribes project-orientated learning, so that students can learn and find answers on their own.
The second part calls for a new teaching style, which focuses on learner-centred teaching and collaboration among students. To Sato, students should not study in an isolated learning mode. 
The last part centres on teachers, who must be encouraged to adopt a new attitude: that their profession is not about teaching, but rather about learning.
Sato recommends four-member group work in class, describing it as “the secret to learning success”.
He explained to the forum that such work allowed children to learn better with their friends, as it facilitated collaborative learning. 
During the past two decades, Sato has also promoted the concept of “School as Learning Community” (SLC). 
The SLC concept entails the integration of three components: vision, philosophy and activity systems.
Built on the basis of “listening relationship” and “listening to the other’s voice”, SLC prides itself as the first step of learning, as listening leads to real conversation and communication between students, he said.
Kraiyos Patrawart, an education finance and policy specialist at the Quality Learning Foundation, said Thailand used to hope that the National Education Act of 1999 would improve the quality of the country’s education significantly. 
“But after 15 years, it’s clear that even with this law, Thailand has yet to fulfil its education goals,” he said. 
He pointed out that Thai students’ performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment had been poorer than that of their peers in Vietnam.
Moreover, in English proficiency, Thais were found to be almost the worst within Asean, he said. 
Lack of continuity
Kraiyos blamed discontinuity in the country’s education policies for such problems, pointing to the fact that since Act came into effect, Thailand had seen 20 education ministers.
Each of them, as a result, has had just nine months at the helm of the Education Ministry, on average. 
“It will take three months for a new education minister to learn about the duties and work of his or her job. That means each education minister will have just six months to implement new policies useful to the country’s educational sector.
“This is because as soon as a new education minister is appointed, they will be interested in their own initiatives – not the ones introduced by their predecessors,” Kraiyos said. 
With 2016 just starting, Kraiyos |said he hoped new trends would take over from the old culture, so that the country’s education sector could enjoy and benefit from new, improved changes. 
He recommended four things: continuity in education policies; decentralisation; the engagement of non-education players in the provision of education services; and independence for education planners/assessors. 
Education Minister General Dapong Ratanasuwan said that for the coming year, he planned to ensure that his ministry analysed educational problems in detail and came up with a holistic approach to tackling them. 
Asst Prof Athapol Anuntha-vorasakul, from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education, said the education trend must involve participation in education management from all walks of life, including local administrative bodies, community wise men and women, local residents, schools, school administrators and teachers – for the creation of a learning society. 
‘Learning classroom’
Good education management must emphasise the quality of students, hence schools, administrators and teachers must create a “learning classroom” and design teaching and learning activities suitable for fulfilling children’s potential, and for building a sense |community and local identity, Athapol suggested. 
Schools must be given more importance and authority, while curricula should be developed to promote democratic citizens’ potential and a sense of localisation, he said.
“Changes in education shouldn’t be implemented hastily, as they require clear planning and continuous |execution. Having many policies is good, as long as they can be implemented successfully and continuously, despite changes of government,” he stressed.
The direction of Thai education development must consider both school and teacher assessment based on students’ quality – not based on teachers’ academic papers – while education policies should come from society, and not from politicians, he added. 

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