Op Ed

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 ( —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.

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