Monday, August 19, 2019

People often ignore the green grass in their own backyard

Feb 27. 2019
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Asia has produced an impressive crop of innovative education methods that have boosted student grades in many countries.

Forward-looking methods like Singapore Math have been adopted across the globe with impressive results. Thailand, however, seems reluctant to take up such innovations, apparently satisfied with a traditional rote system of learning where grades are falling in international rankings with every year that passes. 

I realise there’s a danger of confusing students, but a good teacher must be able to offer students different angles on a subject – for example, maths – to bring insight and clarity.

Another example of education innovation is the collaboration in Vietnam. Here the Catholic Church is playing a leading role in helping young people eager to go to school, with the government authorising Catholic kindergartens. This and other progressive policies helped deliver Vietnam’s “great education leap”, as recorded in the international PISA 2015 results. “Catholics are good at managing institutions that follow the private school model,” according to Vietnamese authorities. 

In Thailand one example of such innovation/collaboration came with a pilot scheme last year in which successful private schools were handed the responsibility of managing public schools. Information about the scheme’s progress and success (or otherwise) has been scarce however. More recently, One Tambon One Quality School(s) and English for All projects are now ready to take off.

Meanwhile steps being taken towards the universally lauded “Finnish system” of education by, among others, Thammasat Secondary and King Mongkut’s International Demonstration School, are welcome. However this goal is a distant one for Thailand taking into account Finland’s cream-of-the-crop teacher selection system, its financial and societal resources and last but not least the Master’s Degree compulsory for all teachers from kindergarten level up.

Perhaps it would be better if we went shopping for ideas among PISA success stories in the culturally comparable Asean/Asian educational backyard. Take Japan, for example, where a similar rote-learning system and Buddhist culture has been channelled into education success. Or Singapore, or Vietnam. What’s their magic? 

As the chair of Asean this year, Thailand has a wonderful opportunity to exchange information on best education practices throughout the region. Such sharing of expertise is surely crucial to progress. A good start would be for the Education Ministry to spend some of its huge budget on establishing a mechanism for knowledge exchange between private and public schools and their teachers. 

Dirk Sumter

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