The holistic education model of Small School Model promoted by ActionAid Thailand’s EU-funded ACCESS School Project integrates innovative, child-centered learning tools into the curriculum to improve quality of teaching amid limited funding and human resources, a fate generally met by Thailand’s small schools.

At Wat Khok Thong School, a small elementary school in Ratchaburi Province, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Jitta-sueksa are applied to the classroom. Instead of splitting lessons into eight subjects, as is done traditionally in Thailand, the school keeps three core subjects English, Thai and math, while the rest like science, social studies, and vocations and technology are structured into broader, activity-based units with PBL, where different fields of knowledge are interconnected.

If PBL is the brain of the curriculum, Jitta-sueksa is the heart – or the mind (jitta). Every day before morning and afternoon lessons, with the class sitting down in a circle, the teacher would lead various mindfulness exercises that not only improve the students’ focus but foster EQ and SQ. These exercises include meditation, brain gym activities, storytelling and discussion. The children are often asked to write down their thoughts in a personal Jitta-sueksa journal after listening to a short story or topical news, and then, by choice, share with the group.

Tik and Waan with fellow classmates sitting in a circle of Jitta-sueksa.

In their final weeks as Wat Khok Thong students, two sixth-graders, Waan and Tik, reflected on their experience coming to “a school just like and unlike others” in the last 3 years. “The methods may be different, but the content is similar, and the students really understand the class. I think what’s important is that we’re happy while learning,” said Waan. “Rather than comparing our school to others or school sizes, we should focus on how it benefits the students, teachers and parents,” Tik added. “This school is worth coming to because we gain new knowledge, and we can apply it right away and in the future.”

But to talk about how their school’s method of teaching has impacted them, a certain kind of comparison needs to be drawn. Waan recalled her timid character before moving to Wat Khok Thong School in Grade 4, but once she was introduced to Jitta-sueksa – where there are no wrong answers and judgment in the discussion circle – she found herself more confident to share her thoughts and speak to an audience. “I used to be too shy to ask questions. I know now that if I don’t, I wouldn’t understand the lesson and become better.”

Tik added Jitta-sueksa taught her to think beyond herself, especially of her family. “Like how I treat my younger sibling or do house chores. If I do that well, I can help my parents a great deal. I know that they won’t be with me forever so it’s good to take something off their plate and become more responsible.”

A Grade 6 student presenting about digestive and excretory systems as part of PBL class.

Sharing about Problem-Based Learning, Tik said she didn’t use to like doing classwork or handing in homework. But with how diverse and hands-on PBL lessons are, she decided to be open-minded and found herself having fun with the activities. “I especially like when the topics are scientific and related to outer space. One question leads to another, and I can do the research by myself.”

“I personally hope I can study this way until I finish high school,” added Tik. “But if the next school I go to isn’t like this, I’ll adapt. I’ll see how what I’ve learned from Jitta-sueksa can help me.”