Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

HELP! Teaching Reading to Thai Primary School Children

In teaching reading in any language, common sense goes a long way. Thais appear to have been blessed with more than their share of this essential society builder and aid to educating its citizens. It is not an accident that Thailand has an impressive literacy rate.

Nevertheless, what Thai education policy makers want is even more success in bringing a majority of its student population to a high Thai language reading comprehension rate by the end of primary school. Many Thai educators feel an urgent need to get a greater proportion of Thais highly educated  in order to compete  in the global market.

A key to providing a great leap forward in reading ability is the teaching of Thai language reading based on scientifically based research.    As stated at the outset, common sense goes a long way and some Thai teachers are already following the prescriptions based on  research  about teaching children to read with understanding.

These Thai teachers, consequently, are teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Their instruction is systematic and explicit. These teachers start out with the simplest sounds represented by letters (phonemes) and move gradually to the more difficult. Therefore, letters easily pronounced are necessarily taught first. Thai teachers who teach this way tell students exactly what they hope to accomplish with them during a given lesson. And these teachers model the lesson.

For illustration, this means, that in teaching first graders phonemic awareness, the teacher pronounces lettered sounds while showing students how she positions her mouth and tongue to show how she produces the sounds. Then she prompts groups of students to mimic her sounds.

Effective Thai reading teachers move into the area of phonics when the class has achieved a good foundation in distinguishing sounds within spoken words (phonemes) and can blend phonemes into words. The teacher is explicit in illustrating the relationship between phonemes and letters that represent those sounds so students can use those relationships when they are trying to recognize unfamiliar words.

Phonics is often misunderstood. It is not an end in itself but an important part of a total reading instruction programs. Phonics helps young readers understand the relationship between the Thai alphabet (graphemes—letters and letter combinations) and phonemes (individual speech sounds).

The editors of SCLThailand are aware that there are Thai experts not only on phonics but also in the continuation of reading instruction to fluency (rapid word recognition) and to comprehension. This editorial comment opportunity is being used to ask a Thai reading expert to come forward and continue this dialogue on the teaching of reading in the Thai language and the place of current scientific reading research in the context of Thai primary education. Please help!

By  Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education

Student – centred learning…..what matters most in achieving the goal of student centred learning?

I am always attracted to schools as I travel around, whether in Thailand or in other countries. Why? I guess it is because I wonder what the experience of education is like for the children in the schools.

Travelling in three rural provinces of Southern Thailand recently, I admired the spectacular scenery of the off shore islands and rich tropical forests with limestone peaks jumping out of them. As I passed through larger towns and I noted the high schools, which always seemed to be near the main road and passing between small villages I saw local primary schools, all quiet and , bare of students at this time of the year, because April is the main part of Thai schools’ summer holiday.

Can a passing glance from a car tell one much about what it is like to be a student in any school? Of course it cannot. As I observed these schools, I soon came to realise that they all looked much the same – the large high schools had similar architecture and the design of the smaller schools were all much the same. There were differences in the way the playgrounds were kept and if paint work is used as the standard of judgment, the quality of the maintenance of the buildings. Such observations of schools would also be true in other countries.

The only way to gain an insight into the learning experience of the students who attend a school, is to actually spend some time in the school, in classrooms with teachers and students. External looks can be deceiving – a school which looks a bit run down or looks the same in design as hundreds of other schools, does not really tell one much about the experience of learning that is occurring in the school.

In this month’s edition of SCLThailand our Managing Editor has submitted an article called “The caring classroom” it is about a school in Pakistan. The photographs in that story as well as the commentary, tell us that although the school and the students are very poor, the learning experience in the school is child centred and appears to be a rich experience.

What I am getting at here is related to the theme we have taken up in previous Op Ed commentary. That is the inescapable fact that student – centred learning is strongly dependent on the pedagogical skills of the teachers.

That is not to say that the physical and educational resources of a school are not important, they are important, but the style and quality of the teaching is by far much more important.

This photograph, sent from Pakistan by our Managing Editor, Dr Peter Foley, shows the active involvement of the teacher and the engagement of the students in a school which is not much more than a tent. Please make sure you read the article on the “Caring School”.

Around the world, there are architectural companies that specialize in school design. These companies design some wonderfully innovative schools. Often their work is for wealthier governments and private school owners and developers.

One such architectural company based in Florida, USA which has designed schools around the world in both the economically advanced world and the less economically advanced world, has published a book about their work [The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools by Nair, P., and  Fielding, R., published by]. The wonderful thing about this book is the first chapter looks at different modes of learning and this says much about the architects’ thinking.

A good example of their conceptual thinking is that in most schools designed by this company, they include what they call the “camp fire space”.

This is the interesting concept of providing a space in the school which is not unlike a campfire. The architects are not suggesting an actual campfire, but a space where teacher and students can gather and do what usually happens around a campfire. They can [metaphorically] gaze at the stars and dream of the way problems can be resolved or the teacher can use the space to provoke student discussion about big and generative questions. The campfire space becomes a  place where curiosity can be encouraged and dreams can be formed.

I don’t think it would be hard to form such “campfire” sites in schools that have not been recently designed. The hard thing is to inspire teachers to use this method of teaching.

Just going back to my comments about traditional looking schools, student centred education is not about architecture or the level of technology, it is about the attitudes and approaches of the teachers and those who lead and support them.  

What do our readers think?

Greg Cairnduff,

Deputy Managing Editor.

Featured Articles Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education

The Heart of the Matter…..

This commentary is titled “The Heart of the Matter”, this is the name of a famous song made popular by Don Henley, of the Eagles. As so often happens, the melodies of music and the lyrics of songs truly speak to us. What I will focus here, is matter about education, but what I am about to say also brings to my mind the title of that beautiful love song sung so well by Don Henley and many others. Although the song’s theme is different from our mission and this article, its title is truly relevant to the cause of this web site.

The SCLThailand website is dedicated to assisting Thai school administrators and classroom teachers to move more swiftly than has been possibly so far, towards the realization of the goal of student centred learning being the norm in Thai government schools. This goal was established in the Thai National Education Act, 1999 (Buddhist Era, 2542). Interestingly, the Act did not set a date for the massive paradigm shift that it seeks to happen.

Would it have been better to set a date for national implementation of that important goal? That is a question with many pros and cons.

Let us get back to “The Heart of the Matter”. It is now March 2012 [BE 2555], 13 years have passed since the promulgation of the Act. I wrote in a previous article [January 2012] about the need for education reformers to recognise that change is a slow process, this is certainly being borne out by the slow pace of change in implementing the move to student centred learning in Thailand.

Perhaps a symptom or sign of the lack of progress is the entrenched nature of the examination system in Thai schools. Each year, in mid March, students are very busy studying for end of year exams. On the face of it, this seems quite reasonable, but a few questions come up. Exactly which students are preparing for exams?  Answer: From primary school students as young as 6 years old in Primary 1 [Prathom 1] up to Year 12 in secondary [Matayom 6].

This leads to further questions.  How do young students in Year 1 prepare themselves for these examinations?  What is the general content of the examinations? Another significant question to ask is – why is it that children as young as this are subjected to examinations at all?  Another important question is – what hangs on the outcomes of the examinations?

I ask these questions in the hope that they will provoke some discussion on this website. The emphasis on examinations runs counter to the way students’ progress would be assessed in a pedagogical system where the student is at the centre of the teaching and learning.

In a student centered system there would be little emphasis on examinations – this may even be true for Thai schools today – the exam is not so important, although I suspect that is not the case.

But what about “The Heart of the Matter”?  

Let me come to it quite pointedly, “The Heart of the Matter” in educational terms is this: at the very core of the classroom, the school, the education system, and the nation’s  standing in international educational performance rankings, it is the teacher who matters most in students’ learning achievement. There is plenty of research evidence about this.  However, this is not the place to quote much of the research evidence. Perhaps the best evidence of the key role of the teacher is to look at the highest performing education systems in Asia and examine the factors which make them such high performing systems.

Four of the world’s highest performing education systems are from Asia. These are Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai, and Singapore. The OECD’S Performance Indicators of Student Achievement [PISA] assessments in 2009 showed for example, that in Mathematics, 15 year old students from Shanghai performed two or three years above the level of students of the same age in Australia, the USA.

What is it about these four education systems that puts them well above other Asian systems and puts them in the class of world top performers?

The Grattan Institute from Melbourne University in Australia examined the four systems in an endeavour to get an answer to this question. The results of their investigation were published in an important report – Catching Up: Learning from the best school systems in East Asia []

What the Institute found:

There is growing global agreement on what works in schools

A body of international research has identified the common characteristics of high-performing education systems.


• Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. They attend to best practice internationally, give close attention to measuring success, and understand the state and needs of their system.

• Value teachers and understand their profession to be complex. They attract high quality candidates, turn them into effective instructors and build a career structure that rewards good teaching.

• Focus on learning and on building teacher capacity to provide it. Teachers are educated to diagnose the style and progress of a child’s learning. Mentoring, classroom observation and constructive feedback creates more professional, collaborative teachers.

The four high performing East Asian systems are implementing what works. They have introduced one or several of the following reforms.

In particular they:

• Provide high quality initial teacher education. In Singapore, students are paid civil servants during their initial teacher education. In Korea, government evaluations have bite and can close down ineffective teacher education courses.

• Provide mentoring that continually improves learning and teaching. In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors, and new teachers have several mentors who observe and give feedback on their classes.

• View teachers as researchers. In Shanghai teachers belong to research groups that continuously develop and evaluate innovative teaching. They cannot rise to advanced teacher status without having a published paper peer reviewed.

• Use classroom observation. Teachers regularly observe each other’s classes, providing instant feedback to improve each student’s learning.

• Promote effective teachers and give them more responsibility for learning and teaching. Master Teachers are responsible for improving teaching throughout the system.

A few of the keys they took: In Hong Kong the emphasis on examinations was abandoned, in Singapore teacher education courses were re developed so they place a much greater emphasis on practical classroom management and pedagogical methodology accompanied by a reduction in the philosophical and reflective elements of the courses. In Singapore, pre service teachers are paid as government employees. In Shanghai teacher’s class contact hours were reduced so they would have more time to work with mentor teachers.

But the key thing is that in each of these systems government education policy is always linked closely with teachers’ working conditions, professional learning and career pathways.

In future months we will explore these systems more deeply.

I wonder how many of the reforms evident in Singapore Hong Kong Korea and Shanghai, have been considered in Thailand?

Whichever way educational reform is looked at, researched and examined, at the heart of educational improvement, are the teachers. In his book,  Why Not the Best Schools? [ACER Press, Camberwell, Australia, 2008] Brian Caldwell devotes a chapter to demonstrate that the quality of schools will never exceed the quality of the staff.

It is in this area, that Thailand needs to make some giant leaps so that its teachers will be trained and supported in such a way that will help the country achieve the goals of the National Education Act of 1999.  The Thai system can be as good the four Asian high flyers mentioned here, but my guess is that it needs to look closely at what those systems have done to move educational reform so quickly.  Similar things could be done in Thailand.

Greg Cairnduff

Acting Editor

Featured Articles Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education


The pace of change in the world today is a feature of daily life in the 21st Century.

Educators who were in schools 30 years ago will remember the anticipated arrival of computers into daily life. Probably not many people fully realised the full impact of the rapid development of Information and Communications Technology daily life, but the coming of computers was something that was looked forward to as people felt there would been many social and economic advantages that would come with the widespread introduction of the new technology. There was talk of how computers would take over so much work that people would have much more leisure. Some education systems introduced “leisure education” into the curriculum!

I guess a question remains on whether or not the introduction of computers as an essential business and household tool has brought increased leisure. Many would doubt that it has.

But one thing was true about the 70s anticipation of the coming Information Age. In the 21st century digital technology permeates many aspects of daily life. It would be easy to list the many changes in personal and work lives that have come about as a result of pervasive ICTs, but those things are so obvious it is not necessary to mention them here.

One very important thing that is vital for educators to grasp is the rapid pace of change in work life and the exponential explosion in knowledge that has come about in the years between the final decades of last century and today.

Children born since the start of the 21st century are “digital natives” they are growing up in a truly digital, flat world.

What about the teachers of those children?

Not too many of them would be true “digital natives” most would be “digital immigrants”, they would have had to learn to live and work in the new digital age. The use of the tools of that age does not come easily to all people, teachers included. It must be admitted, however, that just as some people have a flair for learning languages other than their own native language, so too do some people have a flair for learning the digital “language” so essential to mastering the digital tools available to teachers.

Just imagine this scenario – a teacher in a high school who cannot use email, who cannot browse the internet, who cannot use tools like Skype, who does not know anything about Facebook. How can that teacher understand the real needs of the students he (or she) teachers. How can such teachers understand the world of their students and in fact how can they know their students in a way that will enable the teacher to teach the students as individuals?

Such teachers are a bit like teachers who are asked to teach a foreign language to students when they, the teachers in fact cannot speak that language themselves. They are being put in an impossible situation by the curriculum planners and administrators who introduce such initiatives without the requisite professional development of the teachers faced with implementation of the new language.

Do you know any teachers like this? Do you work with teachers like this? What are their lessons like? What is their relationship with their students like?

In Thailand I am sure many such teachers would be found in schools.

Teachers who have not adapted to the Information Age should not be condemned or looked down upon. They deserve and need as much help as possible from colleagues and their employers so that they have the confidence to use ICTs to improve their pedagogy.

Unlike the example of the jurisdictional introduction of a new curriculum above, the students who are the digital natives of the 21st century deserve to have teaching methods and a curriculum that is suited to their digital world and times. This need is not being imposed by administrators or governments as in the case of the imposition of foreign language learning as in the example above, it comes from an inevitable international spread of digital technology. So governments have to get their educations systems to respond to this as an imperative for their education systems.

In the case of Thailand, the government is about to start the distribution of computer tablets to students in Matayom 7 [year 1, high school]. The government should be applauded for taking a big step in providing Thai students with an important digital tool.

The advantage to be gained from this bold and brave initiative will not be maximized unless there is a program to train and support teachers in the use of these tablets. If there is adequate support this program could provide a dramatic swing towards student centred learning in Thai schools

SCLThailand will continue to monitor and encourage the government to follow through with it’s tablets for school children program.

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

Society in Transition …. Education in Transition

Society in Transition …. Education in Transition

Internationally, each change in social and economic structure, brings  a new way of seeing the world and a new physical shape for the community. One of these great social transitions in history was the move from societies being based on agriculture to economies became based on industry.

Around the world in the 21st Century, countries are in a major transition similar to these great transitions of the past.

It is evident that globalization has brought a new configuration to give people access to the means of knowledge production, land use and living space to satisfy their needs.

In the case of Thailand, the economy is strongly agriculture based, and the agricultural society was traditionally  self contained. A change has happened over the last thirty years.  This change from a self contained agricultural system, industrialization and the accompanying urbanization of Thailand with its population shift to big cities, has created a   strain on the traditional social structure.

In 2005, the US Pulitzer Prize winning business writer Thomas L Friedman, wrote a book called The World is Flat in which he examined the shrinking size of the earth and the interconnectedness of people all around the world that has come as a result of the rapid spread of information and communications technology [ICT].

It is now possible for people to work together and compete in real time with more other people on the planet and on a more equal footing than at any previous time in history.

People can meet and collaborate by using computers, email, teleconferences, video conferences and may types of dynamic new software. For example , Thai students studying overseas are able to read the Bangkok daily newspapers on line, talk with family and friends on line and network socially in real time as though they were at home in Thailand.

Google, Apple, Micro Soft, the GPS, the mobile phone, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, various programs and ICT facilities have “flattened” the Earth.

The world of the 21st Century Knowledge Age requires a new mix of skills. Jobs that require routine manual and thinking skills are giving way to jobs that involve higher levels of understanding of complex knowledge, and applied skills like expert thinking.

It is a worthwhile professional learning exercise for teachers to reflect on the way their society has changed, as well as the way the world has changed and look at the impact of such changes on their work as teachers.

In the West, schools have changed in different periods of history:

  • The village school was the product of the agricultural era
  • The large suburban school was the product of the industrial revolution
  • Borderless, internationalized, networked schooling, interactive campuses are more likely to be the norm in the future.
  • Life- long learning is recognised as an essential feature of the information age.

For Thai schools and Thai teachers, it is useful to examine and where they fit helping their country fit with the trends in 21st Century education.

How have schools changed in the different periods of Thai history?

How must they change in the future?

SCLThailand is trying to assist teachers in this mission while at the same time respecting Thai cultural contexts and traditions.

The January paper presented here is the first of three which look at the need to develop deep understanding in students.

The first paper in the series emphasizes the fact that reform is a slow process and reform must be embedded in the particular national context of where it is occurring.

We look forward to readers’ discussion on the educational challenges posed by the flat world and welcome contributions.

Greg Cairnduff

Acting Editor

Featured Articles Op Ed

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Getting Down to Brass Tacks:

Making Student -Centered Learning Work in Thailand

Starting at the Teachers Colleges

There seems to be a common consensus among educators that teachers colleges throughout Thailand need to be doing more in order to prepare future teachers to meet the challenge of fulfilling the mandates of the Education Act of 1999.  The purpose of these remarks is to spark debate on what exactly teachers college are now doing and what more they need to do to prepare pre-service Thai teachers.

My hypothesis is that a major reason for the delay in the actualization of the goals of the Education Act of 1999 is a lack of rigor in the curriculum and instruction at many of Thailand’s teachers colleges. This reason coupled with the lack of incentives to attract the best Thai students to become teachers are the main obstacles blocking Thailand’s path to excellence in public education.

I wonder how much we know about the effectiveness of our teachers colleges in Thailand.

What research has been done in Thailand on the effectiveness of teachers colleges?  What are the teaching methods used by professors at teachers colleges?  Since the Education Act of 1999 was put into effect, what demonstrable progress has been made at teachers colleges to meet the challenges of training teachers in the digital age?

Since student centered learning is at the heart of the Education Act , we also need to answer the question of what part student-centered learning plays in today’s teachers colleges curriculum.   Before we begin to talk about lapses in today’s curriculum, let me make clear two preliminary points:

1.  student- centered learning does not mean teachers exclude from their teaching methods direct teaching to the whole class.  There is an appropriate time for the teacher to explain a principal or concept or group of facts and this time is after students have wrestled with a concept ,and

2. Student- centered learning should use cognitive science research results in order to take full advantage of providing students with optimal learning environments.

Let’s look first at all the ways that teachers have at their disposal to teach a class.

How People Learn

FIGURE 1.1 With knowledge of how people learn, teachers can choose more purposefully among techniques to accomplish specific goals. From How People Learn(National Science Foundation)

As I suggested previously, direct teaching, that is “teaching by telling” does have a place in student -centered teaching.   Many educators do not understand that lectured based teaching does have an important place in student centered learning; the key is knowing when, how long an explanation is necessary and in what order “teaching by telling” is most effective.

In sum, the mastery of teaching is knowing the proper order in which to use the methods in the chart above based on the particular subject matter. Different subjects require different approaches to learning as well. For example , in teaching science the teacher is likely to choose more often from the inquiry based choices above in planning lessons.

I am most concerned that teachers colleges in Thailand may not be adequately teaching future teachers how to use cognitive science research findings in how people learn in the design of their lessons.  I will just mention three core learning principles based on solid research as illustrative, principles explained fully in How People Learn ( National Science Foundation 2000).**

Let’s take what we know about long term memory. Students have preconceived notions about a subject for study.  Effective teaching starts with students’ preconceptions and confirms them, rejects them and modifies or replaces these preconceptions.

Second, learning is enhanced when students form concepts that are personally meaningful, that is putting the organization of learning into a framework or schema.

Thirdly, learning is optimized when students are taught to use “metacognitive” strategies.  These strategies include: sense making, self assessment and reflection on what worked or needs improvement.

Applying these and other research findings to the classroom is essential so that the teacher has an understanding of the learner, including his cultural differences and preconceived ideas of the subject matter; pays attention to “what is taught, why it is taught and what mastery of the subject look like”;and makes formative assessments, on-going assessments designed to make students’ thinking “visible to both teachers and students.”  ( How Students Learn, p.24)

Of course , the first step should be to make teachers competent and expert in their chosen field.*** At the same time , the professors at the teachers colleges should be modeling teaching for understanding , that is , demonstrating constantly what a student-centered classroom looks like. One design that might be considered at teachers colleges is to spend the first two years acquiring an expert knowledge of their chosen field and the final two years learning how to apply that knowledge and understanding to teaching.  The keys to success would be producing lesson plans of excellence using research on how people learn and applying the research in effective ways in practice teaching.

These core learning principles and what needs to be done to apply them,  scratch the surface of what teachers need to know; nevertheless, it may serve to start a dialogue of what really needs to be done at teachers college to bring a high level of learning for understanding to schools across the Kingdom of Thailand.

** we strongly recommend reading How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and Schools (2000) which can be downloaded free at:

***  To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.


Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

Chiangmai Demonstration School



Visit to the Chiangmai Demonstration School

By  Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.


Smack dab in the middle of ChiangmaiUniversity is a pot of gold in terms of talented teenagers.  These teenagers  study at the Chiangmai Demonstration School only a stone throw away from the Chiangmai University Faculty of Education.  The school has 1,356 students , 80 teachers and 30 teacher assistants.  Every year approximately 3,500 students take the entrance exam to be admitted to the  Chiangmai Demonstration   School  ;only 240 are admitted.   Those who attend this highly selective school , therefore, are the crème de la crème of  the Northern Thai youth gifted brain pool.

It is little wonder that every year 100% or nearly 100% of these students go on to university.  In addition, about a handful of their especially gifted students  get scholarships to study overseas.  Most of the graduating students take a few steps from their old high school and attend Chiangmai University, the premier Thai university in the North of Thailand.

I visited the Chiangmai Demonstration School on November 4th , a day full of sunshine and pleasant temperatures for which Chiangmai is noted in this beginning of the cool season.  Ajaan Jum graciously showed me around the school.  The school Director , Ajaan Patajan, kindly arranged for me to observe an English class of Matayom 2 ( 8th grade in the American system).   A student teacher taught the class.  This was the first time I had observed a student teacher inThailand.  A stroke of luck  since I got a first hand look at what currently was being taught to student teachers at Chiangmai University’s faculty of education and also by  the regular teachers at the Chiangmai Demonstration School who advise the student teachers.

Twenty-two  year old student teacher , Ms. Phachara, taught the class of 44 students. It was immediately apparent that she had what I call fire in the belly, meaning that she loved teaching and really wanted to be a teacher.  I asked her if you thought about a different career besides teaching.  “Oh no,  I want to teach, that is what I really want to do.” she replied without a moment’s  hesitation.  Ajaan Bambi is her supervising teacher.  It was obvious from the outset that there are  good teacher training practices being taught to future teachers.  There are also some disturbing continuations of traditional Thai rote teaching of language where students recite after the teacher  in unison, sentence after sentence , word after word with little concern for real understanding.

                                                                                                                      Ms. Phachara, Student Teacher

Ms. Phachara, had planned her lesson well.  She had organized a lesson in the conditional tense in four sections.  In each section, she used what Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy refers to as learning domains.  Ms. Phachara designed her lesson around a popular song by Beyonce.  The song has a number of conditional sentences, such as, “if I were a boy”.

Once Ms. Phachara has gone over the meaning of the words in the song and isolated the conditional sentences for the students, she conducted a series of activities that involved analyzing , applying , understanding and remembering.  The students were for the most part engaged and having fun learning.

What I found impressive was that about half way through the 50 minute period , Ms. Phachara divided up the class into four working groups. She gave each group sentences to each group to analyze and then apply by creating their own answers to questions raised in the song.

Once she handed out the sentences to the four groups, all the students suddenly broke out in animated discussions about the sentences they had been given.  The noise level grew in the room ,yet the student teacher was unperturbed.  Most student teachers in my experience would have been reluctant to let the class noise level increase to such a pitch, failing to note that this period of collaborative learning and application is when real learning , real understanding of the lesson is solidified.

Toward the end of the class period, she had groups of students writing on the black board and explaining their answers to the rest of the class.  This class was not what observers dread the most:  a class where the teacher lectures sleeping teen agers with no interaction with the students.

In sum, it was an impressive teacher performance given that this was a student teacher.  The only drawback that I observed was a technique  the student teacher used a couple of times and is still used in Thai schools of the teacher reciting  word or sentence and then the class repeating in unison in dull and listless monotony. This is a throw back to a bygone era where the object of school was rote memorization with little regard for understanding.

Teachers come from all over Thailand come to observe good teaching practices   at the Chiangmai Demonstration School.   An area that perhaps can be explored is an assessment of how these teacher observations are structured and what is actually carried back by the observing teachers and used in their schools in their teaching.



Op Ed

Give Thai Teachers a Break


by Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

Give Thai teachers good teacher training; a decent salary; and good working conditions. Above all give teachers credit and rewards for the work they are doing day in and day out with their students .  Do this and Thailand will soar to the top of academic standing in Asia and the world instead of stagnating as evidenced from poor comparative scores of Thai students in math , science and English on the PISA exams.

Finland leads the world in academic standing.  Singapore is a leader in Asia.  They both attract students to become teachers who graduate in the upper third of their college graduating classes.  They meet all the criteria above.   Thailand has the money to do this too.  Thailand actually spends more of its GDP on education than Singapore does.  It is how the money is spent that is the touchstone.

Here is how the some of the money should be spent:

  1. Give the teachers the minimum salaries proposed of 15,000  baht.  Most teachers now are making only 8,000 baht , an unattractive salary for a college graduate;
  2. Identify the most outstanding teachers in each province and send them to other schools on weekends for special  in service teacher training sessions in low performing schools, especially those in the rural areas;
  3. Run a nation-wide competition for the  most outstanding teachers from each province and then pick one teacher for the elementary school  and one teacher for the secondary as the most outstanding public school  teachers in Thailand for that year. Make those two teachers that year’s ambassadors for education in Thailand ;
  4. Revamp the Ministry of Education web site so it becomes a central resource for teachers, both as a source of teacher training and new teaching opportunities.  The web site should be filled with project based and inquiry based lesson plans for each grade level and corresponds to the national curriculum. It also should house a video library of the best teachers shown in their classrooms using best practices;
  5. Identify the poorest performing schools and arrange for dynamic educational administrators to assist the school administrator  to turn the school around.
  6. Begin a Teach for Thailand program similar to that which was organized in America in order to attract the best and the brightest college graduates.  Offer these brightest of graduates a forgiveness of student loans for a three year teaching commitment in the rural school setting.

To get an idea of the kind of material that the M.O.E.  might post on its web site I would like our readers to refer to the blog of one of Asia’s finest teacher trainers from Singapore, Professor Yeap Ban Har.   Ban Har also serves on the SCLT board of editors.   I observed Professor Yeap in Singapore  giving a teacher training class. Professor Yeap personified inspiring,  elegant teaching. Please see:

Thai teachers are responsible for educating the next generation of Thais.  Too often , far too often, we all forget just how important these educators are.  The short film , “Teddy’s Story”  is a poignant reminder of just how important teacher can and should be.  Please see: “Teddy’s Story”.

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

Was the letter to the Nation Newspaper too Critical?

The original editorial in The Nation is included just below Dr. Foley’s letter to the editor.

The following letter was  submitted to letters to the editor of The Nation newspaper. The letter  was not published. 

Is it possible the Nation’s editors like criticism flowing only one way? 


To the editors:

Re:  “School System Lets our Young Talent Die on the Vine.” Nation editorial Sunday, October 9

Reading your editorial in the Nation , the reader  is compelled to ask: does the writer really care about Thai school children dying on the vine?   There is no mention of the huge disparity in wealth and educational resources between Bangkok  and the rest of the nation.   There is no mention that Thai students in the private and demonstration schools of Bangkok are not dying on the vine.  There is no mention of positive steps that can be taken in order to make a more level playing field in terms of education and opportunity in Thailand.

Instead, the editorial states that the quality of teachers and other problems have “their roots in politics.”   At this point the editorial itself turns into a political diatribe, slyly mentioning that since Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 there has been a crippling discontinuity in education policy.  Nowhere is there mention of the coup , mention of the Abhisit administration, or mention of the 1997 economic disaster that occurred during the Democratic Party watch.  Education Minister Woravat Auapinyaul is damned with faint praise and we are told he may lose his job.

It appears disingenuous ,too, to write that the failure to spot and develop good talent in education is a puzzle.Thailand is harnessed with a rigid hierarchical system where seniority rules the roost.  The Ministry of Education is no exception, nor are the local public schools.  Therefore, youthful talent is often suppressed by superiors, not nurtured .   This is a cultural obstruction, not a political one.

The last straw for me was the mention of the tablet PC as a political gimmick.  The tired old argument that the “educational mechanisms” aren’t ready for them is raised. Again , the editorial misses the real point.   The children are ready for the tablet PC.  This is the digital age.  Thai children are ready. Thai youth are ready.   Give them a chance.  Please!

Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.




Op Ed Uncategorized

So,Why Not Give Tablet PC to All Thai Students

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.