Thursday, 24 November 2016

Thailand 4.0 and Surin Schools

It was interesting to see Khun Pongpol Minister for Education in Thailand detail the aim of merging smaller schools, leaving only the smallest schools in remote provinces.

I raise the issue in my Surin School charity role of raising funds to build a school in Isaan for c.50 schoolchildren. And raising funds for further such schools: Buriram, Sisaket and Siem Reap and Battambang next, and eventually upto 1,000 schools per year in Asia and Africa.

Khun Pongpol is right to emphasise the department’s focus on teaching rather than infrastructure. The Surin schools use existing government teachers and curriculum simply providing a state-of-art building and satellite internet and computers (and even new toilets).

And the involvement of Kent schools such as Ellington High School helps with not just immediate fundraising but ongoing support and the finer details of cultural support. Learning English is that much easier with a class of English schoolchildren willing to help on Skype or email, while one day Thai may well feature in the curriculum of Kent schools.

The Japanese Foundation, the cultural arm of the Japanese government is active in seeking a Japanese lesson within every UK primary school for example.
And the first Surin School has bene so well-received by Thai parents and teachers and monks – a community centre and temple repairs managed to be squeezed form the budget - that only minor fundraising is now required to furnish the playground with new equipment such as swings and sports and musical equipment, possibly a swimming pool and minibus too.

But I raise one concern over the policy: placing children into existing schools will result in larger class-sizes. And as we see too often in UK, even pressure on school playing fields to be built upon to keep up with such larger classrooms.

While the children and teachers relocating to such mega-schools will have to endure both longer commutes (presumably public transport will need to be expanded or school buses provided) and greater traffic jams. Both are also factors in obesity that is a pandemic amongst UK schoolchildren – and beginning to affect Thai children -hence the UK drive to a sugar/soda tax and encouraging sports from the 2012 Olympics.

Clearly as in UK whole schools of c.20 schoolchildren are unsustainable and low value, but an expansion of more mini-schools of c.50-100 pupils may be more viable in many rural areas. And given the Charter referendum showing division form the North, Northeast and Deep South,, Thai education has the potential to tailor the curriculum to enhance Isaan or Moslem culture and languages?

And on a more positive note, such mini-schools could form the basis of Adult Education colleges – 40% of the Thai population have only a primary education. And especially, English language learning colleges, given the perennial debate and concern over language investment and learning in Thailand – and the vital role of English as the official second language of ASEAN.

While in my politics role here in Kent to build better UK-Thai relations it would be wrong not to mention our 4 universities, 400 schools and dozens of language schools all keen to develop teacher-pupil exchanges and increase international students as well as develop MOOC online courses.
While the British Council cultural organisation in Bangkok is second-to-none amongst the British Council network, and very active in promoting both British culture and education and verifying language colleges.

Chula and Thammasat and Kasetsart may well be overflowing with such links but there must be other Thai universities and colleges keen on such partnerships?
While in terms of education beyond academia, vocational colleges and programmers with say East Kent College or Discovery Park or Sittingbourne science parks would complement the tripling of Chevening scholarships in both Thailand and Cambodia as key UK allies and growth markets in Asia.

A focus on STEM ir relevant for most nations and UK and Thailand are no different in that respect, but a tailoring of that approach with Discovery Park for ay vaccines research whether TB or dengue or rabies would be fruitful for universities such as Mahidol or research groups such as TRF and TDRI.

And in my politics work if I’ve been shameless in stealing innovative Yingluck policies such as free computers for schoolchildren then surely UK and Thai colleges and schools could cooperate on IT and digital programmes whether educational software and apps or digital whiteboards or even space satellites.

A rash of Raspberry Pi computers and coding lessons and VR headsets and 3D printers – along with healthier schoolmeals, 10x a day fruit, and soda bans and Red Cross first aid training - are part of my Education policy for Kent schools and I can see no reason why Surin Schools should be deprived of such kit and life-chances?
It’s been a particular successful education year for UK with Oxford University now No.1 university in the world and launching its own MOOC programmes to rival Harvard and Yale and even part of the bid to reopen the Oxford-Cambridge railway link. The latter was a rather bizarre oversight until now to the growth of Silicon Fen with Cambridge University. And again relevant for TRF and TDRI activity in UK.

Indeed as with Philippines and UK NHS developing links in the face of the Brexit issue, the dynamic Thai medical schools and hospitals could link with the NHS for say graduate work programmes with English language learning before returning to Thailand with new skills?

The recent UK trade mission to India confirmed that nation’s fervent desire for access to UK colleges while Philippines combines its expat work programmes as a national income stream – as with the Chinese diaspora - with currency remittances of over $24BN, some 10% of GDP from 10M overseas workers..

And a recent Malaysian conference on medical tourism detailed their national plans to boost health skills.

UK and Thailand’s education networks could move beyond mere chalk and talk to delivering on Thailand 4.0 through all its schools.


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