Long Live the King has been our web site’s banner headline since Student Centered Learning Thailand started. This banner will remain since for us our fond hope was two fold. First, that King Bhumibol the Great would live as long as possible and continue to inspire the nation. Now, sadly, the King has left us in the physical sense. But we also meant by Long Live the King that his ideals, his example of humility, compassion, and intellectual vigor and integrity, would continue through the Thai people and all those who love the nation of Thailand. So the spirit of the King still lives and we expect it to live as long as there is a Thai nation.
We are confident that Thailand will continue to move toward full democracy. We are also confident that full and fair elections will be held and power will be restored to the people and not rest with any one faction in Thai society. We remain confident that the voice of the people will be heard and honored. When this is accomplished the work of His Majesty, Rama IX, will reach fruition.
Long Live the King!
Peter J. Foley, editor-in-chief
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief
I am suffering from education reform fatigue. I suspect there are tens of thousands of reform fatigue sufferers here in Thailand who are concerned parents, concerned students and concerned educators.
And so, on March 1, 2016, when I read yet another call for education reform article in the Bangkok Post, it was hard not to stifle a yawn, then a sigh, a sigh of resignation. The article is entitled “Declare Education in a State of Emergency.” The authors of the article repeat what so many articles in the Bangkok Post and The Nations newspapers have cried about for the past six years: Thai students’ low international PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment) scores and disastrous O-Net scores. Yet, the article, like all similar calls for reform since SCLThailand’s, founding six years ago is empty on solutions, an empty gas tank. And that goes for the present government’s attempt at reform with its 65 modules to address 33 educational problems nationwide. It is doomed to failure unless the issue of the teacher’s role in Thai society is not addressed first and foremost.
As the article indicates, Thai education officials have reached out to Finnish educators to discover what has made Finland one of the highest PISA scorer nations in the world while spending less of its proportional GNP on education than Thailand. The Thai educators must have discovered that Finland’s success was due to its well paced curriculum, effective teacher training programmes and school autonomy and decentralization. Thailand suffers from a strictly hierarchical, top-down management system of course. But even if these needs are addressed in Education Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan’s 65 modules, there remains the essential problem in Thai society and that is the prestige and compensation of Thai teachers.
In sum, good teachers, highly esteemed and well paid in Finnish society is the reason for Finland’s public education success. Until Thailand focuses on raising Thai teachers position in Thai society with meaningful teacher standards and subsequent financial and recognition awards, Thai education will continue to languish and disappoint. Thai students, and therefore Thai society, will continue to suffer and its place in the new ASEAN economics will remain problematical.
The Thai Minister of Education might want to start real reform with a fund created with big corporations and government support that awards merit pay to outstanding teachers. This would include awards for best teachers in each province of the Kingdom of Thailand. This step would immediately raise the interest of Thailand’s best and brightest university graduates. It is these best and brightest Thais that are so badly needed in Thai classrooms.
If the Education Minister initiates such a program, SCL Thailand and Foley’s Coffee will rush to be the first in line to make a contribution.
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief
This month’s article limns the important innovations in higher education taking place in China. Importantly, this education revolution is based on the principles of student centered learning. Significantly for Thailand, these educational reforms echo the reforms Thai lawmakers set forth in 1999 that, sadly, have not yet been realized.
The authors, Shi Jian and Wang xin, explain that a centerpiece of these teaching reforms is problem based learning. Such learning compels the students to think for themselves, to analyze and solve problems. As the authors point out, teaching from a problem based learning model makes changes in the classroom necessary to facilitate this student centered learning approach.
For example, at Sichuan University new furniture was ordered to facilitate moving chairs and tables to enable group discussions and small group learning. Class size has been reduced to no more than 30 students in a class. Sichuan University students are learning to create and analyze problems using critical thinking skills. In sum, “teacher centered teaching is replaced by student-centered classroom discussion…..” The long range goal of these changes is to better prepare Chinese students for the needs of the 21st century job market where problem solving using digital technology will be increasingly required.
Student Centered Learning Thailand ‘s previous Op Ed noted the recent and powerful political, social and economic influence China is having on Thailand. Some commenters have said that this influence is at the expense of the United States’ traditional influence. SCLThailand sees this point of view as wrong footed.
SCLThailand wants to see a different view of international influence where the purpose of other countries’ aid and influence is not competitive but, rather, cooperative. We wish to be part of an international progressive education movement that encourages all countries to exchange and share in the spirit of international cooperation, a spirit of universal love of learning, a spirit of brother and sisterhood.
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D
A number of our readers did not agree that China is increasingly influential in Thai education. There was also some objection to Student Centered Learning Thailand having a story about Chinese education as a feature article. No doubt these same readers will be chagrined to see a follow up article on Chinese education and this follow up editorial on Chinese soft power as exercised on Thai education.
After spending the last three months as a full time Chinese language student at Yunnan University, I eye-witnessed the new Chinese influence on Thai youth. Large groups of Thais were taking intensive Chinese language and culture courses in Kunming. Most of the Thai students I talked to were receiving scholarships from the Chinese government. The handful of Thai and Lao students I am in contact with daily are industrious students who, after only a year of study, already can read and write Chinese on a level normally requiring twice that time. One large group of young Thai students all came from Phyket. They all hoped for jobs in the booming tourist industry on the island.
Most of the Thai students I talked with saw the learning of Chinese as a means to their future livelihoods. It is not surprising that the new, profound influence on Thai youth is tied to economics. The economic benefits of China recently becoming the number one country in terms of numbers of tourists coming to Thailand has been dramatic. And the impact of the current huge number of Chinese tourists is having a significant influence in helping the Thai economy remain stable. For illustration the Chinese News website states that in 2014 there were 5.3 million tourists from mainland China that visited Thailand. These Chinese tourists brought in 702 billion Thai baht. The numbers of Chinese tourists have been expanding dramatically since 2009 when only .8 million Chinese tourists came to Thailand for a visit and brought only 20 billion baht into the country.
With this important economic influence, Chinese political influence is also increasingly felt. China’s need for friends in ASEAN is especially acute at this time when there is increasing enmity toward China on the part of the Philippines and Vietnam over territorial claims in the South China Seas. It is perhaps not an accident that Thai, Laos and Cambodian students are being courted to come to China to study and receive scholarships.
The influence of China on Thai education will continue to increase as long as large numbers of Thai students come to China to study and learn Chinese and the Chinese culture. It is also noteworthy that Chinese education is becoming more and more progressive. For example, in my classes at Yunnan University many of the teachers are using student centered learning techniques in the classroom, that is , they are involving the students in the day to day learning exercises. This is a far cry from Chinese recent past where, like Thailand, rote learning was the principal vehicle of classroom learning. If the trend in China to provide a more progressive education experience continues the influence on Thailand is likely to spill over.
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief
Long and close ally to the U.S.A., Thailand is quickly becoming more neutral in global politics. Despite the United States Government‘s declared foreign policy of a pivot back to Asia, there is hardly a better example of the shift in super power influence than that taking place in Thailand. While China is enjoying a new eminence, the American influence is declining.
Student Centered Learning Thailand (SCLThailand) believes China’s influence on Thai education comes at a critical time and China’s influence and aid may help turn around the alarming and continuing erosion of Thai education. Sanitsuda Ekachai describes this decline in her March 17, 2015 Bangkok Post opinion entitled “Bigwigs Try to Pass the Buck on Failing Schools.” She points out that “Thai students consistently fail in both national and international tests. Author Khun Sanitsuda points an accusing finger at the Thai Ministry of Education citing its failure to reform despite receiving 24% of the national budget, making the Thai MoE the “second richest Ministry of Education in the world.”
On university campuses throughout the Thai Kingdom Chinese influence is seen and felt through 12 Confucius Centers and 11 Confucian classrooms(as of 2012) . These Chinese language and cultural centers are jointly run Thai-Chinese NGOs but supported by both governments. These Chinese classrooms welcome 7,000 Chinese volunteers who teach Chinese language and culture, more than any other South East Asian country. These centers of Chinese learning are providing a language and cultural platform for future Thai business and professional persons to interact in the future with Chinese business and academic partners.
The Chinese government has made a decision to concentrate its soft power on Thailand not only because it is a pivotal ASEAN country, but also because of the natural amity with China. Thailand, after all, is the only country in Asia to have successfully assimilated a large Chinese population. An argument can be made, albeit a controversial one, that if the large assimilated Chinese population was not a high proportion of the largest cities in Thailand the current dismal overall education student performance would be a disaster if the big city higher scores of the Chinese-Thai mixed ancestry were excluded. In short, the difference in test scores between the rural areas and the urban areas is significantly higher in urban areas.
Nevertheless, some credit should be given to successive Thai governments in establishing a quota system that gives rural students a chance to attend universities even if their scores cannot compete with their urban counterparts. But really the die is already cast in terms of inequality once a student gets to university since the urban students has, in general, been exposed to better teaching and therefore a better education.
In addition to the Confucian Centers and Classrooms, the other major arm of Chinese soft power is the exchange programs under the tutelage of the China Scholarship Council ( CSC) . These scholarships are given to Thai students to study Chinese language and culture in China. Thailand ranks a surprising fourth in students going to China to study after Korea, the USA and Japan.
China is also influencing Thai education by example. Shanghai student scores on international tests now rival traditional regional education high academic performers, Singaporean students. No wonder, since China has been studying Singapore business and education paradigms for over two decades and followed this small country’s big footsteps. A major key to country academic success is an investment in teachers, something both Singapore and China are paying attention to. So far Thailand has failed to make its ample budget provide the proper training and support for its teachers.
The show piece of China’s soft power is the China Cultural Center in Bangkok, covering 6,400 meters of space and located in front of the Chinese Embassy, not far from the Thai Cultural Center. Chinese art and dance are among the features to be found there. The Center is an apt symbol for the dramatic presence of China as a new, major soft power. Thailand is a favored beneficiary.
The future of Thailand will depend on how well its work force is educated and thus able to compete in the market place with other countries. We can only hope that China will continue to use its soft power to improve the education atmosphere and resources in Thailand. The more other countries are willing to invest their soft power to help Thailand and its education system the better. The influence on Thailand can work in interesting ways. For example, Teach for America, was started to address the lack of good teachers in economically deprived areas of the U.S.A. Talented, top college students volunteers were recruited to be trained and to teach at these poorer schools. From the Teach For America model, the Chinese adapted the model to China and it was successful. Now Teach for China has brought the program to Chulalonghorn University and started Teach for Thailand. Importantly, the teacher training offered by Teach for America, Teach for China and Teach for Thailand emphasizes student centered learning.