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 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.

articles Opinion:World Education

High Performing Schools: What’s the secret?

All around the world, countries are trying to get better performance from schools and school systems.

Thailand is no exception to this effort.

We know that some systems perform better than others, and we know that the best schools and systems have a set of common things they do. There is no secret about the factors that lead to school and systemic excellence. It is a reasonable question to ask that in any table or list of high performing schools or systems, what are the standards used to judge the schools?

There are several ways of making these judgments. Most countries conduct nationally benchmarked testing systems – mostly in the areas of literacy and numeracy.  In Thailand, for example there are the O-net tests which provide an indication of the academic performance of schools on a nationally comparable basis.

Internationally, there are benchmarks provided by such organisations as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD]. The OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) enables comparisons to be made between systems, and between counties.

The PISA assessments examine such questions as:

    • Are students well prepared for future challenges?
    • Can they analyse, reason and communicate effectively?
    • Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?

The PISA data provides answers to these questions, through its surveys of 15-year-olds in the principal industrialized countries. Every three years, it assesses to what extent students near the end of compulsory education, have acquired in knowledge and skills essential for participation in society. The questions are related to literacy, numeracy and science and more recently, digital literacy.

Neither source of data about systems’ performance comes from research organisations such as social research company McKinsey and the Grattan Institute at Melbourne University, Australia.

Research [2006 – 2010] into high performing  school systems  by McKinsey and Company  , looked at 25 school systems around the world, their findings being published  in the report – How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top [March 2008]

It is possible to obtain information about what it is that enables some schools to be rated as high performing, and through aggregation, what it is that makes some systems perform better than others.

Schools and systems seeking improvement can look to this evidence and use it to apply it to how they operate and they can also use the evidence to lobby for better support.

While there is a number of factors that lead to high performance, such as class size, demographics, budgets and so on, however research shows there is one factor that stands out above others. That factor is the quality of the teachers in schools.

There are three things which matter the most about getting high quality teachers into schools:

    • Getting the right people to become teachers
    • Developing new teachers into effective instructors
    • Ensuring the system is able to develop the best possible instruction for every child.

The McKinsey report found that in the 25 systems it examined, these three factors succeed in improving educational performance wherever they are applied.

Other studies provide strong evidence which support this.

In 2011 The Grattan Institute report Learning from the Best [] examined the four highest performing Asian systems – Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Specifically the researchers wanted to know: Why are these systems moving rapidly ahead of others?

Popular stereotypes about Asian education are strong in some countries. But this evidence challenges these stereotypes. In these four systems, high performance comes from effective education strategies that focus on implementing well-designed programs that continuously improve learning and teaching.

In just five years, Hong Kong moved from 17th to 2nd in PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) the international assessment of Grade 4 students’ reading literacy. In these four Asian systems, education reforms created rapid changes in reading literacy.

Success cannot be explained by what is often seen as an emphasis on rote learning in Asian systems. Students who rely on rote learning come to grief in PISA assessments, because PISA assesses meta-cognitive content knowledge and problem solving abilities. These skills are not conducive to rote learning. Rote learning in preparation for PISA assessment would lead to lower scores. Moreover, international research shows that classroom lessons in Hong Kong, for example, require greater deductive reasoning, with more new and advanced content.

Thai education policy makers would do well to look at the four high performing systems studied in the Grattan Report.  Anyone looking at the systems will soon see that have introduced one or several of the following reforms, they:

• Provide high quality initial teacher education. In Singapore, students are paid civil servants during their initial teacher education. 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 continually develop and evaluate innovative teaching. Teachers cannot rise to advanced teacher status without having a published paper peer reviewed

The challenge for Thailand is to look at these Asian systems and then ascertain what they can easily and quickly implement in the Thai context that is similar to the steps taken in Singapore Korea Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Thailand can do this.

Greg Cairnduff

Acting 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

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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:World Education

Education of the Future:Word of Caution

Discovery Learning and Individualized Teaching: The Vision of Schools for Life

by Jurgen Zimmer, Ph.D.

Some schools can be heard from far off: the teacher loudly speaks phrases, the whole class answers as one. Old-fashioned schools of this kind are to a large degree products of the colonial era, their classroom teaching methods still reflecting the spirit of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Teachers concentrate on covering each small portion of the fixed curriculum, and try not only to tame the horde of young lions in the class, but also bring them all to do the same thing at the same time. The style of mechanical learning employed is the most unsuitable conceivable for making sense of interrelationships, retaining what one has learned (even after the next exam), and applying knowledge gained. This is where a disastrous vicious circle of dequalification must be broken: insufficiently trained teachers behave like slaves to a detailed prescribed curriculum and force their students to reduce the great diversity of learning and experience down to the learning of textbooks by heart. When this mechanical system, which clearly contradicts the fundamental discoveries of modern learning theories, is then further underpinned by frequent tests and exams, one could even maintain that such a school is in the position of actually mutilating the qualifying potential of the next generation. Good test results achieved within this mechanism reveal very little about the ability to retain what one has learned, or creatively apply it in any given real situation.

Frontal class teaching will hopefully be a seldom occurrence in the Schools for Life. Instead, relying on the knowledge gained in modern learning theory, a researching, discovering, active kind of learning is favored. Learning will take place individually or in small teams, and the biography and learning background of every child will be taken into account. In contrast to repetitive learning which takes place within parameters of false security (where problem presentation, solution route, and solution itself are always already known beforehand), here the learning processes are of a much more open nature. Naturally there will still be some ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. But in real-life situations there are often a number of different options which have to be compared and considered before making a decision. In any case, learning in connection with entrepreneurship also means learning how to think strategically while dealing with uncertainties, practicing to take calculated risks.

There is a veritable arsenal of teaching methods and forms of pedagogical organization that serve these goals: teaching in small groups, learning and acting in projects, open or informal education, orienting the time frame to the task at hand and the current project (and not the other way around), team teaching, mixed-aged groups and cross-generational learning (where it makes sense to do so). Classrooms can be transformed into learning workshops.

At the same time, the limits of traditional school spaces will be dissolved: all the students will work with laptops and personal computers, and be able to communicate directly with teachers and other students electronically. Everyone will have access to libraries all over the world. In this interactive learning development, the concept of “classroom” will surpass the traditional classroom. In developing their projects, students will also be able to make use of multimedia designs, computer assisted drafting, the information highway, and graphic and desktop publishing tools.