Op Ed

China’s Growing Soft Power Influence on Thai Education

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. The Chinese adapted the Teach For America 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.

Op Ed

Are Future Thai Teachers Prepared to be More Student Centered?

By Peter J. Foley, Editor-in-Chief


Since its declared policy in 1999 to move towards a more student centered system of public education, progress has been slow, especially in rural schools. How can more progress be made in changing teachers’ attitudes and approaches to teaching?


Student Centered Learning Thailand, believes that an important part of the answer lies in how teachers are trained at the teacher training colleges in Thailand. Students studying to be teachers in Thailand should receive a thorough grounding in what modern research has discovered about how we learn, then how to apply these findings in a classroom, including best student centered teaching practices. Anecdotal evidence points to large numbers of teachers just entering the classroom who are poorly equipped to teach students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, keystones of student centered learning. It would be a valuable service to the Thai nation for research to be done on just how much teaching knowledge a new teachers college graduate possesses.


One focus of the study might be the student’s knowledge of how people learn. Another part of such a study might be a new teachers college graduate’s understanding and knowledge of the contributions of great educational thinkers from the dawn of civilization starting with Confucius and Socrates through to the beginning of modern times with King Chulalonghorn and Maria Montessori down to the current day thinkers , King Bhumibol Adulyadej and John Dewey.


Students should be equipped at the end of their teacher training to answer questions such as: how do we get students to solve problems on their own or in groups with their peers? How do we conduct classes so that individual students’ learning needs are met; where students learn at their own pace; and where learning is individualized rather than standardized?


Over the past two decades research has debunked the notion that rote learning is an effective method of learning. We now know that only when learners are actively thinking out ideas in a personalized manner does real understanding happen.


So why is so much rote learning still going on in Thai classrooms? We at Student Centered Learning Thailand think that one of the major reasons is linked to the way new teachers are trained. Would the Ministry of Education consider researching this question?


Op Ed

Has education changed to accommodate the new learning needs of the century

Op Ed December 2014

In the first 14 years of the 21st Century, has education changed to accommodate the new learning needs of the century?

Greg Cairnduff, M Ed, BA, Dip Ed, MACE, Deputy Managing Editor

14th December 2014


At the time of writing we are just 16 days away from the end of 2014, soon we will be into the 15th year of the century ….. How quickly time passes! In 2015 more than one sixth of the 21st Century will be part of history.

GregPictureFor educators, what is significant about this? In the future, educational historians looking at the first 15 years of this century and the last 5 or so years of the 20th Century will read much about what academics, teachers, economists and business people said and wrote about the essential skills needed by students for a successful and fulfilled life in the new era. A quick browse of the literature about curriculum, pedagogy and school leadership, published between 1995 and 2014, will quickly lead the reader of this literature to be able to compile a list of what skills, attitudes and attributes that seem to be common in the literature and is recommended for education in the 21st Century. As well a the hard copy based literature on the topic, there is a mass of digital information on web sites and blogs on the topic.

It could be said that the work of Student Centred Learning Thailand is also part of this mass of information. We were founded to support teachers in Thai schools in changing their pedagogies from content driven, teacher directed methodologies to the student centred practices that are more appropriate for the needs of current times. That is our mission.

When the educational history of the first part of this century is written, I am sure the historians will HangingOuthave no trouble discerning the common view that it was clear in the latter years of the 20th Century and the first years of the 21st that the research said quite clearly that teaching and learning in the new century would have to be different from what had been done in the 20th Century. Mainly because of the exponential expansion of Information and Digital technology.

Have you ever had a photographic drone flying in your vicinity? If you have, it’s a safe bet that you would not have had this happen to you 10 years ago.

Who would have ever imagined the non military impacts of such technology? The same could be said of so many of the new developments in digital and other technologies.

What will history say about the efforts of educators, schools and systems to take the advice given to meet the challenge of technology’s ubiquitous impact on daily life in the first 6th of the 21st Century?

As far as our target audience – Thai classroom teachers and school decision makers, are concerned the question needs to be asked, is there actually much change occurring in Thai schools? We would love to hear some Thai teachers’ views on this.

The social impacts of technology continue to have a huge influence on all facets of life as shown in the photographs below.

In the way we relate to each other.






How often to you see situations like these?






These effects are not limited to the Western world, nor are they limited by age or gender


Family life has changed in different periods throughout history, and it continues to change ….is it for the better?










Has the meaning of the word friend been weakened by Facebook?










I recently read a book called “A Simpler Time” by the Australian writer, Peter Fitzsimons[1]. In the book, he talked about growing up on the outskirts of Sydney where his father, a soldier in the Second World War, began a new life as a farmer in 1950s, doing the hard physical work of clearing the land and then farming it.

He told the story of family life in Australia in that period where the dinner table discussion, between members of a growing family would have been vibrant and educational as well for the growing children, participating in all sorts of discussions.

Nothing at all like the family dinner scene depicted above.

In this century, educators – teachers and parents, face challenges in educating their children which are different from those challenges faced by teachers and parents in previous generations.

The digital screen can be a powerful educator but, it can also be a harmful one. Parents of young children today are faced with the paradox of allowing their children to be “digital natives” and start using digital devices as soon a possible, while others resist this use of screens at a young age by limiting or refusing access to TV and other digital media – the paradox bring that the children can learn so much from this media, but they can also develop unhealthy dependence on such media at the expense of free play and interaction with others.

The 21st Century skills lists referred to above, commonly list the following skills and attributes as essential to the current century:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Initiative
  • Curiosity and imagination
  • Self management and self regulation
  • Vision
  • Hope, optimism and resilience
  • Grit [determination, perseverance]
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy
  • Environmental awareness
  • Collaboration

Below is a useful diagram on critical thinking that some out readers may not have seen.

This and other ideas for developing critical thinking can be found at


The book, “Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for all Learners” by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison[2] is a highly influential work directly related to advising teachers on how to nurture the development of these skills.

This year, I have had the great pleasure of watching an outstanding Primary Year 2 teacher, use the techniques advocated in the book. I go into her class most days, what I see is that when questions are asked, by the teacher, or someone in the class, up go the hands and the responses invariably begin with I think ……

This shows that these children are on the road to developing their own critical thinking, and it shows these techniques can be developed at a young age

By starting these techniques early in their education, we are helping children develop habits of mind that enable them to think more deeply, to be better problem solvers problems and to develop their understanding. This teacher’s use of the Thinking Visible techniques has worked really well in just over four months.

Our feature article this month by Dr Don W Jordan and Ms Ellen Cornish is on questioning techniques, an aspect of pedagogy which is essential to the teaching of critical thinking.

Ellen and Don build on, and expand, previous work published by SCLT, with a focus on planning for questions in developing thinking for understanding. I thank them for their regular and practical articles for classroom teachers in Thailand.

Teachers will find their article helpful in appreciating the importance of planning for questions to be asked. As indicated in the Year 2 example above, this teacher has worked steadily and daily with her students in helping them to ask good questions and this is developing the way they view their lessons right across the curriculum.

On behalf of the SCLT team, I wish all of our readers a very happy festive season and I trust that the New Year brings each of you peace, happiness and professional fulfillment.

Warm regards

Greg Cairnduff,

Deputy Managing Editor

December, 2014                      Greg is Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok

[1] A Simpler Time, Fitzsimons, Peter, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2010

[2] Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for all Learners” by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, Karin Morrison , Wiley and Sons, 2011


articles Op Ed

November 2014 – the Situational Approach

Jurgen Zimmer, in this month’s article, “The Situational Approach in Didactics of Higher Education” makes a solid case for progressive education. There are many educational approaches encompassed under the rubric of progressive education and certainly the situational approach is pivotal. At SCLThailand the term student centered  translates into many similar or identical approaches including not only the situational approach but also: brain-based learning; the inquiry method ; the discovery method ; experiential learning and learning by doing.

Professor Zimmer brings into sharp focus what teacher education has missed. The result of “missed lessons” is teachers continuing to rely on the lecture method. Research shows much more long term memory learning when students actually participate in the learning process.   Professor Zimmer is the co-founder of the School for Life in Chiangmai, Thailand. The curriculum purpose of the school is to establish a situational approach to learning that will lead to students being prepared for life after the completion of high school and also make the school and the boarding of the students more and more self-reliant.

Taking inspiration from Professor Zimmer’s situational approach, it might be useful to give an overview of a learning project plan for students at the School for Life who are interested in coffee production and interested in using coffee as a gateway to learning how to be an entrepreneur. At each step in the process of empowering the students who join the coffee club, there will be problem solving based on knowledge gained followed by actual practice and then, reflection followed by action.

The first steps in the process of forming a coffee club at the School for Life have already started. Ms. Praewa, a coffee expert and coffee educator has introduced the art of coffee making to all the students of School for Life in three afternoon sessions during the month of November of 2014. The introduction was a hands- on experience on how to judge coffee bean quality and how to identify and select coffee beans; how coffee is harvested and how it is roasted; and finally how the barista makes the experience of coffee memorable to the end user in a café. Students thus begin to understand the importance of knowing coffee bean quality and what it takes to produce a quality  coffee bean. They also begin to understand the importance of temperature and air flow in the coffee roasting process. And  by the end of  Ms. Praewa’s course the students begin to understand the importance of marketing and presentation of coffee.   In sum, the three sessions Ms. Praewa lead are the hook used to capture the interest and enthusiasm of students who may wish to go on to join the coffee club.

The coffee club will continue to develop coffee making and entrepreneurial skills.   Interested students will register their names with the head of school who, along with a committee of teachers, will choose a group of students, a mix of 25 boys and girls, to be members of the club based on their enthusiasm and grasp of the ideas and skills Ms. Praewa presented through hand-on experiences during the three day sessions on the art of coffee making.   Once the coffee club is formed, advisors will be assigned and the coffee club will begin a mind -mapping exercise to decide what they already know about coffee; what further questions they need to ask about coffee and where they hope to get further information. The club will also do a mind mapping exercise on what they hope to achieve at the coffee club and how they will realize those objectives and what help they might need.

The club members will also have to decide how they will make decisions, how often they will meet, and how meetings will be managed.   Readers of Professor Zimmer’s article may recognize that these mind-mapping exercises may well result in the coffee club students making their own situational analysis. Indeed, that is the hoped for result.   Once the club has formed the questions that need to be answered and the skills they will need, the advisors and students will explore links with the knowledge and skills offered in the Ministry of Education curriculum. These links will probably lead to blended learning. For example, inevitably, the club will decide that they want to mount a small business. They will conclude that they have to have some way of tracking profits and losses. The need to learn certain math skills in order to do the accounting will be evident. Moreover, the students may decide it is worth learning a computer program like EXCEL to help them speed up the process of preparing financial statements.

After the club’s mind-mapping exercises, there will be a need for reflection. Are the objectives coming out of the mind-mapping exercise reasonable? Should the objectives be prioritized? What should be the time-frame? What resources are available? Where and how can other resources be found?   Again, readers of Dr. Jurgen Zimmer’s article may recognize this provision for dialogue as an integral part of the situational approach. Out of the dialogue students will use their knowledge and skills to help “steer” their own development process. The advisors will help guide and coach the coffee club toward a common purpose and goal. The students will be learning in a wide variety of situations, i.e. by going to coffee factories, visiting coffee plantations and visiting cafes. Each experience will be recorded by each the students of the coffee club in  personal student journals  and then discussed in group meetings. What has been learned? How can we apply what we have learning to our situation in the School for Life?

We return now to the purpose of School for Life. The coffee club is in league with the school goal of preparing coffee club members to be innovative entrepreneurs. And the this project also mirrors the second goal of School for Life of self-reliance by establishing a coffee production center at the school where professional coffee experts help bring in revenue through coffee productions and sales. Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

Op Ed

Young Teachers and Young Writers

Young Teachers and Young Writers
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor-in-chief

The editorial staff of is making greater efforts to enlist young teachers to write articles on the topic of improving classroom learning. A young teacher from Boston, who is  a Princeton University fellow, writes this month’s article. He will teach this semester at the storied Vajiravudh College in Bangkok. It is significant that the author, Tyler Belanga, places a premium on a trusting relationship between teacher and student. Research bears out the importance of such a student teacher relationship. For example, here are just some of the research findings that support the importance of relationships between students and teachers:

1. Teachers play an important role in the trajectory of students throughout the formal schooling experience (Baker, Grant, & Morlock, 2008).

2. Positive teacher-student relationships enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and provide scaffolding for important social and academic skills (Baker et al., 2008; O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011; Silver, Measelle, Armstron, & Essex, 2005).

3. When teachers form positive bonds with students, classrooms become supportive spaces in which students can engage in academically and socially productive ways (Hamre & Pianta, 2001)

4. Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting both academically and socially, to take on academic challenges and work on social-emotional development (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

As the editors and writers of have said over and over again in its opinion editorials and articles, the key to a successful student centered classroom is the teacher acting as a coach and not simply a lecturer. This means that there must be interactions between students and teachers every day that are significant to the learning process. Such interactions can take many forms: Q and A sessions where all the students have an opportunity to interact with the teacher; individual or group help where the teacher checks a group or individual’s learning progress; and individualized reviews of student journals. Another salient ingredient that goes into maximizing student learning that Mr. Belanga emphasized is the participation of parents in schools. This would appear to be just common sense given the overwhelming and singular influence parents; nevertheless, parents rarely are brought into schools to engage in the learning process with students and teachers. When parents are involved the research proves that:

1. Increased involvement correlates positively with higher student achievement

2. The most likely predictor of a student’s success in school is a home that encourages learning

3. Parents aspirations exert a significant influence on student achievement*

  Over the next six months we hope to bring you more articles from young teachers and writers. We are looking particularly for young Thai teacher scholars. If you know of a young Thai teacher scholar who would like to be published in please be so kind as to refer her or him to me, the editor-in-chief at *The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. Masten, Ann S.; Coatsworth, J. Douglas American Psychologist, Vol 53(2), Feb 1998, 205-220.

Op Ed

The importance of class size?

Greg Cairnduff, M Ed, BA, Dip Ed, MACE,

Deputy Managing Editor

14 September 2014

The question of class size is one of those age old questions that have long been the subject of debate among educators, parents, school administrators, and school planning authorities. At the core of these debates is the endeavour to get the best out of limited resources for education.

Much has been written and researched on this subject.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s fifth and most recent book, David and Goliath, subtitled Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants [Penguin, London 2013], the Canadian – English author, journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker Magazine, explores how disadvantage can bring about advantage and conversely, how an advantage can be a disadvantage. The book is peppered with interesting and powerful examples, many of which can be imported into education. For example, he cites the example of a poor working class family, where the parents instill into their children the need to be thrifty and not to take for granted the basic necessities of life for granted. For instance, the father brought his children up not to waste electricity, insisting lights should not be left burning in unoccupied rooms. Gladwell looks at the successful move on the children to more prosperous life styles achieved by the children of that family. When one for them becomes very successful in the movie industry, whose children want for nothing, their father laments their lack of appreciation of what they have, and their inability to understand the value of money.

Here in Thailand, I am sure Gladwell’s premise that disadvantage can sometimes be an advantage, may be seen in the happiness and joy of living that comes from some of the poorest communities of the North East of the country. A Thai educator friend of mine one said to me that Esan does not have to worry about the economic term gross domestic product, because they have gross domestic happiness. I know this may be a liberal generalization of the point being made by Gladwell but the strong family ties and family loyalty and personal support found in poorer parts of a country or a city, do tend to show up the fragility of family bonds in more affluent areas.

In my last editorial, I recommended Gladwell’s book Outliers, as being useful to educators; I would recommend David and Goliath also not only for its insights into advantage and disadvantage that are very useful for teachers, but particularly for the discussion on class size which explored in the book.

What is a class size that produces optimum learning opportunities for children? Is it better to have small classes or is it better to have large classes? The jury is out on exactitude with regards to this question.

School populations grow and decline according to a range of socio- economic factors. It would be true to say that most parents would want their child to be as small a class as possible, in the belief that a small class is a better class for learning. In the West, and in Asia, efforts have been made to reduce class sizes in USA, the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, all believing that smaller classes would lead to better learning outcomes, as students in small classes get more attention from their teachers. Using schools in Connecticut, USA where there happened to be swings in class sizes caused by rapidly changes demographics due to real estate prices going up, economist Caroline Hoxby who was able to study the impact of smaller classes on the educational outcomes of the students[1], found that the impact of small class sizes had little or no effect on improving learning outcomes.

Gladwell’s summary of the hundreds of research studies done over the years found that in 15% of the studies examined there was an improvement in student performance, in another 20% of the studies there is no measurable improvement and that the students actually do worse in smaller classes. He goes on the cite studies on reduced class in 18 different countries and there were only two countries – Iceland and Greece where there were “nontrivial beneficial effects of reduced class sizes” [2]

I wonder what Thai teachers being urged to use child centred pedagogies would say if they were asked about their desired class size? Teachers dealing with 45 – 50 sized classes would obviously want them brought down; there would be no argument with that. What about an Australian teacher with a class on 33? I am sure that teacher would want to class to be lower.

Is there an optimum? Of course for different stages of a child’s passage through school, the best class size will vary depending on the stage of education, but teachers know that very small classes have their own challenges and can be every bit as difficult as large classes. One thing teachers need in a class is vibrant discussion and this is what students need too.

So the debate is about optimum sizes of classes for learning, Caroline Hoxby comes down on the mid 20s as a good size for middle school aged children, a size of around 25 where discussion can flourish and where the dominance of one or two students can make learning difficult for others. Her research found that teachers do not like to have classes much under 18 in the early years of secondary school.

There is no doubt that is the class sizes in Thai classrooms in secondary and primary schools were to drop, there would need to be many changes of teaching strategies from the teachers.

One such change would be the promotion of engagement and independent learning among students. This month’s article revisits the importance of questioning techniques in class rooms by looking at Five Powerful Questions teachers should ask their students.

Greg Cairnduff, September, 2014

Greg is Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok

[1] David and Goliath, Gladwell, M, p42

[2] Gladwell, p44

Op Ed

Using Testing Wisely

By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. Editor-in-Chief
Let’s make the distinction right away between high stakes testing and low stakes testing. High stakes testing include standardized tests and final exams. Standardized tests often determine whether someone will get an entrance into University. A final exam often determines in large part the final grade a student will receive.

In Thailand, students take a national exam in grade six of high school to determine college entrance. Americans take the S.A.T. or similar standardized tests. And the Chinese and Japanese have similar high stakes testing tools. High stakes testing is almost universal. Such exams put enormous pressure on students and many react negatively. But the main point I wish to make is that high stakes testing is not effective for learning.

On the other hand, low stakes testing is an excellent learning tool.

Low stakes testing usually takes the form of quizzes that may or may not be counted in a student’s grade. Recent research shows that low stakes quizzing helps people retrain more of what they learn. Henry L. Roediger, Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, provides convincing evidence of the efficacy of low stakes testing in his book “Make it Stick: the Science of Successful Learning.”
For example, in one study Professor Roediger conducted, students were assessed on how well they remembered a particular reading passage.

After an initial reading, students were tested on some passages by being given a blank sheet of paper and asked to recall as much as possible. They recalled 70% of the ideas. Other passages were not tested but were re-read, and thus 100 percent of the ideas were re-exposed in the final tests given either two days or a week later, the passages that had been tested just after reading were remembered much better than those that had been reread.

According to Professor Roedigger what is happening here in this Social Science study is students taking the quiz are getting practice in the retrieval of data. They are retrieving data from their memory bank. A very similar process happens when we review some learning in a classroom when the teacher instructs students to turn to their neighbor and share with each other what they learned.

Research has also shown that some teachers’ cherished study skills instruction to their students are not useful and do not contribute to improvements in learning retention. This includes techniques such as underlining or highlighting when reading. Professor Roedigger maintains that these suggested study skills just create the allusions of mastery, but are largely a waste of time because they do not provide any practice in accessing or applying what students are trying to learn.
Research also shows that low stakes quizzes that are administered over time spans of days or weeks or even months are the most effective retrieval leaning tools. Our brains need repetitive learning circuit patterns to establish long term memory.
The wise teacher will quiz/test his students accordingly.

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.

Op Ed

We Need More Research on Girls Education in Thailand

by Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. , editor-in-chief

This month’s feature article is focused on a story featured in The New York Times about a courageous school girl in Vietnam. The story is about her uncommon will to learn, to become educated despite poverty and lack of support from her parents. She is an exception. Nevertheless her story highlights what can happen when a girl from a poverty background gets an education.

There have been vigorous efforts to improve education for all (EFA), and in particular girls, going back to 2000 when the gender disparity of girls out of school compared with boys was 60% to 40% globally. That gender gap in educational opportunity between boys and girls has narrowed considerably and hopefully will reach an equal ratio globally within this decade. Developing countries are becoming more and more aware that investments in girls’ education is one of the best ways to improve the overall economy of a nation.

Research shows that:

■ Educated women are more empowered and better able to demand their rights, as well as having healthier, more economically-secure families.
■ A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
■ Children born to educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of 5.
■ A 1% increase in the number of women with secondary education can increase annual per capita economic growth by 0.3%.

The EFA’s 2008 global report revealed that gender parity in primary education in Thailand is likely to be achieved by 2015 and in secondary education there are actually more girls than boys enrolled. The EFA’s mid-decade assessment conducted by UNICEF shows that there are fewer girls than boys enrolled in primary education in Thailand. In contrast, there are fewer boys enrolled in secondary education than girls.

In other words, girls in primary education in Thailand may face more disadvantages in accessing education, but are close to parity. In secondary education boys may face more disadvantages than girls in accessing education, but are close to parity as well. However, there is still a lack of research in this area that could determine whether there is systematic gender inequality in terms of accessing education, especially girls from poverty backgrounds.

A study commissioned by PLAN on girls’ education in the north of Thailand shed some light on this situation, but still left many unanswered questions on what happens to girls in the many poverty pockets of the north. The Vietname girl in this month’s feature article who fought to get an education is the exception. Most girls in Southeast Asia, including Thailand , who are born into poverty , by and large, remain in the poverty trap because of a lack of education.

More research needs to be done to measure just how large this problem looms and what effect
the lack of education of girls from poverty backgrounds has on Thai society both in social and economic terms.

Op Ed

Student Centered Learning and Brain Based Learning

Student Centered Learning and Brain Based Learning
By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D., editor in chief

This month’s article talks about using brain- based learning in the class room. Brain- based teaching and learning is simply using what we know about how the brain processes learning and applying those principles to our teaching methods. Not surprisingly, the connection with student centered learning overlaps. In listing some examples of a strategy based on brain research below, I hope to give the teacher/reader a platform to dig deeper into making their classrooms more student centered and more brain-friendly.

Example 1: Limit your daily lesson plan learning objectives. Make each objective short and to the point enough to be “digested” by your students. Large parcels of teaching, especially by lecturing, tax the brain and too much will overtax the brain. The result is the students learn next to nothing. Research shows our  working memory is very limited and so is our mid term, ”holding tank”, capacity controlled by the hippocampus.

Teachers should be making continual formative assessments to guide the improvement in learning content and the ideal time to deliver the learning objective and then make appropriate adjustments. For illustration, the teacher might follow up a short teaching parcel by asking students to write two sentences summing up the main ideas just delivered. A rule of thumb is to keep the lecture, or  “input stage” to 15 minutes or under.  This conforms with research showing that this is usually the limit of a student’s attention span.

Example 2:  Teach with an understanding that each student learns differently and also have particular strengths and weakness in how they learn through their senses. Some have a dominant ability to learn visually, others, aurally, and still other kinesthetically. Hence, teachers should plan to appeal to students at different levels and using a variety of visual and aural and kinesthetic methodologies. The work educators are using is differentiation.

In sum, different strokes for different folks. *For more strategies based on research please see:  To discover the basis of the current emphasis on differentiation in teaching you may want to refer to Gardener, et al and their work at Harvard on the different types of intelligence.