Saturday, 10 September 2016

Are Thai and UK schoolchildren being failed? Egg tofu on your face, and Fashion Police patrols?

The Bangkok Post article on Thai schoolchildren IQ deficit must be a major concern in the Thai Government, Education Ministry, and for Thai parents and schoolkids.

For the Isaan provinces to show IQ 5 points less than the major Thai cities is astonishing. Only Buriram was the exception - perhaps a successful football team or stunning temple lintels and carvings, stimulating debate and brain cells?

And the Western border provinces too.

An ongoing problem as reported in 2011 by The Nation:

It struck a chord with me in my Surin Village School Charity role having built the first school in Isaan (for just $30,000 - about the price of a small garage in UK) and with plans to build 1,000 schools each year in ASEAN and beyond.

Perhaps as part of the debate on improving Thai education the Surin Schools project is relevant in that the parents and teachers and children became motivated by the idea of a new school - not just building a building. Wider enthusiasm was for ensuring the curriculum was overhauled and the provision of a range of equipment such as a library and books, internet satellite, and boys and girls separate toilets.

The schoolgirls of Ellingham School here in Ramsgate in East Kent, also provided pencil cases and pens and pencils as Xmas gifts too. The fundraising for the school was helped by £1 donations from many members of the public and diners in the Surin Thai restaurant (try the seabass!).

The only disappointment in the process was the excessively bureaucratic and unhelpful UK Charity Commission - the school was built for only $30,000 which is extraordinarily good value - all the more so as the president of the commission is something of a hero of mine: William Shawcross and his book Sideshow on the secret war in Cambodia.

The Isaan IQ deficit issue seems a useful indicator of wider problems, for surely such targets are not genetic factors but a range of issues such as malnutrition and stunting – the Surin school project in Mali, West Africa highlighted the importance of school dinners to ensure both school attendance and concentration and learning.

For sadly Isaan isn’t alone in facing education problems - the Medway primary schools here in Kent are the worst in UK requiring urgent reform.

And the UK literacy rate of 99% is laughable in that it assumes a reading age of 8 years old at age 16. In effect UK education having no discernible effect on literacy after 8 years old is appalling failure.

The debate on UK grammar schools suddenly announced this week is ideological fluff but an attempt to begin to redress social dislocation.

Improved school buildings and a range of extra-curricular activities such as playing sport or learning a musical instrument or after-school societies and homework clubs are always cited as important by the UK public schools that achieve the highest grades such as Eton or Harrow.

Probably the $50,000 cost each year for Eton being a motivating effect for parents and students too.

The changes to the Thai university entrance system have also highlighted concerns over too-frequent changes. Similar issues are also being raised in UK over dumbing down of classwork and grade inflations with courses being made easier.

And there are concerns over the quality of UK university courses with the proverbial Beckham Studies of non-courses to ensure the 50% target for university education is reached. And student concerns over access to experienced lecturers and discussion time.

The CEO of Universities UK, the trade body for the UK’s 130 universities, Julia Goodfellow is Chancellor of Kent University, where I am a Visiting Professor with talks on Advertising, this week detailed the £7BN value of international students – and the £30BN UK education export target.

Shouldn’t a specific UK-Thailand education group be established to ensure smoother expansion of the Chevening scholarships to UK Universities now tripled, as well as English language teachers in Isaan schools – even Gap years and gap Summers or coordinating VolunTourism volunteer work?

The latter is something of a hot potato in UK at the moment with Harry Potter author JK Rowling railing against teachers or schoolkids or tourists helping out in schools or orphanages in ASEAN.

Couldn’t the British Council designation for language schools in Thailand – and indeed Cambodia and Laos and Vietnam – be extended to cover Voluntourism projects? USA is far more active with the Peace Corps.

The visit to Laos by President Obama last week will no doubt also kick-start USA education programmes there too. His first speech clearly spelled out that the single most important factor for the benefit of Laos plc was improving its education system - especially the education of young girls.

Hugh Evans, the UK ambassador to Laos (new embassies opened in both Vientiane and London recently) has secured the first education programmes with the Laos National University. And even a UK artist designing a postage stamp for the Laos Post office – surely such items are ripe for coordination with the Thailand Post Office and UK Royal Mint and GPO programmes already in place for Thai coinage and stamps?

Isaan schoolboys like UK schoolboys could improve their knowledge of countries or birds or orchids through the medium of postage stamps?

One fun aspect of the Surin School was having the Isaan kids draw their impressions of Britain – cue Big Ben, London buses and cups of tea. While the Surin comic in development will detail for Thai and UK schools the story of the charity and Isaan etc (sponsors gratefully received!).

Aston University in Birmingham, the Kalasin of UK, has signed an MOU in developing the UK university and Tech park at DaNang in Vietnam, the largest UK education investment in ASEAN – shouldn’t innovative universities such as Kasetsart rail engineering or Mahidol MMU or SPU be doing something similar?

While Lord David Puttnam the UK Trade Mister for ASEAN, the producer of The Killing Fields Pol Pot movie written by East Kent’s Bruce Robinson, is active in online education in Ireland. The UK’s Open University has for 40 years provided the MOOC online university courses (free right now for Thai students) and BBC English language learning that could be also tailored to Thailand.

Thai universities and exchange students should be reassured that David Cameron in one of his final speeches as PM pointed out that foreign students to UK could stay on after graduating if they had a graduate-level job.

With Oxford and Cambridge now with compulsory quotas of State school students as high as 59% shouldn’t Thailand consider similar programmes in Isaan with Chula and Thammasat and Samaggi? And also with the Russell Group Top 20 UK universities existing exchange programmes to swap UK and Thai teachers and pupils and Ministry of Education staff?

If Thailand isn’t swift off the mark the resurgent Laos schools etc could nab all the places – wiping the gravy off Thailand’s plate with a large slice of bread.
And the UK Red Cross could easily coordinate with the dynamic Thai Red Cross on curriculum activity with schools such as health and safety training and first aid, as could the RNLI for swimming and coastal safety.

I’ve already urged Ramsgate here in East Kent seek official Red Cross Town status for its charity shops, refugee work, lifesaving work etc.
Similarly Sports diplomacy with UK football could help galvanise Thai school football teams – not just a trip to Bangkok to see their favourite UK teams such as Arsenal or ManU or Aston Villa, but even a chance to visit London and visit Wembley or Anfield. With the UK success at the Rio Olympics the Physical education colleges and say CCU Sports universities could be developed.

The UK schools compulsory education is now raised from 16 years old to 18 years old, and debates over the lengths of school holidays, increase in prices for school holiday travel and fines for taking schoolkids out of term-time holidays, a coordinated education programme with UK and Thailand could be put in place along with the Rajabhat teacher training colleges and exchange programmes?

And of course attending English language Summer schools – Thailand is lagging behind Malaysia with only 9,000 students in UK compared to 17,000 Malaysian students (and 89,000 Chinese students). If Thailand is serious about improving its English language skills within ASEAN then it should be pushing against this open UK door to increase students in UK and especially here in East Kent?

This week’s Egg Tofu Incident , as detailed by Khun Atiya in The Bangkok Post, of the Surin province schoolteacher almost force-feeding an Isaan schoolgirl to see if her claimed allergy was real, was very surprising, if not downright dangerous with a potential allergic reaction.

I’ve always found Thai teachers to be both diligent and caring as well as taking a pride in the profession that isn’t exactly replicated in UK. The Thai teacher’s uniform looks militaristic from a UK perspective, but if the UK’s kids have to wear school uniform so why not the teachers?
But the societal emphasis on teaching with Teacher Day and Children Day is something the UK could emulate.

The new headmaster at Hartsdown School in Margate, East Kent taking over from the much-liked and respected Andy Somers, seems to have been overly strict on school uniform for the first day back to school with a riot of 50 parents(!) only placated by some careful policing.

A tightening up on school uniform seems to have veered to Wermacht standards of uniformity and a Checkpoint Charlie approach at the school gates, not just rejecting children turning upto school in tracksuits(!) – and presumably the PE teachers – but pettiness for also for having frilly socks(!) or black suede shoes instead of black leather shoes.

Kent’s police were lucky not to get sent home too for excessive uniform infringements.

Without Kent’s Chief Constable Pughsley calling out the Fashion Police, certainly the official East Kent shoe with TOMS shoes would be a useful step forward for bulk-buying stock etc as well as helping kids in Africa with a free pair of shoes and also creating extra fashion and manufacturing jobs?

Kent’s headteacher needs to be more active on asbestos cleanup not frilly socks – and mindful of the cost to parents of fast-growing kids and uniform costs. And the danger of kids wandering the streets rather than being in school.

I’ve urged a Kent Education Commissioner – and NHS – as with the Police Commissioner to coordinate and improve the sector.

Every UK government and NGO talks about refocusing society from say City bankers or Army tankers to the caring professions of Nurses or Teachers etc and nothing ever happens. A Teacher Day or Nurses Day could signal societal shifts as well as boosting UK public holidays: only 20 days compared to 33 in Germany.
Britain already has a MayDay to celebrate Trade Unions so why not?

A much-discussed Trafalgar Day didn’t happen – although it was rather foolish having a day off in the seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and freezing rain of Autumn rather than Summer.

And the discussions around reducing the 5 day work week to 4 days with staggered starting times etc to shift the rush hour given the impetus of automation and Free Economy citizens income of Switzerland, Utrecht, Finland etc are needed.

Why shouldn’t businesses start at 8am/9am and 10am rather than all starting at 9am? After a modicum of bickering and moaning the rush hour would be reduced by a third?

And the debate could be expanded as to whether schools should start at say 11am to allow teenagers to be fully rested, or the too-long Summer holiday a relic of when UK schoolkids left school to work in the fields and bring in the harvest.

And how UK education fits with the world of work.

The former Business Minister Liam Byrne, now taken over by Kent’s dynamic Greg Clark and Liam Fox Trade Minister, previously raised the German Mittelstand of SME businesses innovating with DIHK support and compulsory Chambers of commerce membership that’s resulted in Germany’s blistering growth and innovation of the Wirtschaftswunder.

Liam Fox today describing UK Big Business as fat and lazy and failing to export or nurture exports has a point. I’ve written before on the potential for say UK Landrover-Jaguar and VW to team up in Latin America’s Southern Cone with Chile and Argentina and Uruguay.

And I talk of the Meiji reforms of Japan required in UK. It’s no surprise that Volkswagen and Nissan rather than British Leyland are the leading UK car companies, and all the better for the EU economy, while the wheels come off the less productive eo rinnovative French, Italian and US car companies.

My work on Surin School has shown to me the value in extending school-children’s horizons. And I don’t believe the IQ research shows that Thai schoolkids are stupid, nor that schoolkids need force-feeding a diet of egg tofu or suede shoes, but rather they need a smarter range of Education programmes.

Tim Garbutt is a director of Surin Village School charity - the first school already built in Isaan and plans to build 1,000 each year. He doesn’t like eggs or tofu or suede shoes. Maybe suede shoes.

Misc points:

* July Updates:

* Working on a misc issues: Magellan Anniversary - Spain and LatAm, Almeria Universities links and Kent-Thai orchids

* Also Solomon Islands cruise ships

* Benelux strategy: Panasonic and Phillips - DNA bathroom mirror

* One Essex court and Inns fraud: Grabiner, Glick, Hollingworth, Leavor etc

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