When the Office of Basic Education Commission unveiled the name of the man who is spearheading national curriculum revision efforts, many people were left fidgeting in their seats.
These people believe that they are in the know and feel Dr Art-ong Jumsai is not qualified to lead such efforts.
Worried, they have even turned to www.change.org to campaign for the removal of Art-ong. Their move is something quite unusual. Never before has anyone turned to this platform in a bid to prevent someone from engaging in an important educational mission.
As of early September, more than 2,500 people had already signed the online petition in support of the call to remove Art-ong as the chair of the committee on revising Thailand’s national curricula.
Obec and Art-ong, however, have yet to respond.
Art-ong is not a no-name figure. He has an impressive educational background and a much-envied career profile.
He is a well-known thinker and an inspirational speaker. It is widely known that he has tried hard to promote moral soundness in society.
In terms of an educational background, Art-ong graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor and a Master’s degree in engineering. He has also completed the doctorate programme at the Imperial College of Science and Technology at London University.
He also graduated from the doctorate programme in curriculum and teaching from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education.
In terms of his career, Art-ong has achieved what so many engineers around the world would want to achieve. While working in the United States, he played a crucial role in the development of spacecraft-landing systems for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
His contributions proved so valuable that he would be able to secure attractive employment contracts and obtain American citizenship, if he wished.
But he turned down a job offer in the US and decided to fly back to Thailand to start his teaching career at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Engineering. His goal was to share his knowledge with Thais.
Art-ong has been in politics for some time. He was a Bangkok MP under the Palang Dharma Party’s banner three times.
About 15 years ago, he established the Sathya Sai School in Lop Buri after an inspiring meeting with Indian guru and spiritual leader Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
The Sathya Sai School has now teaches about 300 children from kindergarten to Mathayom 6. Praying and meditation are major elements of the school, which also emphasise EDUCATION – enlightenment, duty and devotion, understanding, character, action, thanking, oneness and nobility.
But such an approach made many prominent educators uneasy. One of them, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he holds nothing against the Sathya Sai School but would be greatly concerned if Art-ong tried to integrate this concept into national curriculum.
“Such concept is for alternative education, not the mainstream one,” he said.
Assoc Prof Jessada Denduangboripant of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Science, who rose to prominence via the GT200 bomb detector, has openly shared the online petition against Art-ong.
Jessada is apparently concerned about Art-ong’s beliefs in pseudo-science.
Pseudo-science is defined as “claims presented so that they appear [to be] scientific even though they lack supporting evidence and plausibility”.
Before the military coup was staged on May 22, curriculum-revision efforts led by Pavich Thongroach, a former secretary general of the Office of Higher Education Commission, were almost complete.
Through Pavich’s plan, eight subject groups in the curriculum will come down to just six and focus will be on skills needed for the 21st Century.
Given that Obec secretary general Kamol Rodklai has now chosen Art-ong to spearhead the revision instead, regardless of the criticism, Art-ong should clear any doubt and prove to the public that he has great ideas about what and how Thai students should learn.
It remains to be seen who he will recruit to his team. But let’s hope that he attracts capable people from various fields, as diverse experiences more often than not can prevent mistakes from taking place.
Clear-cut goals for the revision must also be identified because in this modern world a results-oriented approach is a must. This applies to the education field as well.