Diamond in the rough: The dreams of Oum and Mafueang

With only 61 students, Baan Nam Lat School is like one big family. The oldest class, sixth graders, helping teachers to take care of the younger students, from minding the kindergarteners during milk breaks to guiding the primary juniors on discipline and morality. For 12-year-olds and close friends Oum and Mafueang, this “big sister” role is one they are happy about. They like that it makes them more responsible.

But more importantly, it fits who they are and what they want to be: Like her cousin, Mafueng dreams of becoming a nurse to give care to people, while Oum sets her heart on being primary teacher. “I want to teach art to children and look after them,” Oum said “I want to get the Phet Nai Tom Scholarship (translated to “diamond in the rough” in Thai, the scholarship is established by Srinakharinwirot University to support youth aspiring teachers). My parents will have less burden. They’ll get the benefits. It’s what I dream for us.”

 

Diamond in the rough: The dreams of Oum and Mafueang
Photo: Burassakorn Gitipotnopparat / ActionAid

 

Encouraging young students to have an answer to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is not an arduous task if there is a learning process that understands and centers around children. Indeed, dreams can change, but another thing that Thinking Schools give dreamers is self-esteem and the ability to turn dreams into plans.

“Since this school became a Thinking School, I feel that teachers have become more interested to hear us. They want us to think more and express more,” Oum shared. “The tools are applicable to each subject. We’ve learned how compare things, tell the difference between good and bad. Tools can help me think faster. Like Six Thinking Hats, very useful when I want to make a decision.” “Wearing” the Six Thinking Hats helps students make a decision from all points of view, and each hat signifies a different manner of thinking. For instance, the White Hat focuses on facts and numbers, while the Red Hat urges students to look at a situation emotionally.

“Mind-Mapping is a good tool for ONET exam revision, too,” Mafueang added. “We can design it how ever we like. We can also use it for problems outside of class. We can design the solution. It can do anything.”

 

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Oum and Mafueang are two of of the many children who have had access to quality education through the support of ActionAid Thailand.

Donate today to help improve education in rural small schools. Contact our Fundraising team at +66 2 279 6601 to 2 ext. 113.


Opinion: National Ed Expo and the new Education Act

The National Ed Expo: Rally for Better Quality of Education took place on 26-27 August 2019 at the Berkeley Hotel Pratunam, Bangkok. The two-day event organised by the Office of the Education Council displayed informative exhibits and brought together academics, educators, policy makers and stakeholders from around the country.

An array of topics were discussed, like a national education reform that touches on many policies and laws, from Thailand’s 20-Year National Strategy, the National Economic and Social Development Plan, to the new National Education Act, of which the draft is being reviewed and presented for public opinion before it enters the legislative procedure. Also brought up for debate was the issue of disparity and inequality in education, the 2018 National Education Standards – approved by the cabinet on 2 October 2018 – and the teaching of coding as a third language in schools.

We would like to commend those who are working and devoting their best efforts to improve the Thai education system. Being part of the discussions of academics, educators and other stakeholders, we saw that every group wishes to make Thailand’s human resource development rival that of other countries, and make the education system more decentralised, empowering schools, communities and local authorities to manage local schools more independently while respecting and prioritising pupils’ diversity. The fact that these goalposts are established in the new National Education Act draft shows that Thailand’s education law is by no means moving backwards, but slowly advancing and redistributing power and ownership to the people.

The worrying concern – and something that the participants should reflect on after this – is perhaps the understanding, interpretation and actual practice of these ambitions. Because even though the current National Education Act does support decentralised education management, the reality we have seen paints a complex picture. Policy implementation has proven rocky in practice. Resource allocation, for instance, remains unequal and innovative classroom teaching has been overlooked. It is, then, vital that the government works to ensure equality and equity in education management, especially when Thailand has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals alongside other member states of the United Nations. 2030 is critically a little over 10 years away.

Education is a chronic condition that Thailand has long endured and no cabinet has been able to prescribe the right remedy for, much less cure successfully. Each administration would implement their brand-new policy, rendering more than 300,000 teachers a variable in an experiment while more than 6 million children the human guinea pigs. When a proposed antidote does not work, a new one is concocted. The cycle continues.

 

Opinion: National Ed Expo and the new Education Act พ.ร.บ.ฉบับใหม่ และสภาพการศึกษาไทย: มุมมองคนนอกจากมหกรรมการศึกษาแห่งชาติ
Photo: Burassakorn Gitipotnopparat / ActionAid

 

Our hope is to see policy makers, adults with decision-making powers, see the center their work on children and respect their human rights and dignity. And these children are not only those in urban areas but also more than 1.2 million of their peers in rural small schools. The adults need to take into account the latter’s varying social, cultural and economic contexts. If at the heart of education is the full development of the human personality that will go on to drive the future of the country, we must not neglect equal and equitable access to it in the first place. We, as a society, must not fail to question public education policies. Are our government’s efforts just and for the benefit of all people?

For that reason, the National Education Act draft is not merely a new education law waiting to pass but an essential framework for the future of Thailand, one of which we are all stakeholders. It is important that we understand what and where it will lead to and voice our opinions. Because sooner or later, its impact will reach us, directly or otherwise.

 

Read the draft of the new National Education Act and give your opinion at the following links.

➡️ National Education Act draft http://bit.ly/2zvqlhy

➡️ Opinion form http://bit.ly/34cml3B


Equal Stand Network organised first talk on Equality in Education and Disappearing Schools

“The small school problem offers the clearest reflection of disparity in education in Thailand.”

On Saturday, 17 August 2019, ActionAid Thailand and fellow Equal Stand Network partners organised a talk titled Equality in Education and Disappearing Schools at Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University.

With Mr. thapol Anunthavorasakul, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Education as host, the morning session School Merger-Closure and the Voice of the Community gave a platform for those directly affected by the merger-closure policy before highlighting civil society’s collaboration with communities in managing local schools.

Joining us were Ms. Nisa Boonliang, a student from Wat Prasittharam School in Surat Thani, community leader Ms. Chinda Sudchid, volunteer community teacher Ms. Chiraphorn Sudsin, ActionAid Thailand Programme & Policy Manager Ms. Rungtip Imrungruang, and Secretary-General of the Thai Alternative Education Council Association Mr. Thewin Akkharasilachai.

Entitled Light at the End of the Tunnel, the afternoon session centred on the solutions and alternatives for small schools and policymakers on Thai education management moving forward, especially for the latter who wield more power to reduce disparity, protect the right to education and leave no children behind. The speakers in this session were Prof. Dr. Somphong Chittradub, Director of Research Center for Children and Youth Development, Ms. Ruethaiwan Han-kla, Director of Wat Don Pho Thong School in Suphanburi, and TAECA Vice-President Mr. Yutthachai Chaloemchai.

Equal Stand is a network of development organisations that aims to improve the quality of Thai education and make its access equal and equitable. We are ActionAid Thailand, Research Center for Children and Youth Development, Chulalongkorn University, Environment Development and Sustainability Center at Chulalongkorn University, Thai Alternative Education Council Association, SDG Move Thailand, Thai Civic Education, and Critizen.

Like and follow Equal Stand's Facebook page for the latest news on small schools and the fight of education equality.

 


Problem-Based Learning: What This School in Rural Thailand Is Getting Right

Problem-Based Learning: What This School in Rural Thailand Is Getting Right

About two hours’ drive northwest of Bangkok, a small farming community in the Kampangsaen district of Thailand is making huge strides to develop young people. Led by Mrs. Pichsinee Cheunchoowong, Baan Huai Rang Ket Primary School is piloting a cutting-edge program that challenges traditional methods of teaching.

Situated in a rural setting, the program is implementing an innovative educational technique called “problem-based learning.” It uses a social and emotional learning curriculum that prioritizes developing empathy, forming and maintaining positive relationships, and building pragmatic skills as well as decision-making abilities. Students are held to individually established, high expectations both on emotional and academic levels, and they are encouraged to pay attention to their attitudes toward themselves, their peers, and the learning process.

With the guidance and facilitation of their teachers, students also have opportunities to come up with solutions for issues they face in their communities. They are encouraged to think outside the box and express their ideas and imaginations.

 

Problem-Based Learning: What This School in Rural Thailand Is Getting Right
Photo: Meredith Slater / ActionAid

 

A typical day at the school begins with a morning reflection, a key component of the program. The students and teachers sit together in a circle and take time to quiet their minds, share their feelings, and prepare for the day. Everyone sits on the ground – all at the same level – as a physical symbol of the intention that there is no hierarchy within these circles. This simple act helps students let go of anything weighing on them – the morning’s chores, troubles at home – and learn that their school can be a safe space.

 

Problem-Based Learning: What This School in Rural Thailand Is Getting Right
Photo: Meredith Slater / ActionAid

 

The morning reflection prepares students for their day of integrated learning, which combines hard sciences with social sciences using interactive methods. Instead of splitting lessons into eight subjects, as is done traditionally in Thailand, classes are structured into broader, activity-based units. Combining a wide range of tools from storyboards to the internet, teachers use project-based learning to keep students engaged and teach them skills they can use even when they’re not at school.

The culinary unit, for example, incorporates resources children bring in from their farms at home – eggs, milk, sugarcane, lemongrass, corn – and teaches them how to cook with those ingredients, while simultaneously incorporating the arts, English language instruction, and mathematics into the lesson. For instance, students draw up plans for the unit, practice the English names of foods, and lean about measurements, all while cooking a delicious meal that they’ll get to share.

Extending the reach of this lesson beyond the walls of the school, children go home excited to cook with their families. Especially for those who experience difficulties at home, cooking can be a way for students to connect with their parents. This is just one of the many ways the program is helping to build stronger home lives and enhance valuable skills within the broader community.

 

Problem-Based Learning: What This School in Rural Thailand Is Getting Right
Photo: Meredith Slater / ActionAid

 

As with so many projects supported by ActionAid, this one is spearheaded by a local changemaker who has dedicated herself to making a difference in her community. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet with Principal Cheunchoowong at the school and learn about her drive toward innovation. It hasn’t been easy pulling her school out of the one-size-fits-all curriculum implemented in most schools. Besides dealing with pushback from parents and teachers, she might face repercussions down the road for not using the national curriculum.

In spite of these challenges, Mrs. Cheunchoowong is determined to make sure that young people have the space to learn in a positive, flexible environment. In partnership with a local education group, a nearby university, and ActionAid, Principal Cheunchoowong is successfully piloting a program that she hopes will spread not only to other primary schools within Thailand, but also to schools around the world.

 

Photo: Meredith Slater / ActionAid

 

Sustainability is the next big challenge Mrs. Cheunchoowong will tackle. She recognizes that without her at the helm, continuously pushing the envelope of this curriculum, it would likely not move forward. Mrs. Cheunchoowong is working alongside teachers and parents to build a community dedicated to this rights-based method of educating children. With her continued leadership, the support of the community, and their ongoing partnership with ActionAid, this curriculum can become a reality for students across Thailand.

 

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Written by ActionAid USA Director of Development Meredith Slater, this story is originally published on ActionAid USA.


“I like that I can think”: Meet Toey, a fourth grader from Kalasin

On a school ground in Kalasin Province stood a wooden two-storey building. The worn-out pale blue paint was telling of the years it had faced parching sunlight and rainstorms, a stark contrast to a colourful classroom inside animated by children’s eagerness to learn and participate – despite a class of only a handful students from two different years.

At Buengsawang Witthayakhom School in Kamalasai District, Grade 3 and 4 students were put together because there weren’t enough teachers. A condition that is, but never desirable in rural Thailand.

Chitraphorn Chunthakong or Toey from Grade 4 was doing the body scan meditation with her friends and juniors as Miss Pook, their homeroom teacher, led the activity. The meditation is one of the innovations the school had not long ago applied to its curriculum. In a circle, the children sat up or lied down on the wooden floor, some on their sides, some facing the ceiling, palms on their chests, all listening to the fable Miss Pook was telling. There is no wrong posture. “We would lie down for 5-10 minutes,” Toey said. “Not to sleep but listen to Miss Pook’s story and picture it in our head. When she finishes, she will ask what we think about the story and we have to share with the class.”

After body scanning, around half past two, Grade 3 and 4 students came down to the field and play sports. Toey likes volleyball. Her team’s server, she is relatively small but faster and more agile than many of her peers. The afternoon sun wasn’t too hot that day. The children’s shadows on the ground were quite proportioned to their moving bodies, allowing for a good game of “shadow catching” that let them exercise their imagination outside the classroom.

Photo: ActionAid

Toey was born in Bangkok when her family was working there. She had her first year of kindergarten at a school in the city before being moved to Kamalasai District in Kalasin to live with her paternal grandmother, whose side of the family grow rice for a living. From the second of year of kindergarten on, Toey has gone to Buengsawang Witthayakhom with her younger sibling, who is now in first grade. Meanwhile, her older sibling goes to middle school in Bangkok.

Beside listening to Miss Pook’s stories, drawing is her favourite activity. For a girl who loves realising her creativity onto A4 papers and having her imagination captured by her teacher’s tales more than anything, one might wonder why Toey often comes in second at an inter-school drawing contests, unlike her academic results, which show she has been at the top of her class since second grade.

Any child can only be so talented without practice and polish. Toey’s development is similar: before being at the top of her class consecutively from Grade 2-4, she didn’t do well at school or with other skills. This changed drastically after she had been taught Jitta-sueksa, innovative education that improve students’ concentration, mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

Miss Pook recalled how the children didn’t like coming to school before it applied teaching and learning innovation. “They didn’t enjoy learning because they felt it’s difficult. They couldn’t write or spell. But everything changed after Jitta-sueksa. When I assign them something, even though they naturally can’t stop chatting, everyone completes the task. A year ago they would have been running around the class, playing and teasing their friends. There would have been no concentration.”

The children are now more composed and focused, the teacher added. Every week, they would gather in a circle to discuss; for instance, on Mondays, where innovative education is integrated with core academic subjects, they would reflect on what they have learned in the previous week; or on Tuesdays, where they learn about nature and their connection to it, the teacher would ask them to find something from nature within the school grounds, like a leaf, and set a task based on it. “Each student would come back with different kinds of leaves,” said Miss Pook, “and I’d have them imagine what these leaves can become. They can paste them on a paper and turn them into all sorts of things, a face, a car.” And Wednesdays? Students get to sing while their teacher plays music.

Photo: ActionAid

Buengsawang Witthayakhom has put innovative education into its curriculum for a year, or two semesters, and its success is reflected in students like Toey who, her teacher recalled, quite a troublemaker. In third grade, Toey would take people’s things without permission, both at school and at home. When confronted, she said she knew what she was doing but couldn’t stop herself. She also didn’t want to come to school, and because of this she would always go hide inside a big earthen jar. In the following year, however, she got to learn Jitta-sueksa and hasn’t behaved like she used to ever since.

Miss Pook talked further about body scanning, which may seem like an ordinary afternoon nap but really isn’t. It is about reviewing one’s thoughts, meditating on the self from head to toe. “Some kids fell asleep in the beginning,” the homeroom teacher said, “but we explained to them and kept them thinking about their life on earth. ‘How long have you got to live? There isn’t much time. Have you done any nice things today? Have you done more good than bad today?’ We would ask them like this and those that have been up to mischief all morning would automatically feel guilty, but in the way that motivates them to be better. They would be pay attention in the afternoon classes, because we don’t scold them but encourage them, let them know that people can acknowledge their mistakes and better themselves.”

Every child has dreams. Even beyond childhood, many reminisce their youthful aspirations or base future ones on them. Toey said she wanted to be a math teacher when she grew up, and would apply art to her method, because she loves to draw. “I don’t like English, though,” she added, “because I cannot read and speak it yet, but I know how to multiply numbers up to 12 now. When I am a teacher, I want to teach either third or fourth grade.”

Can’t she start teaching today, we asked. Toey replied with a smile and said she couldn’t, she didn’t know enough yet. “I must know how to multiply all the numbers first.”

Toey knows Jitta-sueksa had helped her at school and enabled her to think for herself. She also has a newfound fondness or journal keeping, and writes every Saturday and Sunday and has completed four entries now. As for weekdays, she would write on Facebook about her friends and how she misses them after school.

What would have happened if she hadn’t been introduced to Jitta-sueksa? Toey looked at empty grounds in front of her, before saying she wouldn’t have been able to use her brain. “The brain is for thinking, for commanding your limbs and all of your body.”

And if she didn’t have any brain? Toey contemplated. After seconds, she replied, “I would die or be stupid. I would not be able to move, think or talk to my friends. I prefer it like this. I like that I can think.”

Photo: ActionAid

In the school garden, Chinese kale and cabbage are grown by students and teachers without any chemicals. Today, they agreed to sell a portion of these greens to villagers to raise money for the school and so that the villagers can eat organic vegetables.

Toey and her friends took out a garden hose and water the patches. Soft sunlight made the sprinkling water twinkle like crystal beads. Some of the produce were now ready. Toey took a small knife from her friend and chopped off the Chinese kale masterfully.

“The brain is for thinking.” “I like that I can think.” These are the words from this fourth grader collecting vegetables to raise money for her school. If you really think about it, that afternoon, the sun might not be the only thing that shone in the picture.


Toey is only one of the many children who have had access to quality education through the support of ActionAid Thailand.

Donate today to help improve education in rural Thailand.


Driving the creation of pilot schools to shape 21st century learners

On July 17-19, 2018, Dr. Sarawut Sutawong, Chiang Rai Provincial Administrative Organization School Director, and his faculty conducted a training workshop for school leaders on employing Thinking Tools, held at the meeting room of Nan Province’s Primary Education Services Area Office 1.

The workshop was part of the collaboration between Nan’s small school directors’ association and the province’s Primary Education Services Area Office 1 who teamed up with ActionAid Thailand in driving the creation of pilot schools in order to shape 21st century learners. The event hosted 143 participants from 16 schools in Nan Province.

Next on our agenda is to promote the application of these Thinking Tools throughout the system, starting from the classroom. Initial response from existing pilot schools includes students’ improved analytical skills, their increased interest in learning, better classroom atmosphere, and, most importantly, successful academic performance, in that instructors no longer teach by a repetition approach or worry about assessment results, for progress manifests itself in students’ own achievements and development.

We strive to create further and continued impact to make Nan another small province, with its relatively smaller population, that produces as capable youth as those living in bigger provinces. And all this begins with making quality education equally available in all areas and accessible to everyone.





by Patchgorn Pattawipas
Youth and Education Program Officer