Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

LEARNING COMMUNITIES: An Answer to Improving Teaching in Rural Areas

Current educational research concludes that the teacher is by far the most important factor in a student’s academic progress.   In Thailand  the  overall student academic performance ( according to PISA and other standardized measures) has fallen  over the past decade.   So, the burning question for Thailand’s educators is how to improve teacher performance.

SCLThailand  continues to hold the position that there must be a paradigm shift in the way Thai teachers approach the art of teaching.  Of special concern is how to stimulate that change in those who are teaching in rural , economically disadvantaged areas.  It is in these areas that academic performance  rural students  on average falls dramatically below their urban counterparts.

How can we reach these rural teachers who are often undertrained and underpaid?  We  hope that the Ministry of Education will take a more forceful lead in encouraging underperforming rural schools to establish what educators now commonly refer to as Learning Communities.  These communities are groups of teachers that meet before or after school to discuss their individual lesson plans with an eye to coordinate subject matter with their colleague’s lesson plans.  The group of teachers concentrate on  what they expect students to learn in all subject areas and explore ways to link their lesson plans together to share a common thread of learning where possible.  Thus , for example , a math teacher will be teaching algebra and the history teacher in her lesson may discuss how algebra was discovered in a particular moment of history and what its significance was in subsequent historic  events.  The language teacher might include some algebraic terms in her vocabulary usage lessons.

The Learning Community would also problem solve  to ensure the success of every student and decide jointly how they can help those students who are struggling.    There would be a sharing of how individuals in their classes different in how they learn and also what personal problems students have that might shed light on ways to help them.

In sum, a given rural school can form, for illustration, Learning Communities for each grade level  centering their discussion on :

1. What they want each student to learn;
2. How they will know when each student has learned it; and
3. How they will respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning.

My experience as a teacher trainer in South Florida indicates that many schools who want to start Learning Communities do better when they have a master teacher/trainer to help start the newly formed group of teachers for the first four weeks.   The master teacher helps the group to address the issues of how the teachers will change their approach to teaching collectively and how they will help each other to focus on student learning and necessary changes in their collectively thought out lesson plans.

It is our conclusion that the Ministry of Education could provide a valuable service by providing master teacher trainers to help newly formed Learning Communities .  After an initial four weeks of helping the Learning Community of a school , it would be desirable if the master teacher would follow up periodically with advice and news of new training opportunities.

Peter J. Foley

4 replies on “LEARNING COMMUNITIES: An Answer to Improving Teaching in Rural Areas

I plan to be in Thailand from 13th February to 12th March 2013 running teacher training courses in Bangkok and Chiangrai (popular demand for more since last year’s courses!)

I love the idea of meeting up with teachers from your schools to exchange ideas of best practise for learner-centred learning.

Do you like this idea too?
please write back and let me know
(And if yes, see if we can sort out some dates!!)

Warm regards,

Louise Romain

Hi Louise,
May I suggest you get in touch with Lynda Rolf , the head of the community at The Prem International Center? I am sure you will get a quick response back.
Very best wishes,
Peter ( editor-in-chief)

Hi Peter, I am delighted that you are keeping up the good work, I am an Australian who has now been in Thailand for 2 years. I support 2 children in primary school, They came from Krasang in Buri Ram and now attend the ‘Bovorn’ private school in Ban Phe, Rayong. I am not sure that the school is great but the teachers seem to have a higher level of commitment than do the government school teachers. My only real comparison is with a teacher in Krasang and one in Nai Rai ( government school teachers each) the level of alcohol consumption seems similar and is certainly quite devastating to the learning process.
I would very much appreciate advice of a school in Rayong where ‘student centred learning’ is practiced.

Peter, I’m in Los Angeles right now, it’s interesting that I just talked about your innovative ideas and actions with a friend who is dreaming to change children’s fate by education today. Actually, I believe that when we find out that we are capable to give a better future for children, it’s something like a power giving us excitement and strength. You are doing it well, good luck and have fun.

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