Friday, December 06, 2019

Thai education offers lesson in attachment and suffering

Nov 30. 2017
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Re: “Smartphones as a gateway to ‘developed nation’ status”, The Nation, October 17.

When I first came to Thailand a few years ago, I noticed a shortage of computers and other learning materials in schools. Ignoring lots of advice from friends not to get involved in the Thai education arena, I had some refurbished university equipment shipped from Europe.  The outcome wasn’t as hoped for, but witnessing the academic achievements of four eager young students – a Filipina teacher and seven local secondary school girls desperate to learn English – made up for the disappointment. Good things come in small packages, so I dropped the donations and began writing articles on education and having them translated into Thai for students in my rural neighbourhood. This is my small effort to help close the gap between rural and city education and open the door to Thailand 4.0 – the ongoing transition to an Internet economy.

Recently I published a report on the ignored educational potential of smartphones (which are ubiquitous), low levels of English proficiency, and the abundance of free downloadable self-study materials. As part of my own academic research I followed up by designing a survey on smartphones as a learning tool. 

The survey was passed to a secondary school student in my village, who was instructed to ask her friends to fill it in anonymously.

A week later she handed back the surveys – which were blank. The advice of my friends about Thai education suddenly came back to me: Perhaps I should have just “let it be”.  

Then came news this month that Thailand had ranked a lowly 56th out of 72 countries on the English Proficiency Index. Our near neighbour, Vietnam, ranked 34th. 

“When in Rome, do as some Romans do,” I sighed, taking a mental turn down Mai Pen Rai Avenue and into Karma Alley. I haven’t bothered to ask the student what happened to the survey. Instead I’m reducing my educational effort to writing only, to avoid “suffering”, as they say in my neighbourhood. I’m now bracing for the “told-you-so” encounters with my “let-it-be” friends. 

Dirk Sumter 

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