Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

The Situation of Education Budget in Thailand

Download (PDF, 16KB)

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

LEARNING COMMUNITIES: An Answer to Improving Teaching in Rural Areas

Current educational research concludes that the teacher is by far the most important factor in a student’s academic progress.   In Thailand  the  overall student academic performance ( according to PISA and other standardized measures) has fallen  over the past decade.   So, the burning question for Thailand’s educators is how to improve teacher performance.

SCLThailand  continues to hold the position that there must be a paradigm shift in the way Thai teachers approach the art of teaching.  Of special concern is how to stimulate that change in those who are teaching in rural , economically disadvantaged areas.  It is in these areas that academic performance  rural students  on average falls dramatically below their urban counterparts.

How can we reach these rural teachers who are often undertrained and underpaid?  We  hope that the Ministry of Education will take a more forceful lead in encouraging underperforming rural schools to establish what educators now commonly refer to as Learning Communities.  These communities are groups of teachers that meet before or after school to discuss their individual lesson plans with an eye to coordinate subject matter with their colleague’s lesson plans.  The group of teachers concentrate on  what they expect students to learn in all subject areas and explore ways to link their lesson plans together to share a common thread of learning where possible.  Thus , for example , a math teacher will be teaching algebra and the history teacher in her lesson may discuss how algebra was discovered in a particular moment of history and what its significance was in subsequent historic  events.  The language teacher might include some algebraic terms in her vocabulary usage lessons.

The Learning Community would also problem solve  to ensure the success of every student and decide jointly how they can help those students who are struggling.    There would be a sharing of how individuals in their classes different in how they learn and also what personal problems students have that might shed light on ways to help them.

In sum, a given rural school can form, for illustration, Learning Communities for each grade level  centering their discussion on :

1. What they want each student to learn;
2. How they will know when each student has learned it; and
3. How they will respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning.

My experience as a teacher trainer in South Florida indicates that many schools who want to start Learning Communities do better when they have a master teacher/trainer to help start the newly formed group of teachers for the first four weeks.   The master teacher helps the group to address the issues of how the teachers will change their approach to teaching collectively and how they will help each other to focus on student learning and necessary changes in their collectively thought out lesson plans.

It is our conclusion that the Ministry of Education could provide a valuable service by providing master teacher trainers to help newly formed Learning Communities .  After an initial four weeks of helping the Learning Community of a school , it would be desirable if the master teacher would follow up periodically with advice and news of new training opportunities.

Peter J. Foley

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education

A Year ends, another begins……

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

As we come to the end of year 2012 [BE 2555] it is a time of reflection on what has happened in the year that is about to pass into history.

Here at SCLThailand we can look back and see that many contributors have helped us throughout the year, willingly giving their time and their expertise to us and we hand that on to our readers in both Thai and English, our hope is that this web site is helping teachers in Thai schools to prepare their students for the flat interconnected world that they will enter on leaving the Thai education system.

In just two more years the Asia Pacific Economic community will be in place with English language being the language of communication, Thai students will be competing with students from other South East Asian countries for a role in this economic community.

Apart from the ability to speak English there are many other skills that will provide a competitive edge for those who work in companies and organisations that are members of APEC. The capacity to think independently, to work as a member of a team and to have a high level of IT skill will be essential for participating APEC.

Thai teachers have a responsibility to develop these skills and capacities in those they teach. We are trying help with ideas and practical suggestions. This month’s feature article by our regular contributors Dr Don Jordan and Ms Ellen Cornish is a good example of what we are trying to do. Their article on Concept Mapping in a Child Centred Classroom provides practical examples of how this approach assists the development of thinking skills in students.

We trust our readers will enjoy the article.

On behalf of the Board of Management of SCLT, I wish all of our readers a very peaceful Christmas – New Year Season, and we hope that the New Year will bring success to all teachers as they endeavour to develop more student centred approaches in their class rooms.

Best wishes to all

Greg Cairnduff,

December 2012

Greg is Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education

Teaching Students How to Do Business in a Student Centered Learning Environment

By Peter J.Foley, Ed.D.

This month’s feature article describes exceptional places where students learn entrepreneurial skills.

These places and schools in Germany are exceptional. Teaching young people how to survive in business is not taught in schools here in Thailand or in most schools in the world. Strange, isn’t it? A great percentage of those who go to our schools will end up in business or working for a business. Yet, schools give us little or no preparation for what will be our likely livelihoods.

One happy exception was my brother Michael’s experience in a New York public school in the sixth grade back in the 1950’s.  The teacher was a progressive educator named Dr. Candreva. He taught the whole class how to be entrepreneurs and how to raise money for a business venture. He had the class set up a school supply and snack store from scratch. Students were offered stock in the store. With money from the stock sale the students bought school supplies, candy and other sale items. As the store progressed selling more and more goods to the other students in the school, the sixth grade students could sell their stock at whatever the going price might be in terms of the store’s profitability. My brother, Mike, is dyslexic. Up to that time he had little interest in school. Suddenly he could not wait to get to school. He quickly understood that the stock in the store would go up linearly and bought almost all the other students’ stock in the store giving them a modest profit even though the store was only in existence a month when Mike started buying the other students’ stock. At the end of the year Mike was reaping many times over his original investments. Mike went on the make a fortune in the stock market before he reached thirty years old.   He credits Dr. Candreva for lighting the spark that ignited his whole, successful business career.

You might think that other teachers who witnessed this successful teaching of entrepreneurial skills would want to follow Dr. Candreva’s lead. But that is not what happened. Teachers were told that such experiments might be interesting, even successful as was the case of Dr. Candreva sixth grade class, but teachers had to first concentrate on the New York State curriculum. Only then could they do “experiments” such as Dr. Candreva’s school store—and of course such “experiments” could only operate during lunch breaks and after school activities time.

Our feature article, “Learning in the Market”,  provides many other splendid examples of student centered activities that provide opportunities to learn entrepreneurship. In the October 18, 2012 edition of the Nation newspaper, the columnist Suthichai Yoon complained that the I.Q scores for Thai children in 38 provinces were on average below 100, they had not changed from this low ebb for more than a decade. This month’s SCLThailand article complains of dull classrooms in Germany.  How much duller are those classrooms in Thailand! The SCLThailand web site has advocated in the last 18 months for radical changes in the conducting of classes in Thailand throughout public sector education. Away from rote learning and toward student centered education marked by problem solving using activity based learning.

What better way to start real education reform in Thailand than by introducing as part of the curriculum teaching skills in a real business context to our youth?  Such interventions will go a long way to making Thailand more competitive in business and trade well into the 21st century. It will also hone the problem solving skills of Thai youth and in the process their IQ’s and E.Q.’s.

We agree with Suthichai Yoon that the educational future of Thai children being taught in public schools does not look good and that a key to reform is teacher education. Introducing how to teach entrepreneurial skill through activity based learning would be a giant step towards improving educational outcomes for students and the nation.

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education

Questions, questions, questions……

By Greg Cairnduff M Ed BA Dip ED MACE, Deputy Managing Director.

This web site was established to assist Thai teachers in various aspects of teaching and learning, with heart of our mission being the desire to contribute  to the growth of student centred practices in Thai schools. We make no attempt to blame shame or make excuses for the way most Thai teachers work in their schools.

Thai teachers need not think that the improvement focus is on them alone. There is a vast quantity of meta data providing a body of evidence on the importance of the teacher as the key factor in both whole school and individual student performance in achieving high educational outcomes.

I want to let Thai teachers know that in other countries, my own country, Australia, being one, there is strong debate in educational, political and community circles about the performance of schools and education systems being judged against such testing regimes such as the OECD’s PISA and other tests. Many respected educational researchers and commentators see such judgements as being too simplistic, frequently, international league tables of educational performance fail to see what is wrong in the so called “high performing” countries and what is going well in those countries that struggle to get on the table [1]. The article in the Brisbane Times [footnoted here] by Professor Peter Welsh from Sydney University is well worth reading. Professor Welsh warns against placing too much importance on the international league tables.

I want to emphasise to Thai teachers who read our web site they are not alone in their struggle to do better. There are thousands of dedicated teachers around the world trying to improve the way they teach and in so doing, improve the educational outcomes of their students.

In my own professional journey in education, I have been strongly influenced by the work of the great US educator, Theodore Sizer, particularly his book, Horace’s Compromise[2]. First published in 1984, this best-selling educational classic is Sizer’s call to arms for school reform. While much has changed for the better in the classroom, much remains the same, rushed classes, mindless tests, overworked teachers are still prevalent. Sizer’s insistence that we do more than just compromise for our children’s educational futures resonates with reformers just as strongly today as it did two decades ago.  That is how I feel anyway.

For those who do not know, the Horace in the title of the book is a veteran high school teacher [of English] in his mid 50’s. People ask him whether or not he is thinking of retirement – golf, travel, hobbies etc.  But the impressive reply Horace gives to the enquirers is: “I cannot retire yet. I have to learn to be a better teacher” What an inspirational response! That is what teaching and learning improvement is all about – always trying to do better.

One of my favourite Paul Simon songs, Kodachrome, [1974] [3] has the following opening lyrics: “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder
I can think at all”
  Startling ? Simon was quite right, considering the teaching and curriculum of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

But I wonder if Paul Simon had been in high school in 2012, would he have had the “inspiration” to write the same or similar lyrics? I hope the answer would be no, but maybe some students of these times would say “yes” and that poses a problem for education in the 21st century.

I suspect that in Paul Simon’s education there may not have been time for the students to be encouraged to be curious. The set curriculum was the driver of teachers’ work.

A recent book by Paul Tough, How Children Succeed [4], examines child development and the growing body of knowledge which provides new ways and strategies for parents and teachers to develop the potential of those they teach. Tough says of this developing knowledge, “What matters most in a child’s development ……. is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years.  What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self confidence.” His is refreshing new way to look at educational development and strongly supports a move away from and emphasis on testing of knowledge to the development of character in the students. In the list of the non cognitive skills mentioned above, it is the inclusion of the development of curiosity that is truly relevant to our main article for this month which is on questioning.

Isn’t it great when students ask questions? Just the other day a small boy said to me – “Mr Greg where does rain come from?” another said to me “Do you know why balsa wood is so light?”  To have students asking such questions can fill a teacher’s heart with joy. Children are naturally curious and curiosity engages learning.

The simple question, “why is it so?” became the powerful stock phrase of the  American physicist, Professor Julius Sumner Miller who in his own science based TV series, aroused deep curiosity in a generation of people in Australia, USA and Canada,. In Australia his long running TV show “Why is it so?”   was broadcast weekly from 1963 to 1986. Not many popular TV programs enjoy such a long run.

This month’s three part article by Melvin Freestone on the use of questions and questioning provides teachers with an approach far different from the pedagogy which “inspired” the opening lines of Kodachrome.

Melvin has deep expertise in education and wide experience as a teacher, school principal, consultant and author in education. Melvin has worked in Australia, India, Nepal and Thailand on curriculum design aimed at moving teachers to using strategies which focus on teaching for understanding. Melvin’s article will help teachers in using, and teaching students to use different questioning techniques.

 Readers will find Melvin’s article strongly relevant to the student centred classroom.

[2] Sizer, Theodore R, Horace’s Compromise, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1984

[4] Tough, M, How Children Succeed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2012

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education

Teacher Improvement and Professional Review Processes. Which way to go?

By Greg Cairnduff M Ed BA Dip ED MACE, Deputy Managing Director.

Improving teacher quality is an essential element in ensuring successful and productive learning outcomes for all students. Teacher quality and teacher performance are well documented and thoroughly researched as the key elements in achieving high performing schools.

In those countries that score well in the PISA tests for example, teacher quality and teacher development is seen as the critical factor in the achievement of such high performance.

The question arises about the key factors to ensure that teachers are effective. Research demonstrates that choosing the right people to become teachers is one of these factors [McKinsey 2006][1] and other data [Grattan Institute 2102][2] shows that in highest  performing systems in Asia – Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and South Korea, there is a strong link between teachers and their ongoing learning in relationship to their development as effective teachers.

The question which is looked at by Dr Peter Foley in the main article this month is about assessing teacher performance – although Peter is referring to a system of performance assessment in an Asian country, it is evident that as education systems, schools and the teaching profession grapple with the changes that are needed in the electronic era, the profession and systems are looking at better ways to assess teacher performance.

The terminology for assessing teachers varies, terms like “teacher appraisal”, “performance management”, performance review” are among these terms. In my own context as a school Director responsible for 75 staff, we use the term “professional review” and the process used is a triangulated, collaborative process.

It seems to me that regardless of the process or the terminology, there are certain important starting points. The first of these is that there should always be a set of professional standards for teachers against which effectiveness can be judged, secondly, schools and professional bodies need to have a view of what qualities and competencies are required for teachers to be considered an effective teacher.

I am aware that in Australia the endeavour to enhance teacher performance and teacher development, one survey [OECD] indicated that 63% of Australian teachers reported that feedback on their work was mostly done to fulfill administrative requirements.

I wonder what such a survey would indicate if it was conducted with Thai teachers? Would a survey show that there is and professional feed back at all? Would it indicate that feedback that is given is of a high quality and that it enhances performance?

Whatever system of teacher professional review is used it ought to be a worthwhile process which is well regarded by teachers and is part of a performance and development culture that has a clear focus on improving teaching and learning as this is what improves student learning outcomes.

Such a system has some fundamental requirements for teachers.

    • They must know what is expected of them
    • They must receive useful and frequent feedback on their teaching
    • They must have access to support that helps them improve their practice

This may be all very well for Australia, but is it possible to achieve a culture of performance and development in Thai schools?

I will leave our Thai readers to comment and debate this question, I believe that having such a culture widespread throughout Thai education is essential to systemic and therefore, national educational improvement.

[1] McKinsey and Company How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better 2012

Op Ed Opinion:Thai education Opinion:World Education

Moving from assessment of information to assessment of learning

Since our last op ed article, here in Thailand government schools have begun first semester of the new school year.

Just prior to start of the school year, in Bangkok one famous government school was in the news because Year 9 students and their parents were on a hunger   strike outside the school. This was because the students were not being allowed to continue into the senior years [10,11 and 12], as they had failed the entry test to these senior years of the school, and students from other schools who had successfully passed the test, had taken their places. This action made headlines in the Bangkok news. A resolution was eventually found, although I am not sure if all parties were satisfied. At about the same time, I read in an Australian education journal of  dissatisfaction expressed by academics and teachers with the national literacy and numeracy tests [Education Review, May 2012]. The critics claim that the testing regime and the expectations of government is causing teachers to teach to the test and therefore, the tests are determining what is being taught, rather than things being the other way around.

  We also hear regularly about the performance of different nations in aggregated international assessments such as the PISA [Performance Indicators of Student Achievement] or the TIMMS [Trends in International Mathematics and Science] assessments.

These two separate pieces of information from two very different education systems and some recently published data based on PISA and TIMMS results [ Grattan Institute: Catching Up, Learning From the Best Systems in East Asia, February, 2012]  set me to thinking about testing and assessment of students.

The purposes of schooling changed in the late 20th Century, and in these first decades of the 21st Century. Much has been written about this, but one theme that always comes through, is that in the Information Age, schools, school systems, and those who work in them – teachers and the policy makers must do all they can to move assessment systems from being used to “sort and select” students to a system which develops students into thinkers and life – long learners.

One transition that must occur in schools [and is occurring in the most progressive schools], is that the nature of learning has move from the students being regarded as passive receivers of information who must remember and respond to this information in tests of rote learning where the right answers must be given. The move must be to a system, which views students in a different way, to a view of students being active learners, problem solvers and thinkers, using their knowledge and being independent learners.

Such a transition changes the general principles of the way student learning is assessed.

The system of assessment should contribute to their learning. It needs to involve certain basic principles such as  the provision of different opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know and can do in relation to a particular theme or unit of work. There should have an element of peer and self assessment; there ought to be negotiation of how they will demonstrate their learning; they should know exactly what it is they are being assessed on, and there ought to be more than one opportunity for students to meet the requirements of their assessment.

Assessment with these elements will contribute to learning much more than assessment of ability to recall facts.

Ellen Cornish and Don Jordan have contributed and article on assessment to SCLT. The examples they provide respond to these elements and they also show that assessment is more than training students to remember information.

What do our readers think?

Greg Cairnduff

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