Student Centered Learning – Thailand

A Centre for Education Reform in Thailand


Welcome to Student-Centered Learning Thailand

LONG LIVE THE KING!

Our Mission:

To provide a center of discussion , information and planning for 21st Century education reform in Thailand that will lead to a unity of purpose and action among  Thai and international educators to realize the goals set forth in the National Education Act of  B.E. 2542 (1999).

At the heart of this National Education Act B.E. 2542 (1999) is a move toward student-centered learning and a student-centered  classroom.  Specifically, Section 24 of the Education Act outlines what must be done   to improve  education  performance : 1. arranging learning in line with the students’ interests , aptitudes and individual differences ;2. training students in thinking abilities, especially critical thinking; 3.organizing learning activities that draw from authentic experiences; and 4. promoting situations where learners and teachers learn together.  

In addition to addressing these key issues of education reform in Thailand , indeed in international education, we also focus our attention and resources on the goal of promoting Thai teachers to reach their potential as skilled teachers using teaching methods that engage their students with the result that students love to learn through self discovery.

 

ยินดีต้อนรับสู่ Student-Centered Learning ประเทศไทย

ทรงพระเจริญ

พันธกิจ:

เพื่อสร้างศูนย์ข้อมูล การแลกเปลี่ยนข้อคิดเห็นและวางแผนสำหรับการปฏิรูปการศึกษาของประเทศไทยในศตวรรษที่ 21 อันจะนำไปสู่การปฏิบัติอันเป็นไปในทิศทางเดียวกันของนักการศึกษาไทยและต่างประเทศเพื่อให้บรรลุเป้าหมายที่กำหนดไว้ในพระราชบัญญัติการศึกษาแห่งชาติ พ.ศ. 2542 (1999)

ใจความสำคัญของพระราชบัญญัตินี้คือการมุ่งไปสู่การเรียนรู้และการเรียนการสอนในห้องเรียนโดยมีนักเรียนเป็นศูนย์กลาง โดยเฉพาะอย่างยิ่งมาตรา 24 ที่กำหนดถึงสิ่งที่ต้องทำเพื่อพัฒนาประสิทธิภาพของการศึกษาไทยคือ : 1. จัดการศึกษาให้สอดคล้องกับความสนใจ, ความถนัดที่แตกต่างกันของนักเรียนแต่ละคน; 2. อบรมนักเรียนให้มีความสามารถในการคิดวิเคราะห์ด้วยตนเอง; 3. จัดกิจกรรมการเรียนรู้จากประสบการณ์จริง; และ 4. ส่งเสริมการเรียนการสอนที่ครูและนักเรียนได้เรียนรู้ร่วมกัน

นอกจากประเด็นหลักเพื่อการปฏิรูปการศึกษาในประเทศไทยเหล่านี้ แน่นอนว่าในระดับโลกเรายังมุ่งเป้าไปยังการส่งเสริมศักยภาพอาจารย์ชาวไทยในด้านทักษะการสอนโดยอาศัยเทคนิคการสอนที่ให้นักเรียนมีส่วนร่วมในชั้นเรียนเพื่อให้นักเรียนมีความรักที่จะเรียนรู้ด้วยตัวเขาเอง


Jurgen Zimmer, in this month’s article, “The Situational Approach in Didactics of Higher Education” makes a solid case for progressive education. There are many educational approaches encompassed under the rubric of progressive education and certainly the situational approach is pivotal. At SCLThailand the term student centered learning which translates into many similar or identical approaches including not only the situational approach but also: brain-based learning; the inquiry method ; the discovery method ; experiential learning and learning by doing.

 

Professor Zimmer brings into sharp focus what teacher education has missed. The result of “missed lessons” is teachers continuing to rely on the lecture method. Research shows much more long term memory learning when students actually participate in the learning process.

 

Professor Zimmer is the co-founder of the School for Life in Chiangmai, Thailand. The curriculum purpose of the school is to establish a situational approach to learning that will lead to students being prepared for life after the completion of high school and also make the school and the boarding of the students more and more self-reliant.

 

Taking inspiration from Professor Zimmer’s situational approach, it might be useful to give an overview of a learning project plan for students at the School for Life who are interested in coffee production and interested in using coffee as a gateway to learning how to be an entrepreneur. At each step in the process of empowering the students who join the coffee club, there will be problem solving based on knowledge gained followed by actual practice and then, reflection followed by action.

 

The first steps in the process of forming a coffee club at the School for Life have already started. Ms. Praewa, a coffee expert and coffee educator has introduced the art of coffee making to all the students of School for Life in three afternoon sessions during the month of November of 2014. The introduction was a hands- on experience on how to judge coffee bean quality and how to identify and select coffee beans; how coffee is harvested and how it is roasted; and finally how the barista makes the experience of coffee memorable to the end user in a café. Students thus begin to understand the importance of knowing coffee bean quality and what it takes to produce a quality of coffee bean. They also begin to understand the importance of temperature and air flow in the coffee roasting process. At by the end of the Ms. Praewa’s sessions the students begin to understand the importance of marketing and presentation of coffee.

In sum, the three sessions Ms. Praewa lead are the hook used to capture the interest and enthusiasm of students who may wish to go on to join the coffee club. The coffee club will continue to develop coffee making and entrepreneurial skills.

 

Interested students will register their names with the head of school who, along with a committee of teachers, will choose a group of students, perhaps six boys and six girls, to be members of the club based on their enthusiasm and grasp of the ideas and skills Ms. Praewa presented through hand-on experiences during the three day sessions on the art of coffee making.

 

Once the coffee club is formed, advisors will be assigned and the coffee club will begin a mind -mapping exercise to decide what they already know about coffee; what further questions they need to ask about coffee and where they hope to get further information. The club will also do a mind mapping exercise on what they hope to achieve at the coffee club and how they will realize those objectives and what help they might need. The club members will also have to decide how they will make decisions, how often they will meet, and how meetings will be managed.

 

Readers of Professor Zimmer’s article may recognize that these mind-mapping exercises my well result in the coffee club students making their own situational analysis. Indeed, that is the hoped for result.

 

Once the club has formed the questions that need to be answered and the skills they will need, the advisors and students will explore links with the knowledge and skill offered in the Ministry of Education curriculum. These links will probably lead to blended learning. For example, inevitably, the club will decide that they want to mount a small business. They will conclude that they have to have some way of tracking profits and losses. The need to learn certain math skills in order to do the accounting will be evident. Moreover, the students may decide it is worth learning a computer program like EXCEL to help them speed up the process of preparing financial statements.

 

After the club’s mind-mapping exercises, there will be a need for reflection. Are the objectives coming out of the mind-mapping exercise reasonable? Should the objectives be prioritized? What should be the time-frame? What resources are available? Where and how can other resources be found?

 

Again, readers of Dr. Jurgen Zimmer’s article may recognize this provision for dialogue as an integral part of the situational approach. Out of the dialogue students will use their knowledge and skills to help “steer” their own development process. The advisors will help guide and coach the coffee club toward a common purpose and goal. The students will be learning in a wide variety of situations, i.e. by going to coffee factories, visiting coffee plantations and visiting cafes. Each experience will be recorded by each the students of the coffee club and then discussed in group meetings. What has been learned? How can we apply what we have learning to our situation as School for Life?

 

We return now to the purpose of School for Life. The coffee club is in league with the school goal by preparing coffee club members to be innovative entrepreneurs. And the this project also mirrors the second goal of School for Life of self-reliance by establishing a coffee production center at the school where professional coffee experts help bring in revenue through coffee productions and sales.

 

Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.
http://www.SCLThailand.org
http://www.foleyscoffee.com

 


by Jürgen Zimmer

Thirteen Theses and Commentaries

THE SITUATIONAL APPROACH:
IN A NUTSHELL

The situational approach has its origins in the educational reforms of the early 1970s in West Germany. Based on a critique of curriculum design in formal education, it initially stemmed from a much-publicized reform at an elementary level – in kindergartens. Back then, like today, a central question was how ideas about the future and imaginings of a world which is worth living in for all – children, young people and adults – can be realized.

The origins of the situational approach encompass the work of social critics such as Shaul B. Robinsohn, Paulo Freire, Siegfried Bernfeld and Ivan Illich. The consequences include not only extensive kindergarten reforms, but also community education, learning in projects, open teaching, promoting entrepreneurial spirit and UNESCO’s “Open Learning Community”.

Autonomy, competence and solidarity, the educational and developmental objectives of the situational approach, lead the design of educational and psychosocial fields of work with children, young people, families and communities. Business enterprises which feel a sense of duty to be part of the solution to global and local, environmental and social issues have integrated these objectives into their mission statement.

To shape the present and the future with self-determination and in solidarity with those who are weaker; to allow the potential of all members of an institution or a society to come into play, beyond old boundaries; to develop personal, social, factual and methodological competences in contradictory and challenging life situations – these are the targets, established through the situational approach for the development of social communities which are increasingly influenced by global processes.

In recent years, the situational approach has proven increasingly to be a universal principle of development: learning in real life, learning as a challenging adventure, open-ended learning, learning to stand on one’s own feet – these are the principles that are demanded by a plethora of social fields of action.
The further development of the approach was initially driven forward by kindergarten teachers, educationalists, psychologists and development workers. Over the years, the situational approach networked with other movements and set new priorities; new fields of application include intercultural education, the integration of people with disabilities, the alleviation of poverty through entrepreneurship education, psychosocial work in conflict areas, Youth and Adult Education. To date, the approach has spawned debates amongst urban planners, development workers, socially-oriented businesses and educational institutions around the world. It has also become clear that we cannot talk of “the” situation, because situations are always different, depending on whether they are in India, Brazil, South Africa, Italy or China.

MISSED LESSONS

1. For many teachers of higher education, training in didactical methodology is thin on the ground: it doesn’t exist.

As a result, the courses on offer are often characterized neither by a variety of methods nor by practical relevance to reality. Traditional lecture and seminar patterns dominate and theory is not followed by practice, nor is reflection followed by action. Knowledge gained in this way is easily forgotten because it is not connected with personal experiences.
2. New uniformity in the educational system threatens to cancel out diversity in forms of learning.

The increasing strangle hold by the rampant examination system is leading to the restoration of learning which is divorced from reality. Education is increasingly reduced to memorization for the next test, then forgetting what has been learned and memorizing again for the next test. This renewed ‘de-schooling’ of schools continues at university level and is further fueled by international comparative tests.
HIGHER EDUCATION DIDACTICS IN THE SITUATIONAL APPROACH

3. Situative and systematic learning cannot be separated from each other, but rather enable each other in alternation and are closely related

From 1986 to 1988, a broad-based Delphi survey on the development of education was conducted in the Federal Republic of Germany by the Ministry of Education and Science. Hundreds of experts were involved in multiple phases, and the results showed numerous similarities to the situational approach: the acquisition of skills for the development of problem-solving knowledge is seen as increasingly relevant – the situation approach helps in locating and weighing up these problems as well as in the provision of realistic settings and highly differentiated learning environments.

Increasingly, learning will take place through the alternation of formal and situational training. Problem-solving knowledge is becoming more important than pure knowledge. We will have to say goodbye to the canonization of knowledge into a fixed educational canon – the situational approach has long been building on exemplary situations, expressly renouncing the attempt to find the ‘timeless’ and transcultural.

For curriculum development as part of blended learning, it is important that developments and interventions in practice are in an alternating relationship to expounding theory, and that both are aligned to the respective key problem and serve to solve this problem. This reciprocal relationship is brought alive through its connection to the situation.

4. The situational approach respects neither the border between Humaniora and Realia, nor the boundaries of subjects and scientific disciplines.

In kindergartens, this means connecting social and subject-based learning. In the field of engineering education, building a bridge cannot simply be an architectural or structural matter – indeed, it takes place in a social, environmental and cultural context which is important to identify and consider with care.

Example: an interdisciplinary research group at the Max Planck Institute for Educational Development in Berlin examined two industrial companies with a chief interest in revising the didactics of mathematics teaching. The question was which mathematics-related skills mature people need to understand the processes of such a company with a critical consciousness. In this research group, mathematical, sociological, psychological, economic and educational science skills were represented. From the results of the situation analysis it was concluded that the most important knowledge is the ability to analyze pre-mathematic values and quantification processes which are controlled outside of mathematics. This insight would probably not arisen from a mono-disciplinary approach. The qualifications that can be formulated out of a situation like this are of a different kind all together than those which deal simply with “getting your sums right”.

5. Elements of the curriculum (modules) can develop out of key situations and problems.

The resulting four steps of situation-related curriculum development are:
• Exploration: identification and analysis of the situation
It is important that this is oriented towards an interest in gaining new insights and grounded in theory. The analysis can be carried out by the students themselves, through discourse with actors in the situation as well as through the acquisition of knowledge which is relevant to the situation and experiences from other sources.
• Decision: the determination of qualifications and objectives
Carrying out a situation analysis can help to ascertain which facts are relevant to qualification, providing pointers towards desirable skills and competencies that are useful for dealing with situations and their intrinsic problems. However, the situational approach is about more than just a subject-related qualification. It can open our eyes to what is desirable, to real utopias and to shaping situations anew. In the words of Ernst Bloch (“the Principle of Hope”): “We need the most powerful telescope, that of polished utopian consciousness, in order to penetrate precisely the nearest nearness.”

• Action: Interventions
People want to gain qualifications in order to make a difference. Inherent in this are both the competence and the intervention. This can be short and to the point or take the form, for example, of a project.
Example: The most famous project in American Progressive Education was reported by William Heard Kilpatrick. In the typhoid project, when two pupils from a farming family fell ill with typhoid, their school class investigated the reasons behind the outbreak on the farm, found out the causes, formulated recommendations to address these causes, and assisted the farmer in implementing these to ensure that typhoid did not break out again in the future.

• Reflection: evaluation and further perspectives
Questions inherent in an evaluation of the first three steps include the following: was the situation analysis sufficiently differentiated and were suitable theories formed? Were the objectives realistically formulated? Were the interventions really connected to the objectives? From any given situation, many bridges can be built to further situations and provoke never-ending learning processes.

Example 1: The swimming pool at the School For Life northeast of Chiang Mai (Thailand) was initially kept clean by an energy-intensive filter system. When the people heard about the theory of a “natural swimming pool”, they put small rice paddy fish and a few plants into the water and watched happily as the little fish – in contrast to goldfish – kept the water clean. At first there were more and more of them, but then their number started to decline again. Why? Small green water snakes were now cavorting in the pool and eating up the little fish. The children and adults decided to put larger fish in the pool instead of the small ones, so as to supply the kitchen. But then a cobra family with a particularly aggressive cobra mother moved to the water’s edge, and once again the fish were in trouble. Later, they tried microbiological methods, but no sooner had the water become clean, there was a small earthquake which cracked the base of the pool and out seeped the water… Have all these problems been resolved by now? No, but a lot has been learned.

Example 2: You can develop a curriculum from generative themes stemming from a company, city, region or country. The generative themes themselves, rather than the structure of a scientific discipline, shape the curriculum. In Nicaragua in 1986, a fourteen-day seminar was held with 60 members of the Ministerio de Educación in order to decide which generative themes would characterize the current situation in the country. All of them started with “falta de …”: lack of energy, lack of food, lack of spare parts, lack of medicine. Broken down into a university curriculum, this resulted in a subject or module on the theme of “the lack of spare parts and what can be done about it” and a project to address the recycling of a contrast fluid used in the only X-ray machine at Managua’s hospital, so as not to be dependent anymore on contrast fluid imported from Sweden at a high price. The subject “the lack of energy and what can be done about it” pointed the way to a rural area where there was no more firewood because of deforestation, and the attempt to build a biogas plant without being able to buy the necessary materials in the nearest store.
6. Interventions within the framework of the situational approach are dependent on the acceptance of the actors in the given situation.
Dialogue is one of the cornerstones of the situational approach. Teachers become fellow learners, students become co-researchers, the former objects of research become subjects who help steer the development process. If a department of a company which was highly innovative when initially founded loses its power of innovation over the years, and situation analysis has identified the problem areas with the participation of all stakeholders, ways out of the dilemma will be pursued, corrected and readjusted together. Adult education thereby becomes adult self-education, primarily. Students of the Carl Benz Academy might fail or get held up battling in new terrains, but failure also contains intensive learning when it is done at a high level, as Hermann Glaser (a gifted former Head of Cultural Affairs of the City of Nuremberg) once put it.

Example: In the tea plantations on the steep slopes of Darjeeling, one of the key problems is soil erosion, caused mainly by deforestation. Workshops attended by members of a university and tea plantation workers addressed the question as to which conditions would be necessary so that newly planted trees or bushes would not be cut down again after going to seed. The workers responded that the bushes trees could stay if they had another economic benefit, for example in connection with the breeding of silkworms or because edible mushrooms grow well under certain trees.
Counter-example: An expert from the developmental organization GTZ initiated the setting up of a Craft Chamber in the capital of a small African country, investing a large sum of money. As soon as he had gone, taking the source of the financial support with him, the Craft Chamber gave up the ghost.
7. The situational approach needs allies

If the inhabitants of a Brazilian village with the generative topic “water” wish to gain access to the river, but are frightened off by the private army of the large land owner whose disused land they have to cross, then they don’t take an active part in history, like the young Paulo Freire would have wished, but rather they fail upon meeting barriers that they cannot overcome alone, and their literacy teachers behave like a vanguard without troops. The older Paulo Freire learned from this, and highlighted the importance of joining forces with the social movements, with the movement of the landless, the women’s movement, the Afro-Brazilian movement or the unions.
8. The situational approach is not a vehicle for the promulgation of closed world views
In a documentary scene towards the end of the film “La Victoria” by Peter Lilienthal, a literacy teacher shows a poster on which many people are all looking in the same direction, although it is not clear what they are looking at. The teacher asks what the people are looking at so expectantly. The illiterate pupils – the scene is a barrio on the outskirts of Santiago de Chile – offer answers, but none of them are right. Finally, someone suggests that they are looking at the compañeros of the MIR (revolutionary left movement in Chile). Yes, says the teacher, that’s right – because the MIR helps you. The teacher is part of this left-wing revolutionary movement herself.

Abuse of the situational approach includes when its users come with ideological baggage and engage in dialogue with manipulative intent.

Example: The “Iglesia ni Cristo”, an aggressive Philippine sect along the lines of a “Church Business” tried this and wanted to use the situational approach to capture the key problems of the people in order to wrap them around their little finger. They were prevented from doing so.
9. The situational approach must first of all take seriously the interpretations of meaning of all participants
These interpretations of meaning may be influenced by “magical-intransitive consciousness” (Freire) or by incomprehensible cultural patterns, but respects demands that they are perceived and negotiated in dialog.

Example 1: Years ago, German pharmaceutical representatives met with a German-Filipino student group in Manila. The pharmaceutical representatives lamented the lack of sales even of reasonably priced drugs. The students researched: the obstacle was not the price but the fact that the leaflets did not specify which ceremonies were to be carried out on taking the drugs.

Example 2: On behalf of her organization, a German PhD student was supposed to investigate why the rural population in Tanzania refused to take medication to treat an otherwise fatal disease. Her situation analysis showed that the people believed that the sick patients had been occupied by the most evil of all curses and therefore irretrievably doomed to death. Only when the project staff changed their strategy and spread the word that the magic formula contained in the drug reversed this curse and could bring the half-dead back to life again, did the drug / magic potion start selling like hot cakes.

Example 3: A project by the Carl Benz Academy examines the occasional car-rampages carried out by Chinese owners of luxury cars, destroying their cars in public or letting them be pulled by oxen. The analysis so far seems to suggest that there are not only technical, but also social and cultural reasons causing this behavior.

10. One of the strengths of the situational approach is that it is culturally adaptable.

Since the 1980s, in some countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, workshops and projects on the development of a pre-school curriculum have been carried out. These events all began with an intensive brainstorming session to identify and prioritize the key situations of the children in the region. These situations differed depending on the location.

Examples:
Thailand: “Going to the Temple” (meaning cultural alienation through cultural invasion); “Chaotic traffic in Bangkok”: (meaning: it is almost impossible for children to cross a road).

Philippines: “Surviving a typhoon”; surviving on a sinking boat; “surviving fire” (in Slums); “surviving gunfire” (between army and Guerilla).

Malaysia: “Boys don’t touch girls because they think they have to marry them”.

South Korea: “Getting lost in the city” (the house numbers in Seoul are not in rows, but rather added according to when a building was built, meaning that number 2 can be somewhere entirely different than number 3).

Indonesia: “Girls don’t eat bananas” (Taboo), “New York” (the answer from children in a kindergarten in Jakarta when asked what is the capital of Indonesia).

Hong Kong: “Home Alone” (parents go to work for 9 or 12 hours and leave the children alone at home).

Singapore: “Alone in the elevator” (meaning isolated children as a result of the government’s single child policy).

Ghana: “Girls and women don’t eat chicken” (in a workshop, it turns out that this is only true in one province, where the men have convinced them of this so that they can eat the chicken alone. In the neighboring province, the women eat chicken).

Nicaragua: “Fear of armed attacks” (meaning the activities of the Contra in the 1980s).

11. The situational approach doesn’t need a campus or a school building to unfold. It doesn’t stake any territorial claims.
It is mobile, goes to the hot-spots where things are happening, and favors contrasting milieus. These hot-spots are action sites characterized by a generative topic. This means that instead of the students gathering where professors teach, both meet at selected locations where things are going on and engage with them. In his famous essay “Sisyphus or the Limits of Education” (1925), Siegfried Bernfeld remarks that the ridiculousness of pedagogical activities is that it is done in the wrong place and only protects the status quo. Ivan Illich (“Deschooling Society”) wrote that the most intense learning takes place through unhindered participation in relevant environments.

Example 1: a group of German students prepares for a trip to the slums of Manila. They are taken directly from the airport to their accommodation: huts encircling Smokey Mountain, the city’s enormous reeking garbage mountain from which around 3000 families make their living. They are shocked. But the aim is clear: assisting in developing Productive Community Schools, in which “learning and earning” are connected. The students learn that the road towards this aim is one long obstacle course.

Example 2: a team of Turkish and German university teachers from Berlin take around 70 students for a stay of several weeks in West-Anatolian villages as part of – or better still, instead of – a seminar on intercultural education. During this time, a military coup ensues. The borders are closed. The students and their teachers take on the role of immigrant workers for a while, and are touched by the heartiness of their hosts and find out that there are other ways to treat foreigners than was the case in Germany in the late 1970s.

12. Those who work with the situational approach might find themselves veering off the path they were on.

Since situations are, by their very nature, not fully detectable events, they can take unexpected turns. This is often a good thing.

Example: a high school teacher working in an Afro-Brazilian majority school on the southern periphery of São Paulo works on forming a curriculum of sassy resistance against the white Goliaths. Teachers, parents, neighbors and the headmistress take part in an intense and spirited way – it is a mixture of workshop and party and lasts several days. But then the story takes a different turn: a delegation of around twelve Guarani Indians enters the school building, sit down silently on the floor of the seminar room and observe the happenings for an entire day. They are silent.

Finally, however, one of them stands up, announcing that he is chief of the Guaranis, his name is Karai, and he wants to report what their problems are and why they also need a school of resistance. They came from a reserve near São Paulo, and because the city was continuing to grow and was rapidly approaching the boundaries of the reserve, white land speculators had begun to individually ambush and shoot the Guarani Indians. For this reason, the Indians were only leaving the reserve in groups.

The professor asks them what kind of school of resistance they want. One with weapons, says Karai. The professor finds this idea hopeless and presents another idea: the Guaranis could build an Indian Academy in the reserve, an academy for the reconstruction of indigenous knowledge and its connection with modern knowledge. For example, one could merge old knowledge of ecology with modern knowledge, and that would be interesting for many Brazilians and guests from other countries, and they would visit the academy, fund it through their donations, and stop the speculators through their presence.

No sooner said than done – almost. A Swiss foundation supplies the money. The Indians start to build their academy, the press come, the first visitors register, but then everything turns out differently. “Globo”, one of the big television companies in Brazil, turns up with the plan of making a 42-part “Novela” on the (invented) love story between the Karai’s beautiful daughter and a young white Brazilian. And so it is. And when half of Brazil sees this story and the press photos of the reserve are published, even more people want to come and see the site of the action.

The academy was done for, it wasn’t necessary any more. It sufficed to take an entrance fee from the visitors. But they had reached their goal nonetheless: no more shootings from speculators, and Karai thanked the teacher with a long hug when he saw him again years later. His “magic” had worked, he said, and he had already guessed when he sat in the Afro-Brazilian school that things would develop in the right direction.

13. The situational approach meets with innovative entrepreneurship.
It is better to create jobs yourself than running after non-existent ones. You can start early.

Example: in the “Villa Kunterbunt” kindergarten in the Brandenburg village of Crussow, since the mid 1990s, the children have successfully been breeding thousands of common German garden worms (2 for 5 Cents). The children researched what makes works happy, because happy worms have lots of babies – 500 little worms per happy worm. They discovered that a wormery with different layers of worm-friendly earth and an upper layer of fresh organic compost can be arranged in a variety of ways. They discovered that by holding a bright light over the wormery, the fully grown worms, ready for harvest, can be motivated to come out of the ground and form bundles like balls of wool that can be easily harvested, while the younger worms carry on burrowing around in the soil, apparently oblivious to the light. They have discovered that the flies that like to eat worm eggs can be shooed away by the smell of old oil, which is why the kindergarten sometimes smells like a car repair workshop. The children have learned to love their worms and have started selling them to gardeners and horticulturalists rather than fishing clubs.

What they haven’t got the hang of yet is the cultivation of the aristocratic Canary Island earthworm. Of handsome figure and lively temperament, these are usually flown in from the Canary Islands for German customers, and cost 20 cents each – a steep price. The Canarian worm doesn’t feel at home in Crussow’s little wormeries, not even with a special menu – it loves the liberties of free-range rearing. But how do you get a worm that burrows eight feet into the ground (in order to get married and protect its 500 worm eggs from flies) to come back up to the surface again?

By drilling 7,80 m deep holes and sending down a scent which promises a royal gala dinner for worms? But shouldn’t this menu really exist, so that when the worms crawl up and poke their tips out of the ground to sniff, they don’t return back home disappointed? The children of Crussow have not yet uncovered the secret of how to help the Canarian crawlers settle into the Brandenburg soil and stay together, or how to collect them. It would certainly be an economical quantum leap. The children of Crussow could undercut the import prices of Canarian earthworms. They could rear more of them outside than in the basement. Sales would roar. The surpluses generated would be sufficient for the formation of reserves and investments. Because the children have discovered a new market niche: there is no one who repairs bicycles in Crussow…

The Essence
The ‘wilder’, the more unexplored the terrain, the greater chance the situational approach has to unfold, and the more we have the opportunity to be refreshed. But even for those who work in institutions, the principle of hope holds true: in terms of learning, the situational approach is an escape artist.

 

Young Teachers and Young Writers


Young Teachers and Young Writers
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief

The editorial staff of SCLThailand.org is making greater efforts to enlist young teachers to write articles on the topic of improving classroom learning. A young teacher from Boston, who is  a Princeton University fellow, writes this month’s article. He will teach this semester at the storied Vajiravudh College in Bangkok. It is significant that the author, Tyler Belanga, places a premium on a trusting relationship between teacher and student. Research bears out the importance of such a student teacher relationship. For example, here are just some of the research findings that support the importance of relationships between students and teachers:

1. Teachers play an important role in the trajectory of students throughout the formal schooling experience (Baker, Grant, & Morlock, 2008).

2. Positive teacher-student relationships enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and provide scaffolding for important social and academic skills (Baker et al., 2008; O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011; Silver, Measelle, Armstron, & Essex, 2005).

3. When teachers form positive bonds with students, classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways (Hamre & Pianta, 2001)

4. Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

As the editors and writers of SCLThailand.org have said over and over again in its opinion editorials and articles, the key to a successful student centered classroom is the teacher acting as a coach and not simply a lecturer. This means that there must be interactions between students and teachers every day that are significant to the learning process. Such interactions can take many forms: Q and A sessions where all the students have an opportunity to interact with the teacher; individual or group help where the teacher checks a group or individual’s learning progress; and individualized reviews of student journals. Another salient ingredient that goes into maximizing student learning that Mr. Belanga emphasized is the participation of parents in schools. This would appear to be just common sense given the overwhelming and singular influence parents; nevertheless, parents rarely are brought into schools to engage in the learning process with students and teachers. When parents are involved the research proves that:

1. Increased involvement correlates positively with higher student achievement

2. The most likely predictor of a student’s success in school is a home that encourages learning

3. Parents aspirations exert a significant influence on student achievement*

  Over the next six months we hope to bring you more articles from young teachers and writers. We are looking particularly for young Thai teacher scholars. If you know of a young Thai teacher scholar who would like to be published in SCLThailand.org please be so kind as to refer her or him to me, the editor-in-chief at drpeterfoley@yahoo.com *The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. Masten, Ann S.; Coatsworth, J. Douglas American Psychologist, Vol 53(2), Feb 1998, 205-220.



by Tyler Belanga

Over the course of the last two years, I served as a Teaching Fellow with Citizen Schools, a U.S. non-profit that partners with struggling urban middle schools to expand the learning day. Specifically, I was assigned to the McCormack Middle School in Boston as part of a small cohort called 8th Grade Academy (8GA), the goal of which was to prepare students for success in high school and college. With almost zero teaching experience entering my service time in the program, I tried to keep my expectations low at the outset of year one. Little did I know that I was going to learn a great deal about myself, as well as acquire many best practices for educators that would lay the groundwork for a potential career in education. What makes 8GA such an inspiring and effective program, and one that I believe is worthy of widespread emulation, are three distinct things, all related to building relationships, that widen the scope of an educator’s role beyond just the classroom.

 

1) First and foremost, in 8GA there was an extraordinary emphasis placed on teacher-student relationships. How many thousands of enlightened educators have proclaimed this to be extremely important I do not know, but I will confirm here the veracity of the statement. In my experience, the element of trust is infinitely more effective than consequences or incentives in motivating students to learn and in keeping them on-track. However, most students can easily identify feigned interest; authenticity conveyed through honest and consistent dialogue is vital. An educator who cannot at least give the impression that he is interested and invested in the lives of his students should either enroll in acting classes or find another career, because the job cannot be successfully executed without this element.

 

8GA created an environment in which I could support my students not only academically, but also emotionally. From feelings of intellectual inadequacy, to problems with other students getting in the way of schoolwork, to serious personal conflicts that had not been shared with any other adult in the building, I encountered a vast array of issues that required addressing. I could not always solve these issues on the spot, but often it was only the knowledge that an adult was there for them that students truly needed. These one-on-one conversations also often lead to crucial dialogue about students’ careers and futures, which allowed me to give advice and tailor lessons concerning job skills, pathways to specific types of colleges, etc. to individual aspirations.

 

2) The second element that made 8GA successful was constant communication and collaboration between education professionals. This practice created a network of safety for students and one of mutual accountability among educators. Students cutting multiple classes were noticed and promptly pulled aside. Dissemination to the relevant teachers of information regarding discord in a student’s home life led to an increased sense of understanding and to more purposeful planning around that student. Weekly meetings to discuss a student in danger of falling off in one subject begot check-ins from teachers throughout the day to ensure that the student used all available free time to complete homework for that class.

 

The sharing of strategies in the classroom was particularly helpful for me, as I discovered that the struggles and frustrations even between dissimilar classes are often quite consistent. And if the math teacher has discovered the secret to getting a troublesome student to focus in class, why should this magic weapon be withheld at the expense of continued disruptions in all of the student’s other classes? There were countless instances in which veteran teachers gave me small pieces of advice that, when implemented, resulted in swift and tangible results in my own classroom. I worked with some of the best teachers in Boston who taught me, among many other things, that the further from an island mentality each teacher within a school has, the closer to a pedagogical paradise the school draws.

 

3) Finally, I learned in 8GA that being present and visible in the school community can have massively positive effects. Increased visibility can come in many forms, such as holding a potluck dinner during a monotonous time of year or attending a school play held after dismissal. When physical encounters are not possible, visibility can come in the form of a voice over the phone. For example, calling home to praise the performance of a normally difficult student after a particularly impressive showing in class can literally bring a parent to tears. The rewards of such minute but uncommon actions are often far greater than the efforts required to perform them.

 

It should be clear that a vastly important stakeholder comes into the picture here: families. Family involvement is an absolutely critical component in driving student success. A student who feels supported is typically a successful one, and deficiency in this area often leads to insurmountable problems in others. A great educator can have a profound impact on a young person, but it cannot be forgotten that a student spends the majority of his or her time at home. Many large urban schools struggle to establish a tight-knit feel, but I have seen pockets of heavy family involvement within a student population, and I believe it is possible to achieve in large school communities as a whole. The key seems to be making families feel as though they are a relevant part of the equation, which usually involves teachers taking the initiative to reach out.

 

 

It is my firm belief that the model of 8GA, which involves an adult serving as a mentor, therapist, teacher, outreach coordinator, and advocate to a group of students is a highly effective educational apparatus that can be used to drive student success, whether it is in the U.S. or on the other side of the world in Thailand. Although my days at Citizen Schools are now behind me, I plan to keep these three core values close as I begin teaching at Vajiravudh College in Bangkok. My role will not be the same; I will be teaching exclusively English and not College Prep. I will not be taking students off campus, nor will I make phone calls home to parents. I will undoubtedly experience some difficulty communicating with students and native coworkers.

 

All of this, however, simply means that I will have to work harder to forge bonds with the people at Vajiravudh College. I will still have ample time to build relationships with students by synchronizing our breaks and having lunch with them during the week. I will be working very closely with other teachers, especially veterans who have experience in a system that is completely new to me. Finally, I will have the opportunity to attend prayer assemblies in the morning and rugby matches after school, allowing me to be more visible in the school community. Although I am teaching abroad for the first time in my life, I look forward to growing as an education professional at Vajiravudh College and applying the valuable lessons I learned as a part of 8GA in the United States.



  • 2 Responses

    1. lynda

      13|Oct|2014 1

      the point you make about being authentic and genuinely interested in the young people we work with is important.

    2. Bill DiYeso

      14|Oct|2014 2

      There are some great things going on in US education despite the institution’s slowness in catching up to the 21st century. Most of them stress interpersonal relationships & collective strategies that make all in the room teachers & students at the same time. It’s encouraging to know that in this tech age, there is still great value in developing face-to-face relationships, promoting kindness & respect, & EMPOWERING the human machines in front of us to move forward & do great things. Nice work!


    Leave a reply

Five Powerful Questions:


FIVE POWERFUL QUESTIONS A TEACHER CAN ASK TO PROMOTE STUDENT THINKING IN THE CLASSROOM

From Edutopia

How do you ask questions in your classroom? What works well with your students?

Teachers would agree that for inquiry to be alive and well in a classroom, amongst other things, the teacher needs to be expert at asking strategic questions, and not only asking well-designed ones, but ones that will also lead students to ask questions of their own.

Keeping It Simple

Asking straightforward, simply-worded questions can be just as effective as those intricate ones. With that in mind, if you are a new teacher or perhaps not so new but know that question-asking is an area where you’d like to grow, start tomorrow with these five:

#1. What do you think?

This question interrupts us from telling too much. There is a place for direct instruction where we give students information yet we need to always strive to balance this with plenty of opportunities for students to make sense of and apply that new information using their schemata and understanding.

#2. Why do you think that?

After students share what they think, this follow-up question pushes them to provide reasoning for their thinking.

#3. How do you know this?

When this question is asked, students can make connections to their ideas and thoughts with things they’ve experienced, read, and have seen.

#4. Can you tell me more?

This question can inspire students to extend their thinking and share further evidence for their ideas.

#5. What questions do you still have?

This allows students to offer up questions they have about the information, ideas or the evidence.

Provide time for them to think

In addition to routinely and relentlessly asking your students questions, be sure to provide time for them to think. What’s best here: three seconds, five, or seven? Depending on their age, the depth of the material, and their comfort level, this think time will vary. Just push yourself to stay silent and wait for those hands to go up.

Also be sure to vary your tone so it genuinely sounds like a question and not a statement. When we say something in a declarative way, it is often with one tone and flat sounding. On the other hand, there is a lilt in our voice when we are inquiring and questioning.

To help students feel more comfortable and confident with answering questions and asking ones of their own, you can use this scaffold:

Ask a question, pause, and then invite students to “turn and talk” with a neighbor first before sharing out with the whole group. This allows all to have their voices heard and also gives them a chance to practice their responses before sharing in front of the whole class.

 

 



  • One Response

    1. lynda

      19|Sep|2014 1

      What sound advice. The Traidhos Barge Program holds such questioning as its chief educational tool. I really support the time to think – and as a facilitator not being embarrassed by the silenceof the thinking time. Talking with the person next to you is also really helpful.


    Leave a reply

The importance of class size?


Greg Cairnduff, M Ed, BA, Dip Ed, MACE,

Deputy Managing Editor

14 September 2014

The question of class size is one of those age old questions that have long been the subject of debate among educators, parents, school administrators, and school planning authorities. At the core of these debates is the endeavour to get the best out of limited resources for education.

Much has been written and researched on this subject.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s fifth and most recent book, David and Goliath, subtitled Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants [Penguin, London 2013], the Canadian – English author, journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker Magazine, explores how disadvantage can bring about advantage and conversely, how an advantage can be a disadvantage. The book is peppered with interesting and powerful examples, many of which can be imported into education. For example, he cites the example of a poor working class family, where the parents instill into their children the need to be thrifty and not to take for granted the basic necessities of life for granted. For instance, the father brought his children up not to waste electricity, insisting lights should not be left burning in unoccupied rooms. Gladwell looks at the successful move on the children to more prosperous life styles achieved by the children of that family. When one for them becomes very successful in the movie industry, whose children want for nothing, their father laments their lack of appreciation of what they have, and their inability to understand the value of money.

Here in Thailand, I am sure Gladwell’s premise that disadvantage can sometimes be an advantage, may be seen in the happiness and joy of living that comes from some of the poorest communities of the North East of the country. A Thai educator friend of mine one said to me that Esan does not have to worry about the economic term gross domestic product, because they have gross domestic happiness. I know this may be a liberal generalization of the point being made by Gladwell but the strong family ties and family loyalty and personal support found in poorer parts of a country or a city, do tend to show up the fragility of family bonds in more affluent areas.

In my last editorial, I recommended Gladwell’s book Outliers, as being useful to educators; I would recommend David and Goliath also not only for its insights into advantage and disadvantage that are very useful for teachers, but particularly for the discussion on class size which explored in the book.

What is a class size that produces optimum learning opportunities for children? Is it better to have small classes or is it better to have large classes? The jury is out on exactitude with regards to this question.

School populations grow and decline according to a range of socio- economic factors. It would be true to say that most parents would want their child to be as small a class as possible, in the belief that a small class is a better class for learning. In the West, and in Asia, efforts have been made to reduce class sizes in USA, the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, all believing that smaller classes would lead to better learning outcomes, as students in small classes get more attention from their teachers. Using schools in Connecticut, USA where there happened to be swings in class sizes caused by rapidly changes demographics due to real estate prices going up, economist Caroline Hoxby who was able to study the impact of smaller classes on the educational outcomes of the students[1], found that the impact of small class sizes had little or no effect on improving learning outcomes.

Gladwell’s summary of the hundreds of research studies done over the years found that in 15% of the studies examined there was an improvement in student performance, in another 20% of the studies there is no measurable improvement and that the students actually do worse in smaller classes. He goes on the cite studies on reduced class in 18 different countries and there were only two countries – Iceland and Greece where there were “nontrivial beneficial effects of reduced class sizes” [2]

I wonder what Thai teachers being urged to use child centred pedagogies would say if they were asked about their desired class size? Teachers dealing with 45 – 50 sized classes would obviously want them brought down; there would be no argument with that. What about an Australian teacher with a class on 33? I am sure that teacher would want to class to be lower.

Is there an optimum? Of course for different stages of a child’s passage through school, the best class size will vary depending on the stage of education, but teachers know that very small classes have their own challenges and can be every bit as difficult as large classes. One thing teachers need in a class is vibrant discussion and this is what students need too.

So the debate is about optimum sizes of classes for learning, Caroline Hoxby comes down on the mid 20s as a good size for middle school aged children, a size of around 25 where discussion can flourish and where the dominance of one or two students can make learning difficult for others. Her research found that teachers do not like to have classes much under 18 in the early years of secondary school.

There is no doubt that is the class sizes in Thai classrooms in secondary and primary schools were to drop, there would need to be many changes of teaching strategies from the teachers.

One such change would be the promotion of engagement and independent learning among students. This month’s article revisits the importance of questioning techniques in class rooms by looking at Five Powerful Questions teachers should ask their students.

Greg Cairnduff, September, 2014

Greg is Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok

[1] David and Goliath, Gladwell, M, p42

[2] Gladwell, p44

Using Testing Wisely


By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. Editor-in-Chief
Let’s make the distinction right away between high stakes testing and low stakes testing. High stakes testing include standardized tests and final exams. Standardized tests often determine whether someone will get an entrance into University. A final exam often determines in large part the final grade a student will receive.

In Thailand, students take a national exam in grade six of high school to determine college entrance. Americans take the S.A.T. or similar standardized tests. And the Chinese and Japanese have similar high stakes testing tools. High stakes testing is almost universal. Such exams put enormous pressure on students and many react negatively. But the main point I wish to make is that high stakes testing is not effective for learning.

On the other hand, low stakes testing is an excellent learning tool.

Low stakes testing usually takes the form of quizzes that may or may not be counted in a student’s grade. Recent research shows that low stakes quizzing helps people retrain more of what they learn. Henry L. Roediger, Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, provides convincing evidence of the efficacy of low stakes testing in his book “Make it Stick: the Science of Successful Learning.”
For example, in one study Professor Roediger conducted, students were assessed on how well they remembered a particular reading passage.

After an initial reading, students were tested on some passages by being given a blank sheet of paper and asked to recall as much as possible. They recalled 70% of the ideas. Other passages were not tested but were re-read, and thus 100 percent of the ideas were re-exposed in the final tests given either two days or a week later, the passages that had been tested just after reading were remembered much better than those that had been reread.

According to Professor Roedigger what is happening here in this Social Science study is students taking the quiz are getting practice in the retrieval of data. They are retrieving data from their memory bank. A very similar process happens when we review some learning in a classroom when the teacher instructs students to turn to their neighbor and share with each other what they learned.

Research has also shown that some teachers’ cherished study skills instruction to their students are not useful and do not contribute to improvements in learning retention. This includes techniques such as underlining or highlighting when reading. Professor Roedigger maintains that these suggested study skills just create the allusions of mastery, but are largely a waste of time because they do not provide any practice in accessing or applying what students are trying to learn.
Research also shows that low stakes quizzes that are administered over time spans of days or weeks or even months are the most effective retrieval leaning tools. Our brains need repetitive learning circuit patterns to establish long term memory.
The wise teacher will quiz/test his students accordingly.



  • One Response

    1. Brett

      21|Aug|2014 1

      I agree totally as my students tend to have higher success rates and fewer resits from my mid term and final exams. I attribute that to the many online quizzes I have prepared on my website for the students to complete. They do them at home and often from their phones and the scores are automatically tallied. Most of them the students have to get 100% so if they don’t pass the first time they have to keep repeating the quiz. This frees my class time up to concentrate on critical thinking and other activities.


    Leave a reply

Democracy and Education


OUR THIRD YEAR ANNIVERSARY: Democracy and Education
By Peter J. Foley, editor-in-chief

Featured this month of July — marking the third year anniversary of Student Centered Learning Thailand (SCLThailand.org) —is the important debate on how teachers should help their students learn.

For three years now, SCL Thailand’s web site has promoted a balanced literacy approach to instruction in the classroom that also often includes a section of ten to twenty minutes of direct instruction on the skill to be mastered that day in the classroom. In the debate discussed in this month’s article, the educators took what the editors of SCL Thailand consider one sided positions. On the one hand you have advocates of teachers constantly using a “muscular” approach to teaching, which is, lecturing the students. This approach is one where the teacher is the sage and pours forth the knowledge that students must drink in for all or most of a class period. These advocates are at the extreme end of the Common Core’s muscular teaching spectrum.

On the other hand, there are the extremes of never having the teacher at the front of the room instructing but a predominant situation where the teacher is helping groups or individuals to master concepts and ideas. These are the extreme ends of what are sometimes called balanced literacy approaches. Far too often educators refuse to see the value in both approaches and thus, do not incorporate what we term a balanced approach, that is, make use of both approaches into their teaching.

For three years we have promoted the approach the Thai parliament described in its 1999 National Education Act. This enlightened reform called for student centered learning as being a key element of teaching and learning in Thai schools and the Act detailed changes required in the Thai classroom that would bring about a more balanced approach to teaching, that is, a move decidedly away from straight classroom lecturing by the teacher.

We think section 24 of the Thai Education Act, is worth quoting here:

Section 24
In organizing the learning process, educational institutions and agencies concerned shall:
(1) provide substance and arrange activities in line with the learners’ interests and aptitudes, bearing in mind individual differences;
(2) provide training in thinking process, management, how to face various situations and application of knowledge for obviating and solving problems;
(3) organize activities for learners to draw from authentic experience; drill in practical work for complete mastery; enable learners to think critically and acquire reading habit and continuous thirst for knowledge;
(4) achieve, in all subjects, a balanced integration of subject matter, integrity, values, and desirable attributes;
(5) enable instructors to create the ambiance, environment, instructional media and facilities for learners to learn and be all-round persons, able to benefit from research as part of the learning process. In so doing, both learners and teachers may learn together from different types of teaching-learning media and other sources of knowledge;
(6) enable individuals to learn at all times and in all places. Co-operation with parents, guardians, and all parties concerned in the community shall be sought to develop jointly the learners in accord with their potentiality.

The debate over the student centered learning sub set, balanced literacy and what some see as a separate approach to teaching, known as Common Core is very much in play in the Kingdom of Thailand. How Thai students are taught is reflective of what kind of political system will finally develop.

At SCLThailand we feel that the National Education Act of 1999, especially section 24, pointed Thai students in the direction of being part of a full democratic participatory system in the future. We will continue to advocate for these educational reforms that are still, a decade and a half later, waiting to be realized.


Student Center Learning Debate: Common Core vs Balanced Literacy
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

The purpose of this article is to take the reader through some current arguments that are part of the debate over student centered learning. At the risk of being simplistic, the current thrust of the student centered learning advocates is to dethrone teachers from their traditional lofty perch at the front of the classroom lecturing on a topic for an entire class period. The extreme is the teacher—all too often found in Thailand—just feeding the students information with little or no chance for class discussion or exchange. At worst this teacher monologue continues for the whole class period. In fairness there are model schools throughout Thailand that have become much more student centered. There are also some private foundations that have spearheaded effective student centered model schools like the Lampaimat Pattana School for elementary school and the Michai Pattana School for high school. Both schools are located side by side in Lampimat, Burirum in northeast Thailand.

Research has shown that students normally can only absorb what a teacher is teaching for a maximum period of 20 minutes. In sum, if the traditional lecture method of teaching just described is used, student will probably be receiving about half the information the teaching is explaining at best.

Student centered learning proponents want a much more balanced schedule of teacher and student activities. For example, the classroom might start with the teacher explaining for 10 or 15 minutes the basic lesson for the day and then have students “turn and talk” about what they think the lesson is about with their fellow students. Then the teacher might introduce problems to be solved using the instructions given at the beginning of the lesson either in groups or individual work while the teacher goes around to each group or students to help . At the same time the teacher makes formative assessments to see how well individual students are grasping the information or concept.

An extension of the argument for student centered learning is currently being waged in the U.S.A. under the banner of balanced literacy vs common core. A lot of the arguments now center on elementary education, particularly on how to teach reading.
On July 3, 2014 , the New York Times featured this debate. In New York City the city government from 2003 to 2008 mandated balanced literacy methodology. Even at the end of the 1990 many teachers in New York City accepted balanced literacy as a correct way to teach. Teachers across grades and subjects were told to follow a “workshop model”, i.e. a short mini-lesson followed by practice group or independent work, then a final sum up of learnings at the end of the class. At this time, therefore, student centered learning advocates were winning the day, at least in New York City.

One of the debaters in this New York Times feature was Diana Senechal, author of Republic of Noise, The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture. She argues that such pointed structuring of class lessons is wrong because so much depends on what is being taught, so the best teaching method for a particular learning sessions should be entirely left up to the teacher to decide. But this argument fails because traditional teachers—when given a choice—do not change. Despite a specific policy for a change to student centered learning in Thailand back in 1999, there has been only incremental change , and Thailand’s rural areas continue to be dominated by teachers using traditional teaching methods only.
Another New York Times participant in the debates , Claire Needell, the author of Nothing Real, argues that a balanced literacy approach gives too much freedom to students to decide what they want to read, especially on the elementary school level. Student get the impression that books are for their pleasure only and they need not tackle more difficult texts or subjects that they are not interested in. The end result, she contends, is that students will be unprepared for the rigors of high school , and later, college subjects.
And this is the main point of the common core advocates that have come to dominate the U.S.A. landscape during the eight years of the Bush administration and into the Obama Administration. American Schools must be accountable and standardized testing is the key to holding public schools and teachers accountable. This was the central thinking behind President Bush’s signature program called “Leave No Child Behind.” The actual Common Core Standards were written in 2009 under the guidance of the National Governors Association among others.

Thailand has its own Common Core and its own standardized testing. It would appear that both the United States and Thailand suffer from a testing meritocracy that favors students who, by accident of birth, are from the upper income families.
The problem with common core standards in both countries is that the standards are rigid and fail to test the real intelligence and over-all abilities of the test takers. Moreover, in countries following common core and over dependent on standardized tests, teachers are unable to teach creatively and teach for deep understanding since they are judged on how well their students do on the standardized tests.

Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, says that U.S. schools currently are over dependent on standardized tests. Furthermore, such testing is unjust since students from poverty backgrounds or minority , non-English speaking backgrounds will perform, on average, less successfully. Cannot the same be said for Thailand? Is there not an opportunity gap between rich and poor opening wider and wider in both countries? And isn’t one of the cause and over dependency on standardized tests that results in many worthy students to be cut off from further education?



  • One Response

    1. Sofia Stevens

      17|Jul|2014 1

      It’s time we consider symposium-type reading evaluation courses, with student-led discussions including rigorous analyses of content of literature. Math can also be comprehended in various ways easing different types of learning, from manipulatives to electronics to class aides (possibly retired community volunteers) helping with one-on-one tutoring. The U.S. has proved by academic failures that standardized testing is detrimental to the learner and a waste of time and money; it’s time to prepare children in different ways for a new kind of higher education that will be more beneficial to THEM – 2 year community colleges before selecting a major that provides specific training and learning for future careers. The U.S. does have a wealth of unpaid internships available to high school students in almost all areas; this is a good learning tool. Again it requires the support and cooperation of community volunteers.


    Leave a reply


by Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. , editor-in-chief

This month’s feature article is focused on a story featured in The New York Times about a courageous school girl in Vietnam. The story is about her uncommon will to learn, to become educated despite poverty and lack of support from her parents. She is an exception. Nevertheless her story highlights what can happen when a girl from a poverty background gets an education.

There have been vigorous efforts to improve education for all (EFA), and in particular girls, going back to 2000 when the gender disparity of girls out of school compared with boys was 60% to 40% globally. That gender gap in educational opportunity between boys and girls has narrowed considerably and hopefully will reach an equal ratio globally within this decade. Developing countries are becoming more and more aware that investments in girls’ education is one of the best ways to improve the overall economy of a nation.

Research shows that:

■ Educated women are more empowered and better able to demand their rights, as well as having healthier, more economically-secure families.
■ A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
■ Children born to educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of 5.
■ A 1% increase in the number of women with secondary education can increase annual per capita economic growth by 0.3%.

The EFA’s 2008 global report revealed that gender parity in primary education in Thailand is likely to be achieved by 2015 and in secondary education there are actually more girls than boys enrolled. The EFA’s mid-decade assessment conducted by UNICEF shows that there are fewer girls than boys enrolled in primary education in Thailand. In contrast, there are fewer boys enrolled in secondary education than girls.

In other words, girls in primary education in Thailand may face more disadvantages in accessing education, but are close to parity. In secondary education boys may face more disadvantages than girls in accessing education, but are close to parity as well. However, there is still a lack of research in this area that could determine whether there is systematic gender inequality in terms of accessing education, especially girls from poverty backgrounds.

A study commissioned by PLAN on girls’ education in the north of Thailand shed some light on this situation, but still left many unanswered questions on what happens to girls in the many poverty pockets of the north. The Vietname girl in this month’s feature article who fought to get an education is the exception. Most girls in Southeast Asia, including Thailand , who are born into poverty , by and large, remain in the poverty trap because of a lack of education.

More research needs to be done to measure just how large this problem looms and what effect
the lack of education of girls from poverty backgrounds has on Thai society both in social and economic terms.

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