Categories
Pathway Schools

The Flat Earth – Opening the Eyes of Students in Two Different Parts of the World

We recently posted an article which describes the distance education program between Sa Nguan Ying School in Suphanburi, Thailand, and Lodi High School in Lodi, Wisconsin, USA.

One of the great things about that program is the distance teaching of two teachers from each of the schools and also the contact between students in both schools. It is a way of making US history much more real for Thai students as it is taught by an American teacher,  and for their American counterparts, being taught by a Thai teacher from Sa Nguan Ying brings deeper understanding of South East Asian history and culture.

This distance program grew out of the student and teacher exchange program between Lodi and Sa Nguan Ying Schools.

Holly Jean Hargis’ journal posted below is further evidence of the great learning that can come out of an effective student exchange program.

Holly’s journal affirms how this exchange program opened her eyes to the broader world.

Thank you for allowing us to reproduce it here Holly .

Greg Cairnduff

Acting Editor 


Letters From Thailand

Holly Jean Hargis

 

When I first came to Thailand I never would have guessed I would be back a mere 14 months later. I first came as an exchange student from a small town in Wisconsin, and it was my very first time leaving United States. I was 18 years old and a senior in High School, and this would be the longest amount of time that I would spend away from my family.

The Exchange

Travel had always interested me ever since I was young, but I came from a large family who didn’t have the opportunity to do much of this. When my school in Lodi, Wisconsin offered the chance to spend 3 weeks in Thailand , half way across the world, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be part of this experience. I started saving money with a summer job and was able to fund my trip, which was with 9 other students and 3 teachers from my school.

I remember the exact moment I stepped out of the airport into Thailand that first time, I remember feeling the hot and humid air at 3 in the morning and feeling so excited about having the chance to experience another culture. What I didn’t know was that this exact trip would alter the entire course of the following year for me. It would give me courage and opportunity to experience a different life after high school than I ever would have considered before.

My 3 weeks in Thailand went so fast that afterward everything felt like a dream. The exchange program was with Sa-nguan-Ying School in Suphanburi, where I lived with a host family in Thailand and had two sisters with whom I was able to become close with very quickly. My host parents couldn’t speak more than a few words of English but their smiles and laughter everyday made me feel so happy and welcome in this country. I felt a part of the school that I attended every day and also was able to see and learn more about Thailand, so I felt part of Thailand too.

My Decision

It was on the train to Kanchanaburi where I sat with my two best friends agreeing that the 3 amazing weeks in the country could only be the beginning. In this small amount of time we had been introduced to a complete different culture than our own and had made so many new friends. We wondered how much we could learn by travelling more, since we had learned so much about travel, culture, and ourselves in just 3 weeks in Thailand. It was that point when we all talked about taking a year off before college to travel more, and it was at that point I had made the decision I would be travelling abroad very soon again, and maybe even back to Thailand.

Now

Now, 15 months later I sit at a desk in Thailand, at the very same school I visited before. Instead of being a student this time, I was offered the opportunity to be on the other side of the spectrum and work as an assistant teacher, teaching English. I will be here for 8 weeks, and I believe this opportunity to be the best one I have had in my entire life.

In the United States, taking a year off before college is not widely accepted. When I shared with my friends and family that I would be travelling abroad for 8 months prior to enrolling in college, I was welcomed with concern and fear. Now, many months later, these same people are praising me for the opportunities I have been able to experience. Both my parents who have never traveled abroad before visited me on my journey, my Dad visiting me right here in Suphanburi, Thailand. I feel that these opportunities have not only benefited me personally, but those around me as well.

I started my year with the confidence I had gained from the exchange experience in Thailand previously. Starting in October I lived in Paris, France for some time while also travelling to Morocco, London, and Germany. Next, I made my way back to the Land Of Smiles to reunite with many friends and also meet some of the most amazing people I have ever had the chance of calling friends. It would also be the very first time I would live on my own, a huge step for a 19 year old travelling abroad.

Not only did I begin to live on my own, but also began a job, and a job that I loved. I have always wanted to be a teacher and my experience as an assistant teacher here has helped me realize that this is something that I am good at and that I can imagine doing for the rest of my life. I worked with Ms. Tuke, a Thai teacher here who I learned so much from and who I can call a friend. I taught children in grades 7-9 and helped them improve their pronunciation and understanding of the English language. I helped them with their grammar on papers and presentations as well. It feels so good to know that I can help these students learn, and I really feel like they always appreciated my help. The relationships I have made with my students are ones that I value so highly, I absolutely love the students here and I love the tutoring and teaching I have been doing.

This Opportunity

This teaching opportunity has also given me the wonderful chance of seen more of Thailand. Almost every weekend I was able to travel somewhere new and experience a new part of Thailand. Whether it was seen Wat Poh in Bangkok or spending a weekend with friends at Koh Samet, each experience will be one that I will never forget. Other experiences such as eating Thai dinner every night with friends or learning Thai songs and the Thai language are priceless. All of the friends and teachers I have met here, Thai, American, Chinese, and Tasmanian, have helped me feel so happy in this country and I know the connections I made here will never be lost.

I am so thankful that Chaht and the English Program at Sa-nguan-Ying presented me with the opportunity of returning to Thailand. I cannot even express how important the connection is between my school in Lodi and Sa-nguan-Ying. I truly believe and know that I would be a completely different person leading a very different life if I hadn’t been on that trip in November 2010.

The End

It’s now almost 2 months after my second arrival in Thailand and my time is almost up. I cannot believe that I am leaving this wonderful place where I have been given the chance to learn and take away so much. I have learned how to live on my own, I have met wonderful people from over the world, I have built relationships with my students, I have started to learn how to teach, I have learned so much about the Thai culture, I have learned more about myself and I have gained confidence and courage. I feel so lucky to be part of the EP family and I know that I would be welcomed back anytime. As I have learned, most people don’t stay away from Thailand for too long, and I know I’ll be back again in no time.

Categories
Pathway Schools

Distance Learning between a Thai High School and an American High School.

Distance Learning between a Thai High School and an American High School.

From the Lodi Enterprise e News [Wisconsin, USA]

Tale of two schools
Learning goes global in Lodi pilot program

 

Lodi students greet Thai teacher Karnteera “Tuke” Ingkhaninan via Skype before she shows them how to make beef curry as part of an international distance learning class.
Photo Jennifer Fetterly

 

Students at Sa-nguan Ying School in Supan Buri, Thailand get ready for the distance learning class taught by Lodi teacher Mark Kohl via Skype.
Contributed photo

By Jennifer Fetterly
Managing Editor

Beef and green curry sizzle in hot woks as Lodi High School students prepare lunch on a cold December morning.

As the strong aromas rise to the students’ noses, it’s clear it’s not just another typical school day.

Teens, some who have never had Thai food before, are bridging a cultural gap tens of thousands of miles away as teacher Karnteera “Tuke” Ingkhaninan, warns them of their first time experience.

“Maybe you should just start with one tablespoon of curry paste, and go from there,” she cautions the Lodi students about her homeland’s fiery spice via Skype.

But far from being timid, the students jump right in, not only to the food but to the distance learning program, which started this year, with sister school Sa-nguan Ying in Supan Buri, Thailand.

As part of the arrangement, Lodi High School teacher Mark Kohl instructs Thai students in U.S. History and Tuke reciprocates by teaching Lodi students the Cultural Geography of Southeast Asia.

Senior Breanna Smith enrolled in the class after visiting Thailand on a school trip last year, eager to learn more.

“It is really cool being taught by a teacher that is actually in that country, who can clarify things, compared with learning from a textbook. In a normal class, if you have questions you have to look on the Internet, but Tuke just knows, so it is more true to me,” Smith says as she cuts vegetables for the beef curry recipe.

Other students who are part of the class have never been to Thailand but their curiosity for learning enticed them to enroll.

Besides teaching Thai cuisine, Tuke has brought the students a harsher reality of Southeast Asian history like the genocide of the “Killing Fields” in Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge killed millions. The students also learn about how the harvesting of palm oil, found in peanut butter and chewing gum, is destroying the jungles, along with the orangutans that live there.

Janel Anderson, who is the Lodi resource teacher for the Southeast Asia class, says the students’ intent interest is enough reason to continue the two-year pilot program.

“Students start to understand that they are participants in this whole global community, that we are all connected, that is what I want them to understand,” Anderson says. “In some ways it is easier for Tuke to get them to see it, she is part of the world and she has more credibility, not like an American teacher telling them how bad things were there.”

While distance learning in Wisconsin’s public and secondary schools isn’t new, Lodi’s international spin is setting precedence. According to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the Lodi initiative is the only one in the state where students are taking a credit class taught by a foreign teacher.

And it’s all done on a shoestring budget of $2,000, money that was used to purchase a laptop computer where teachers can interact with students via Skype, a videoconference Internet system. The Lodi School Board approved the program on the condition, other than the one-time technology budget, that there wouldn’t be any additional staff costs.

Kohl, who teaches in the evening, for Thai students who must be in their seats by 7 a.m. because of the 13-hour time difference, says he thought the biggest challenge would be technology but there have been only a few instances of blurry video and dropped connections.

While the Thai school has excellent equipment, the distance learning concept, with less equipped schools may hinder its expansion.

“I think in some ways international distance learning is part of the future but I think that we are far off from this being the norm because there are lot of infrastructure issues. I have tried to do this with teachers in other countries and one of the problems on their end is having the technology and expertise. We are wealthy and technology rich as a nation but the people of some other countries don’t have that,” Anderson says.

But aside from the challenges, supporters of the learning concept, says it teaches so much more than a curriculum.

This January, Kohl taught 22 Thai students in seventh-12th grade about the civil rights movement. The last class before test time, fell on Martin Luther King’s birthday, so pictures of the African-American leader giving his “I have a dream speech” in Washington D.C. finished the class.

Some of his Thai students respectfully call Kohl “the smartest history teacher” ever.

“It is great to learn more about U.S. history’s real stories, truths and gain more knowledge thoroughly from the expert like Kru (Mr.) Mark,” says Piyaorn Kamwhan.

Other Thai students have learned more far-reaching concepts in the sought-after class.

“As you had seen in our class we don’t have enough self confidence to ask questions because when we was young if we have some stupid question our friend will laugh at us,” says Non Bunsrisuwan. “In Thailand the student must respect the teacher and it like our culture and it makes us far away from teacher. But in distance learning we get so close with Kru Mark. He is like one of our family what we had to see every morning.”

Kohl, says the relationship is so strong, that when some Thai students were left homeless from a Chinese New Year’s fireworks explosion in January, he rallied school staff to raise money to help those affected.

As the program gets ready to enter its second year, supporters are hopeful it will continue.

“After talking with staff here and in Thailand we all agreed that this has exceeded our expectations in every facet, the technology, how we relate, the quality of instruction and it was a good investment. It has been very successful at both ends,” Kohl says.

Categories
Pathway Schools

Bank Street College in New York City

AN OUTSTANDING PATHWAY SCHOOL: THE BANKSTREET SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN, PART OF THE BANK STREET COLLEGE OF EDUCATION

By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. ( reporting from New York City, February 2012)

If you are fortunate enough to study at the Bank Street College Graduate School of Education or even to   visit the Bankstreet School for Children, you don’t have to ask how the children are doing. You can access the students’ achievements and learning by simply looking all around you. Their work, their learning is everywhere: on the walls, the ceiling, the tables and the floors. The students’ work  reflect their interests, their world.

Below is a picture of an early elementary class’s paper Mache representation of the Hudson River and its   present day surroundings. The study of the Hudson River is a three month study of the river that starts with where the second grade students are   developmentally, beginning with the here and now that surrounds them. The representation in the photo is what the student knows about the river through observation and research from a range of sources.

Part of the second grade student exploration of the Hudson River included a visit to the 79th Street Boat Basin. Below is one student’s representation of that visit.

Gradually, the students will go back in time to the Linape Native Americans who lived along the Hudson River   before the explorers from Europe came to North America. Later in fourth grade   students study the Egyptians along the Nile River, a place they have never been before. This is what we mean by Bank Street’s development interaction   approach, as described by Stan Chu, senior faculty member in the Bank Street Graduate School of Education.

This approach to learning enables children   to integrate their world that has meaning and importance to them and eventually moving    back in time and into far- away places. I noted that differentiated learning was going on all around me. So, each child was presented with learning   activities that were within her or his reach, a reflection of Vygotsky’s Proximal Zone. I also saw that teachers   integrated learning so that , for example, when in history the children studied explorers , in art they made puppets representing the explorers. The   teacher, no doubt, continued this integration in English geography and even in science and math  classes( e.g. mapping, navigation and surveying). An art teacher explained to me that they   used art at the beginning of the year when students set about making rules of   etiquette and classroom management. He explained that the teachers asked their students to recall a time when someone had helped them or been very kind to them and then to illustrate that time and event in a picture.

This continually making the child   the center of gravity in the school was impressive. Below, for example, are   student renditions of what they feel about the snow .

I was shown large outdoor space fenced off with many pieces of sanded and varnished pieces of wood and also   what looked like blocks of wood, known as hollow blocks, which were   originally designed by Caroline Pratt, founder of the City and Country   School. Children, ages 5 to 7 play and learn here once a day for an hour and   build all kinds of structures. I watched a couple of four year old boys   building what looked like a miniature house. They had divided up the labor, one boy carrying lumber back to the project for the floors another working on   the side of the miniature house. Another characteristic of the school is teaching collaborative learning. Students here are learning the value and   effectiveness of cooperative efforts that lead to surprising achievements that a single individual could not hope to accomplish, while recreating parts   of their physical world.

I came away from the visit to the school euphoric. When I asked myself why , I realized that it was being in   the company of so many teachers that were interested and happy in their work   was infectious. They loved what they were doing and could see daily that they   were enabling children to understand deeply the world around them and guiding   these children on a journey that included a joy for learning. I met a dozen or so teachers and all were smiling, happy, enthusiastic and bursting with energy. I noted that at the end of the school day the smiles and enthusiasm were still there.

Yes, I can hear a traditional educator asking as they read this, “but do these students at Banksstreet   Children’s School really master the necessary skills to go on to college?”   The proof is that tracking of their students both in high school and college shows the students perform well beyond the norm.

But I wanted to see for myself. I read the essays posted on the bulletin board about Steinbeck’s Of Mice and   Men.

All the essays were masterfully written. Most were of a quality of writing far, far beyond the seventh grade   level.

Nevertheless, the highlight of my observations was the art work of the three year olds.

These are stabiles created out of pipe cleaners and assorted materials. One piece in particular already showed   symmetric and color combination genius. Miro , the celebrated Majorcan   artist, I know ,would have been pleased with this work of art.

This school is an inspiration and   those who are touched by this school will have received the certain knowledge that real education is all about nurturing and meeting children in the world that is meaningful and makes sense to children.  Also realized is that effective teaching is more like  coaching children to expand their worlds and   become a creator of their world in a meaningful way that will bring personal   contentment and confidence. Children education in this way are enabled to  contribute also to the well being of those around them.

Categories
Op Ed Opinion:Thai education

Why Thais Don’t Read Books

Peter J. Foley

By Peter J. Foley       August 2011

UNESCO’s  selection of Bangkok to be the Book Capital of the World for 2013 begs the question: why?

The Bangkok Post published an article on February 2, 2011 citing the reading rate surveys of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT).  The 2010 survey showed that Thais on average read just five books a year as compared with Malaysians who read on average 40 books a year, Singaporeans 45 books a year, and Japanese 50 books a year.  The previous survey conducted in 2005 suggested Thais read only two books on average every year.  So , with it obvious that Thais are not a nation of readers , why would UNESCO choose Bangkok to be a Book Capital of the World?

Many educators feel the general education level of the average Thai is even more dire than statistics  like these and recent dismal test scores for school age children indicate.   Abundant, anecdotal evidence suggests that in the rural areas the rate of reading is less than a book a year for most Thais.     There is no doubt that Thailand will lose its economic footing unless the poor state of public education is turned around in order to create a highly  educated work force.  The master key to such a turn- around is to create Thailand as a nation of readers, critical readers, who are life- long learners.

There are many Thais and farangs who throw up their hands and say it is an impossible task to get Thais to be a nation of readers since it is not in the Thai tradition.  This is balderdash.  As the eminent historian David K. Wyatt points out, Thailand has a rich bibliophilic tradition.  Wyatt relates that in some parts of Thailand in the 1890’s the male literacy rates were “considerably in excess of the literacy rates in Europe or America at the time.”  In Thailand’s history there were huge numbers of Buddhist temples that included library buildings.  These buildings housed Buddhist religious books, or in the case before printing, texts incised into palm leaves.  Males were taught to read and write in monasteries.

The point here is that Thailand enjoyed a rich intellectual tradition.  This tradition included a ready access to libraries by the male population.

It is no wonder , then, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration(BMA) lobbied hard to win UNESCO’s approval to designated Bangkok Book Capital of the World for 2013.  The BMA want to use the UNESCO award as a platform to  change Thailand from a nation of non book readers to a nation of book readers.  Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra will be leading this effort , concentrating on encouraging  reading among working-age residents. The deputy governor, Taya Teepsuwan, has already initiated a reading campaign encouraging passengers using the mass transit system to read while riding the buses and trains.

We should  begin this campaign  by asking why Thai’s don’t read books in this modern era. This is a question worthy of considerable research before moving forward.

There is much to be done if such a reading revolution is to take place among Thais, much to be done to recapture the intellectual tradition for a wider population in Thailand.  Presently, the tradition is largely restricted to the 18% of Thais who finish college.

Reading is something that becomes part of a nation’s culture.  It is a culture taught to children and encouraged as they grow up to the point that a person becomes a life- long reader, and , thus, a life- long learner.   I hope the decision makers who are charged with organizing a successful reading campaign will consider:

1.  Campaigns to turn off the T.V.  and , then , reading to  children and telling them stories.  Story telling was a cherished tradition in Thailand only 40 years ago.  It should be revived and coupled with reading stories as well as telling them;

2.  Making great books written in Thai available at very cheap rates or free to borrow on a massive scale in the rural areas of Thailand through mobile libraries or through community access to high speed internet with free e-book down loads;

3.  Special incentives for software game manufactures to distribute and sell games that teach reading skill and practical knowledge with tax disincentives for those selling mindless computer games;

4.  Intense focus in schools throughout the Kingdom of Thailand to promote reading , including, the hiring of specially trained reading teachers from elementary school through to Matiyom 6.  These reading teachers would in turn be empowered to train classroom teachers to create independent learning libraries  in each classroom.   At the very least there should be every effort made to hook up class rooms with high speed internet in order to access first class Thai reading material for every age group.

5. To accomplish these and many other goals, there is a need for solid research on what the actual situation is in terms of reading and reading materials .   For example, there is a dearth of information on lists of great books written in Thai which are available on an age appropriate level.   More research need to be conducted on what can change Thai attitudes toward reading books and what Thais would like to read.

Why don’t Thais read?   If Thais have access and they are encouraged from an early age, Thais will read.   A new Thai intellectual era will dawn.  Thailand will successfully  meet the challenges of the 21stcentury.

 

COMMENTS :

#1# Banjo
Submitted on 2011/08/26 at 8:32 pm

Your story was really ifnrmoatvie, thanks!

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#2#David Meyer
Submitted on 2011/08/21 at 10:02 am

As a professional and certified teacher living and working in Thailand I feel you have correctly identified a huge problem facing educators. I would take it a step further and say the very way my students think has changed dramatically since I lived here in the 1970s. One huge arena – the use of proverbs to succinctly and sometimes humorously describe real life situations – has almost completely disappeared among the younger generation. For example a popular proverb back then was:

หนีเสือปะจระเฃ้

literally, to flee a tiger only to meet a crocodile. An English parallel would be “out of the frying pan, into the fire.” Both proverbs convey the concept of trying to escape danger, but encountering something equally or more perilous. More importantly, these proverbs use an economy of words, comparison thinking and mental imagery, none of which can be replaced by television or video games.

If the whole way Thais think (and kids back home in America, too, for that matter) has changed dramatically then to simply add books into their lives won’t necessarily enhance critical thinking and imagination. But it’s a start.

Fear not! Last semester I found a student with a thick and weighty English book on her desk. It was clearly beyond her reading level so I picked it up. This clever girl had carved out the interior so she could hide her mobile telephone inside. (Bringing cell phones to school is against school policy.) No, I didn’t report the student to the principal. I was just happy to see someone actually using a book in school!

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#3#Rossana
Submitted on 2011/08/13 at 5:36 am

สวัสดีค่ะอาจารย์

ดิฉันเห็นด้วยเป็นอย่างยิ่งว่าเด็กไทยอ่านหนังสือน้อยลงทุกที และส่วนใหญ่สนใจอ่านหนังสือแฟชั่นที่มีขายตามท้องตลาด ซึ่งมีรูปภาพสวยๆ มากกว่าตัวหนังสือเสียอีก
เมื่อพิจารณาแล้วพบว่าหลายหน่วยงานในไทยสนับสนุนการอ่านน้อยเหลือเกิน เช่น
1. บังคับให้นักเรียนอ่านหนังสือที่ไม่ชอบ และเป็นไปเพื่อการสอบ ซึ่งอาจทำให้เด็กบางคนเกลียดการอ่าน (แต่บางคนก็ชอบ และเป็นจุดเริ่มต้นในการอ่านเล่มอื่นๆ ต่อไป)
2. ห้องสมุดที่เมืองไทยมีไม่มากเท่าต่างประเทศ ส่วนใหญ่เป็นห้องสมุดของมหาวิทยาลัยต่างๆ หากเป็นห้องสมุดชุมชน ก็มีหนังสือน้อยเสียเหลือเกินสำหรับการค้นคว้าทำการบ้าน ส่วนห้องสมุดดีๆการค้นคว้าข้อมูลหรือการนั่งอ่านในห้องสมุดจำเป็นต้องเสียสตางค์หากไม่ได้เป็นสมาชิกของห้องสมุดนั้น
3. ตัวอาจารย์ผู้สอนในโรงเรียนเองบางคนก็เป็นผู้ที่ไม่ได้รักการอ่านหนังสือ แล้วเช่นนี้จะสอนนักเรียนให้อ่านหนังสือได้อย่างไร จริงๆ แล้วดิฉันเห็นว่าควรมีการฝึกครูให้รักการอ่านหนังสือด้วยซ้ำไป

เห็นด้วยอย่างยิ่งว่าหลายหน่วยงานภาครัฐและโรงเรียนควรมีนโยบายส่งเสริมการอ่านที่ทำได้จริงยิ่งกว่านี้ ไม่ใช่ส่งเสริมด้วยการจัด มหกรรมการอ่าน ซึ่งเป็นมหกรรมการลดราคาหนังสือประจำปีเท่านั้น กิจกรรมดีๆ มากมายที่จัดในแต่ละปี ควรมีการประชาสัมพันธ์ให้น่าสนใจมากกว่านี้ ส่วนภาคเอกชนโดยเฉพาะสำนักพิมพ์ (บางแห่ง) ควรช่วยอย่างจริงใจและไม่หวังผลกำไร จะช่วยทำให้เกิดการเปลี่ยนแปลงที่ดีขึ้นค่ะ

รสนา

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#4#Jesse Brandt

Submitted on 2011/07/28 at 9:20 pm

Peter,
I got inspired from reading Dr. Htay’s comment about his early learning experience sans the modern educational tools available today. I was always a difficult student. My elementary schooling took place in one-room schools. The first of these was in rural Oregon, one teacher 23 students ranging from grades 1 to 10. In order to have a quorum to start a 1st grade class that year, myself and a fellow 5 year old from a neighboring farm were enrolled. There were a total of 4 of us in the class. When I was ready for the 4th grade, the school was split and we 4th, 5th and 6th graders were bused to another rural school 3 miles distant from our homes. From the 1st to the 3rd grade, I walked to school, rain or shine, through the back pasture and neighboring orchards. At the beginning of my 7th grade, all us rural hicks were bused into town aboard a big “Blue Bird” school bus to a major urban junion high school and dumped into a typical subject classroom consisting of 30 students -all strangers- and one teacher. It was, needless to say, an intimidating and impersonal approach to mass education. The tradition continued through high school and into college. My 1st year chemistry class in the public university had 300 students enrolled it. My third year psch class had 150 students in it. The point I’m trying to make here is that same one you are addressing. The macro educational environment is designed not as a student-centered learning experience but as a mass production factory. In junior high school I remember being called to general assemblies. Guest speakers were corporate engineers from the big automobile companies. They “challenged” the students to design model automobiles -not the mechanics but the shapes- and submit these for judging and, if yours happened to be sufficiently eye-catching, you got some cheap trinket as a reward, a pat on the back, and, maybe a few hundred bucks towards a college scholarship. Meanwhile the corporations got hundreds, if not thousands, of ideas for future models. So students’ imaginations were explointed for big business’ purposes…they made millions, but the ‘students’ learned nothing.
Forunately, I had a brilliant mother who loved to take her kids for walks in the woods and show and tell them about plants, animals, encourage them to turn over rocks in the creek, pick up crayfish and explain what they were all about. She insisted we collect leaves and bark and put them carefully on wax paper between sheets of cardboard and bind them up with strips of inner tubes. Later, we’d open these albums and examine the dried contents. Mother would point out the veins of leaves and shows us books that explained what kind of plants they were, how they breathed and lived. When I was older I was sent to summer YMCA camp. There, too, organization and discipline were practiced and creative actions and thinking were carefully controlled through courses in craftmanship. We’d be encouraged to whittle small boats out of softwoods to float on the pond. It must have been when I was in the 7th grade at one of the family “Y” camps that my mother volunteered that I should take a group of younger kids on short outings in the surrounding woods and streams for a couple of yours. Taking a cue from her, I led them into a nearby stream and had them turn over rocks to find bugs and crayfish and told them what I knew about the squirming finds. The adventure was a total success and I was asked to lead small groups of kids into the streams every year after that. Mother also had a penchant for making things in the kitchen and encouraging us kids to help her mix cookie dough, boil up berries for jam, prepare beans and peaches for putting in jars that we opened in the depths of winter and ate with great gusto.

The point I’m making that mother was a nurturer and a teacher. Later on, after I had dropped out of my university studies to visit and travel in Europe, I set myself educational goals such as visiting the Prado museum in Madrid, the British Museum in London and spent time picking apples in Danish orchards in grapes in French vineyards. When I returned home from thes educational adventures, I would update a world map fastened to my bedroom wall highligting my travels. As my web of places traveled to grew, my longing for more increased. I had left for Europe at the end of my second year of pre-medical studies. I returned several months later but with new goals for my formal education. Returning to academic life proved boring beyond my tolerance and by the end of the school year, I had applied to and been accepted into the Peace Corps. By September of that year (1963) I was ‘at post’ in rural Nepal sans university degree. But I had committed to life of continuing education. Completing a formal education, for the sake of getting a college degree, did happen eventually, but not until much later on in my life. So what is the lesson learned. I think it is that each individual’s learning experience is unique and deserves to be treated as such. Forcing kids into a mass education experience merely produces the results you, me and hosts of other educaters are now fighting against. In my career, I also taught formally in institutions. I was an Outward Bound Instructor in the US. I taught English to Chinese students in Taiwan and to Thai students in southern Thailand. I taught physical education in Taiwan and Nepal. I taught computer software to senior physicians in Turkmenistan and to pharmacists in Laos. I taught medical warehouse management skills to Afghan pharmacists. I am teacing Nepali students how to recycle waste into useful products. I am still teaching Lao medical personnel how to manage sensitive pharmaceutical products and properlty run supply chains that extend to primary health care centers.

The fact that I could do what I do today I trace back to the sensitiveness of a creative teaher (mother) at an early age who taught me, above everything else, the value of self-exploration and that to satisfy one’s natural curiousity was really what education is all about. Of course education has to be a guided experience. Sometimes the process is referred to as coaching or mentoring. Whatever it is, it should not feature authoritarianism as its glue.

Best wishes.

Jesse

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#5#Maliphone Virachith Abhay

Submitted on 2011/07/25 at 8:09 pm

Dear Peter,
Great initiative for education reform !
I recall my childhood when I loved games and activities. I liked flexibility and freedom of choice. I liked diversity in unity.
School should let a child choose what she/he wants to learn and start thinking about who she/he wants to be. The education should give a child informed choice so that she/he will learn with joy.
Can education reform accommodate all the needs of each one of the child? Yes!
I know it is a challenge but we-adult/parents must overcome !

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#6#Dr. Thein Thein Htay

Submitted on 2011/07/22 at 10:10 pm

Congratulations! It has been a real thought-provoking thrust to reform the classroom’s teaching-learning behaviour, leading towards a condition in which students would have real understanding rather than knowing about what they learned. As you mentioned, thinking process and problem-solving capacity through knowledge management would be most critical in developing deep understanding by students. This can also be applied not only to the classroom at schools, but also very valid for other trainings at work as we are also facing with the same problem of just knowing the subject and understanding its essence and applying in problem-solving.

I have pennyworth idea at this point as I was thinking of my childhood experience of learning at school. The questions that came into my mind was what is the difference in the classroom situation of our generation and current generation. We had no calculators, no computers, no cellphones, not may electrical devices and so we had to use our brain of mind mathematics, we had to calculate manually, we had to use our brain for solving any problem, etc, which may lead to keep our brain working and alert. It doesn’t mean that all the modern electrical devices have to be taken away from students, but it could be useful if we can use modern teaching aids with some brain games or brainstorming exercises. As a very simple example, I used to play english hangman games while my nephew and nieces love to play cyber war and car racing on computer. When they were asked to do some mathematics, they will firstly find a calculator and I will quickly do mind calculation. The sole message I am trying to give here is to see this teaching-learning climate as part of social system and not just a problem at school.
More later and I wish you all success. Great Job!

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#7#Brian Berry

Submitted on 2011/07/15 at 8:50 pm

Hello Peter, you have bitten off a big chunk! Congratulations. There is nothing like a big challenge to keep the heart beating!
I have seen Thai classrooms, enough to know that the system is ingrained deeply in all the players –administrators, teachers, students, families and communities.
Top-down cultural reform … hmmmm. My first thought is, find your Gautama, your Socrates, your Rumi, and get him or her — more than one if you can — in front of a classroom, stock it with hungry students, and film, film, film. First the example that touches, then the assault on the castle of policy.
I went to the websites and I saw Escuela Nueva and Ashoka and School for life. The differences are not in the pictures; what would convince, would be the question. My guess would be, first film, then workshops led by the teachers (accompanied by students) who have made this work.
Years ago I knew a couple who were both 1950′s graduates of Summerhill. They did wonderful work. They were highly influential and creative people, but they were still on the outside, even in the early 80′s. They had disciples but no policy makers in train, and no apparent toehold on educational authorities or practice in the Great Britain of the early ’80′s.
But teacher to teacher they were having an effect. I think the missing piece was community organization. To send your most persuasive and effective teachers to do community organization — that could make a difference.
And for the students: dialogues, journals, poems, dramatic performances, not grades and rankings. Really lighting the lamp inside each, that would be my thought.
I did student-centered learning in the inner city here for fifteen years. It worked; I can see the difference in the students. In the administrators, in my colleagues: not so much.
Better luck to you, Peter, and Godspeed.
Well, a few thoughts.