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(English) So,Why Not Give Tablet PC to All Thai Students

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So, Why Not Give Computer Tablets to All Thai Students?
How can giving a tablet computer filled with educational software to help a child learn to read and do their numbers be wrong? How can it be bad pedagogy? Yet, there has been an avalanche criticism in the Thai press ever since the Pheu Thai Party announced the Yingluck government was initially spending three billion baht in 2012 to hand out tablet PCs to every Thai child attending grade 1.

Respected educators like Dilaka Lathapipat, Ph.D. have voiced objection to the plan in his column “Chalk Talk” in the The Nation September 12, 2011 edition. Dr. Dilaka cited a study he co-authored of the damage to students’ PISA test scores when they are from the student cohort that use computers to play games. Other educators have been even more forceful in opposing the plan. The Nation posted an article on July 11, 2011 entitled: “Top Academics Oppose Computer Tablets Plan”. The article cited Maitree Inprasitaha, dean of education at Khon Kaen University and Chainarong Indharameesup of Boyden Global Executive Search as against the distribution of the Tablet PCs to Thai school children. Professor Maitree specifically referred to a lack of e-books and learning software in her objections. In another article in The Nation dated September 3, 2011, Veena Thoopkrajae sums up her argument in her title: “ Tablets Cannot Cure the Cancer in Thai Education.”

The devil of course is in the details. And herein lie many of the opposition’s a priori arguments.
First, no one in the Yingluck government said the Tablet PC would be a cure all for Thai education.
Next, let’s take the major, more serious arguments against giving the tablets to the children one by one and examine their validity.

Let’s start with the arguments that include no high speed internet access to the rural areas; lack of e-books and educational software, lack of ability to prevent kids from planning computer games that are not educational; and a no one to fix or replace the tablets once they are distributed.
Critics appear to have forgotten the basic principle that when there is a need in the market place ,ingenuity and energy are created to make the new product or service. In the middle of September the Forth Corporation announced the first Thai made educational tablet computer priced at 3,000 baht—under the Chinese market price. The spokesman for the company, Mr. Sawat, said the company was motivated to create this lost cost tablet in order to compete for the sudden huge demand for a tablet PC as a result of the one child one tablet PC policy. Moreover, the announcement stated that controls on the tablet PC this Thai company created ensure that only appropriate content can be used. The Forth Corporation spokesman also said that,” 800,000 tablets at 3,000 baht each could jumpstart Thai-language content such as eBooks and learning games.” Imagine the cost savings when students have an opportunity to download many school books for a fraction of the price that is now being spent on hard cover books.

Having a Thai made tablet PC is a game changer too in that the repair of tablets can be done in Thailand, and repair contracts can be made between the Thai government and the Thai manufactures.

Ah, but the nay sayers shout: what about corruption. How are you going to prevent corruption? But that is a question the Thais must answer across the board. It is patently unfair to argue that there is corruption in Thai politics and government and therefore a particular program that benefits children should not go forward. I argue that at least every Thai child will suddenly have a valuable resource in hand, unlike many corrupt Thai government projects in the past that have been bridges and roads to nowhere.
Some critics remind us that the computer and learning software is only a tool not a solution. Indeed, and what a tool! This tool is revolutionizing the way business is done throughout the world and is essential to learn for the modern day workforce. What a gift to Thai children to get started learning this essential digital tool from grade one!

Nay sayers forget too that political and social pressure are how change happens. Giving rural youth and their parents access to a computer will produce tremendous pressure to make broad band access throughout the Kingdom a reality. My argument is that this program will be a catalyst to make changes so necessary if Thailand is to be competitive in the digital age of the 21st century, including the development of educational software for Thai children, the broadening of wide band internet access to rural areas and the training of teachers in computer applications.

In sum, the big pay off will be that Thais will learn from the onset of their schooling how to use the digital tools, tools that already are essential to possess for a competitive work force. In addition, having access to powerful software packages that will help student master basic skills in language and math holds the promise of not only of helping to raise Thai children’s mediocre international based test scores ( the PISA tests) but also narrowing the learning opportunity gap between the rich and the poor. The children of the rich , concentrated in Bangkok , already have a computer or computer access and internet access. What giving a tablet PC to every child along with learning software does is to make the playing field of learning opportunities more level for the rural poor.

I agree that there is much work to be done to make the Tablet PC program a success. What I find interesting is that critics , including some of my fellow educators, fail to see the flip side of the coin. If we introduce the exciting world of digital learning to Thais just starting school they will not grow up thinking that gaming and computers are synonymous. The nay-sayers counter argument assumes that students will be able to load such games in their computer. It also assumes that students will even be allowed to load such games.

Perhaps the most logical argument of the contrarians is that not enough research and planning has gone into making the tablet PC program for children to ensure success. However, many of these objectors have been studying this problem for years and still have not given us a cogent plan.
Let us get the process started. Give the computers to the children. Trust Thai ingenuity. Let Thai corporations like Forth solve the problems that arise. Learn by doing. Trust Thai teachers to rise to the challenge of the digital age. Stop standing guard for the status quo. Take risks. Work to give all Thais access to authentic learning.

 

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

2 replies on “(English) So,Why Not Give Tablet PC to All Thai Students”

Nishasays:

Peter is right in his enthusiasm to give computers to children in Thailand but it is his mixing it up with “tablet PC” and asking Thai corporation to solve the problem that is a little intriguing. That may also suggest that he is being carried away by an idea or is aligned to an idea that has little legs that will not grow up with the child.

First, a Tablet PC is NOT designed for learning for children who have not learnt already. It is not an educational device. it is a Supplementary device. If you have a computer, having a Tablet PC does not hurt. If you can afford a second computer, do not need it for learning, need it only for access etc then you may be OK with a Tablet PC. It does little more.

Second, asking a Thai Corporation to make a Tablet PC is clearly dumb from all points of view. For a Thai Corporation will not be creating a technology, will not have the size or scale to make any difference to the cost as the electronics industry is very competitive globally and no local solution can be made more cost effectively and then again it cannot take into account any innovation that happens on an ongoing basis.

Thirdly, education is about looking at the matter holistically. Its not something that is addressed as a patchwork. So think education in teh context of what is holistic, what is the best, what does not require to put every piece of the puzzle in place before talking education as for a child that is the right age to learn, a day’s delay is already too much. Children are at the creative best until 12 years of age. Once we lose out on engaging their minds up to 12 years, they may learn skills but will generally find it hard to become creative.

A good example of what rote learning can do to harm creativity is India or even China for that matter. India has every 5th human being within its geography and has no homegrown Nobel laureate and that can be a reasonable proxy to capture creativity in a society. In contrast, a small nation of 11 million Jews have given the world nearly every Fourth Nobel Laureate!

But rather than killing the rote learning, India is lost in developing “the cheapest” computer, little knowing that computers can be made for almost any price point but given the competitive nature of the industry, you get what you pay for. Making them the cheapest will also mean that they will do as much less and with as little comfort or ease. But the children need a computer that enhances joy, does not frustrate and is general purpose to say the least.

Thailand does not need to repeat the Indian mistake. India’s education minister may have misled the world for some cheap and instant publicity. But its “cheapest laptop” is essentially just cheap and may be to expensive at any price.

Thailand needs to explore the world’s best technologies that marry pedagogy and are the most affordable. And NOT the cheap Tablet PCs that do not help educate or learn.

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