Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

Chiangmai Demonstration School



Visit to the Chiangmai Demonstration School

By  Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.


Smack dab in the middle of ChiangmaiUniversity is a pot of gold in terms of talented teenagers.  These teenagers  study at the Chiangmai Demonstration School only a stone throw away from the Chiangmai University Faculty of Education.  The school has 1,356 students , 80 teachers and 30 teacher assistants.  Every year approximately 3,500 students take the entrance exam to be admitted to the  Chiangmai Demonstration   School  ;only 240 are admitted.   Those who attend this highly selective school , therefore, are the crème de la crème of  the Northern Thai youth gifted brain pool.

It is little wonder that every year 100% or nearly 100% of these students go on to university.  In addition, about a handful of their especially gifted students  get scholarships to study overseas.  Most of the graduating students take a few steps from their old high school and attend Chiangmai University, the premier Thai university in the North of Thailand.

I visited the Chiangmai Demonstration School on November 4th , a day full of sunshine and pleasant temperatures for which Chiangmai is noted in this beginning of the cool season.  Ajaan Jum graciously showed me around the school.  The school Director , Ajaan Patajan, kindly arranged for me to observe an English class of Matayom 2 ( 8th grade in the American system).   A student teacher taught the class.  This was the first time I had observed a student teacher inThailand.  A stroke of luck  since I got a first hand look at what currently was being taught to student teachers at Chiangmai University’s faculty of education and also by  the regular teachers at the Chiangmai Demonstration School who advise the student teachers.

Twenty-two  year old student teacher , Ms. Phachara, taught the class of 44 students. It was immediately apparent that she had what I call fire in the belly, meaning that she loved teaching and really wanted to be a teacher.  I asked her if you thought about a different career besides teaching.  “Oh no,  I want to teach, that is what I really want to do.” she replied without a moment’s  hesitation.  Ajaan Bambi is her supervising teacher.  It was obvious from the outset that there are  good teacher training practices being taught to future teachers.  There are also some disturbing continuations of traditional Thai rote teaching of language where students recite after the teacher  in unison, sentence after sentence , word after word with little concern for real understanding.

                                                                                                                      Ms. Phachara, Student Teacher

Ms. Phachara, had planned her lesson well.  She had organized a lesson in the conditional tense in four sections.  In each section, she used what Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy refers to as learning domains.  Ms. Phachara designed her lesson around a popular song by Beyonce.  The song has a number of conditional sentences, such as, “if I were a boy”.

Once Ms. Phachara has gone over the meaning of the words in the song and isolated the conditional sentences for the students, she conducted a series of activities that involved analyzing , applying , understanding and remembering.  The students were for the most part engaged and having fun learning.

What I found impressive was that about half way through the 50 minute period , Ms. Phachara divided up the class into four working groups. She gave each group sentences to each group to analyze and then apply by creating their own answers to questions raised in the song.

Once she handed out the sentences to the four groups, all the students suddenly broke out in animated discussions about the sentences they had been given.  The noise level grew in the room ,yet the student teacher was unperturbed.  Most student teachers in my experience would have been reluctant to let the class noise level increase to such a pitch, failing to note that this period of collaborative learning and application is when real learning , real understanding of the lesson is solidified.

Toward the end of the class period, she had groups of students writing on the black board and explaining their answers to the rest of the class.  This class was not what observers dread the most:  a class where the teacher lectures sleeping teen agers with no interaction with the students.

In sum, it was an impressive teacher performance given that this was a student teacher.  The only drawback that I observed was a technique  the student teacher used a couple of times and is still used in Thai schools of the teacher reciting  word or sentence and then the class repeating in unison in dull and listless monotony. This is a throw back to a bygone era where the object of school was rote memorization with little regard for understanding.

Teachers come from all over Thailand come to observe good teaching practices   at the Chiangmai Demonstration School.   An area that perhaps can be explored is an assessment of how these teacher observations are structured and what is actually carried back by the observing teachers and used in their schools in their teaching.



3 replies on “Chiangmai Demonstration School”

Many times, repeating after teacher’s pronunciation in unison is to give all students opportunity to pronounce the words or phrases which some of them might feel afraid to make mistakes if doing it alone. Many times it is fun to do things together. One important thing is that teacher should be a good model in pronouncing or speaking the learning language. Another is that each student should have opportunities to practice on his/her own. Yet another thing is that there should be more activities that students actually engage in and use their own thinking and it seems that the student teacher has successfully done that in her class. But I say also that you have done a good job of observation given such a limited time, Peter.

Learning through song and music has become a crucial part of effectively learning and studying a foreign language. In today’s high-tech, digital world, the opportunities to incorporate music videos into lesson planning should become more prominent in school settings around the world. What Ms. Pachara has implemented in her classroom is spot on. Music, by nature, is rhythmic, memorable and interactive. Exposing young children to English songs is a wonderful way to introduce young students to new sentence structures through a medium that they will relate to, enjoy and remember. A recommendation to Ms. Pachara would be to focus on one song per week or two weeks, gradually progressing as the year goes on to more advanced songs. This will provide her weekly lesson plans with an inbuilt structure, a song to return to every day throughout the week. By the end of the week, the children will undoubtably have learned the song. In addition, the weekly song could provide a set of vocabulary words and sentence structures to focus on in the classroom for that week. Seems like Ms. Pachara is on the right track. Singing in unison seems far more effective than chanting in unison. By learning through music, the burden is put on the student to sing along to the song, which for young children proves quite difficult.

Very good observation! As a former ESL teacher myself, many many years ago, the use of the contemporary subject matter “Beyonce’s song” by the student teacher is crucial in this concept of “student centric learning”. I personally found this to be the case but had to fight the need to focus solely on the “preset course subject matter”. Unfortunately in my case this was in the French “Leycee” or high school system. There it all centered on learning the prescribed subject matter to pass the “Bach” or the University entrance examination. I can say truly not a conducive environment for true learning. Kids learn language or anything for that matter only when they are truly interested in the subject matter!

So I have to say, “very good observation here and hats off to Chiang Mai Demonstration School”. Only as was pointed out Re: unison recital in the class… I suggest eliminate this altogether as it only sours the otherwise great experience!

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