Thailand has been trying to reform its educational system for more than 10 years now. Despite all the discussions, all the fresh efforts and all the interesting ideas, doubts linger as to whether reform will really lead somewhere.
Or will it just take us around the same old track?
Recently, a committee on curriculum revamping has been holding weekly discussions to adjust the curriculum in a way that will remove at least 200 classroom hours per year so that children have more time to learn something from the outside world.
Led by Pavich Thongroach, the committee has suggested that students will need time to develop life skills and all.
Such a move seems to go well with the recommendations made by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), which has conducted extensive studies on how best to implement the country’s educational reform.
TDRI researchers have recommended that 21st century skills become the core of reform.
The curriculum should become concise and integrated in a way that allows students to acquire the necessary skills. TDRI has also supported the Education Ministry’s plan for fewer classroom hours and its emphasis on project-based learning.
The Pavich-chaired panel has already identified the skills, which include lifelong learning skills, analytical skills, creative skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, conflict-management skills, skills to live in a modern world, teamwork skills, IT skills and meditation skills.
These skills are just parts of the key goals in the committee’s plan.
The committee hopes its new curriculum will also instil in children desirable values, attitudes and characteristics. Among them are love for the nation, the religion and the monarchy, respect for laws and rules, respect for different opinions, honesty, a democratic mind, responsibility and Thai identity.
Learning experiences are also another key part of the committee’s plan. They address academic learning, practice sessions, sports, health promotion, meditation and community service.
All the skills, characteristics and values mentioned by the committee are all good. But they have been in Thailand’s goals and vision for a long time already.
So, how will educational reform bring about better changes?
The revamp committee has asked for some more time to finish its plan. Some details may later emerge to perfect the plan. Yet, I have decided to express my concerns now in the hope that the committee will not lose sight of what it needs to achieve.
Its efforts should perpetuate the changes in the country’s educational sector for the best interests of Thai children.
When Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana promises reform, calls for a curriculum overhaul and promises less time spent in the classroom, I have bright hopes of seeing Thailand’s educational services move ahead with flying colours like in Singapore.
In August 2004, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a National Day rally that, “We have to teach less, so that our children will learn more”.
In 2006, the “Teach Less, Learn More” (TLLM) movement started and helped Singaporean teachers and schools to focus on the fundamentals of effective teaching, so that students are engaged, learn with understanding and are developed holistically, beyond preparing for tests and examinations. To do so, schools have innovated in curriculum (what to teach), pedagogy (how to teach) and assessment (how much have learners learnt).
By the end of 2010, 74 per cent of schools in Singapore had leveraged the resources and expertise offered by the government to embark on their school-based curriculum innovations. Singapore’s Education Ministry has reported that school leaders and teachers have found that students are more engaged and motivated in learning as a result of their TLLM efforts. Evaluation of the TLLM effort has shown that teachers are now more capable of customising the curriculum, applying a variety of pedagogies and employing more varied modes of assessment.
Singapore was rated as one of the best-performing education systems in a 2007 McKinsey study of teachers and was rated first in the 2007 IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook for having an education system that best meets the needs of a competitive economy.
While Thai policy-makers have lately unveiled concepts quite reminiscent of Singapore’s, there is a risk that even the best concepts may flop if they are implemented in the same old framework.
The world is evolving. Thailand needs to constantly develop its educational system to best respond to the changes and current needs. When it comes to reform, policymakers, implementers and other parties should be acutely aware that it’s time for them to move ahead.
Don’t start a journey that will lead us back to the same old spot. Our students’ performance and skills have done poorly in the world rankings for too long already.