Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Surin4SurinSchools – education reform for UK and Thailand and Bangkok Governor 2018?

Khun Surin Pitsuwan, Thailand’s former deputy PM and ASEAN Secretary-general and erstwhile Bangkok governor in March 2018 makes some eloquent points in his “Education itself must learn some lessons” article in the Bangkok Post:

The PM Prayut initiative on Thailand 4.0 to drive up the quality of teachers and education is an important one, in danger of being derailed, and resonates here in UK too.

Khun Surin rightly details the shocking litany of Thai education results in recent years:

• PISA results for Thailand and Cambodia 62nd and 69th of 70 nations in Asia for English proficiency

• The 2016 survey by Cambridge University of 400 English teachers in Thailand rated 60% as inadequate – and with worse figures in STEM courses

If the success of UK links and heritage via the Commonwealth could help explain the PISA success of Singapore at 12th position and Malaysia at 14th position then no such excuse could be found for Vietnam ranking higher than Thailand at 29th position.

Anecdotally the poor quality of Thailand’s teacher training and grammar books is only matched by my occasional series of what I call Tim’s Thai Typos the astonishingly bad translations of big brand advertisements in Thailand’s press and poster industries.

Clearly Khun Surin is right to flag up the need for root and branch reform of Thailand’s education system – and to highlight the success of the UK Russell Group and USA Ivy League universities as suitable candidates for emulation.

The UK is famed for the quality of its education system especially universities – the world top ten being American or UK universities. A success highlighted by UK being 5x smaller in population than USA and only 0.8% of the world population. And the sprinkling of Carnegie libraries that highlight UK-USA educational funding.
And, as an aside, why wouldn’t Khun Surin as Bangkok Governor in 2018 follow the Royal Road of closer education and cultural links with Cambodia as well as fast-forwarding hispeed rail links to Phnom Penh and onto both HCMC and Yangon to cement Bangkok’s role as essentially the capital of ASEAN?

## Surin Education Reform##

For if Khun Surin underscores the 166 international schools in Thailand – including his own Rugby School as Chairman and an honorary degree from my alma mater Bristol University– then it’s a concern that only 45 such schools are member s of the ISAT Thai International group with formal and active links to Thailand’s Ministry of Education. Hardly an engine for education reform and growth.

In UK pressure is on for continued improvement in education after the too-long Summer holidays – a Victorian relic of farming and harvests. But with the UK still facing the effects of the Great Recession of 2008, and a summer of silliness if not political mayhem with Brexit, then few people have been heard to call for a revamp of the whole UK education system.

In my Sincerity Advertising role I’ve volunteered and taught in Thai and Kent schools and universities in English, and Advertising, and Business Studies and highly recommend it.

Universities such as MMU, SPU, King Mongkut, Kasetsart as well as Chula and Thammasat and Sasin have much to offer UK.

The UK’s June election has sent British politics to the bottom of the class with wholesale U-turns in the Tory manifesto including the cancellation of the reintroduction of grammar schools and cancelling the cancelling of free school dinners.

Indeed calls for Brexit to be cancelled are growing by the week as a more outward facing UK emerges again from the insular Little England debates of the past few years.

And the new lame-duck Theresa May government now distracted in calling for a more equal society especially for white working class boys to attend university. And calls to end charitable status for public schools such as Eton, and increase the State school quota beyond 59%.

The dynamic UK Education Minister Justine Greening is active on UK reform and issues raised such as free tampons in school, or the DUP and Northern Ireland lack of access to abortions.

And research this week showing the gender gap remains with Middlesboro being the worst town in UK to be a girl. And it’s horrifying that UK officially classes literacy as a reading age of just 8 years old at age 16.

##Kent and ASEAN education##

The UK education system certainly isn’t perfect here in Kent, Medway district has the dubious honour of the worst-performing primary schools in UK.

Kent social services had to be gutted in the face of vulnerable children scandals (plus scandals in youth football and youth military cadets), the Archbishop of Canterbury now calling for faster action on refugee children from the nearby Calais Jungle, and the Northfleet children scandal of the children being born with their intestines on the outside of their bodies.

All this with a council budget of $3BN per year just to manage Kent’s schools suggests reform has been held back. The specific schools and university budgets are extra to that figure.

Youth unemployment in EU is reaching epidemic levels with 39.7% in Spain and 21.7% in France and debates around the effectiveness of mainstream academic courses and vocational courses in UK’s 130 universities and dozens of colleges and language schools are underway.

Sadiq Khan the new London Mayor – the most votes ever in any UK election and most powerful Moslem politician in Europe – wiping the blackboard clean in urging a public inquiry into the Grenfell skyscraper fires, cancelling the garden Bridge scandal and expanding the Night train London Tube service to overground by December 2017 for a 24/7 global London.

While wider debates on the school leaving age increasing to 18 from 16, votes at 16 rather than 18, free tuition fees in Scotland but not UK and a Basic National Income are on the UK agenda.

In my Ramsgate Mayor and MP campaign I’ve urged a top 200 university in Kent along with ASEAN studies courses and BBCTV language learning courses even free-to-air broadcast exchanges and Open University expansion, the first MOOC.

News this month of the possible closure of the Broadstairs campus of Canterbury Christchurch University suggests a failure of both marketing and courses. While calls are increasing for Kent Police involvement in a CCU “Hendon of the South” as well as Community Policing with Charlton Athletic football club etc.

##Thailand and UK Education Partnership##

Shouldn’t the UK and Thailand form a long-term partnership in education?

And surely Khun Surin should make education a key platform in his Bangkok Governor campaign for March 2018?

It’s astonishing that almost no universities in Thailand have formal links and exchange programmes with UK universities.

Kasetsart being a dynamic exception with strong UK and EU and ASEAN links with its International dept, especially Newcastle University and its railway engineering courses. Indeed Newcastle MP and Shadow Industrial Minister Chi Onwurah has urged greater education and industry cooperation not just in excellent traditional industries such as railways but new industries such as computer coding.

With UK introducing computer coding as a lesson surely the expansion of Yingluck computers and Raspberry PI should feature in UK as well as Thailand?

And no Thai language courses or high schools or Rajabhat universities have formal links with UK universities.

While the Surin Village School Charity I founded has already built its first school in Isaan for just $30,000 for a new school building for 50 schoolkids including a library and satellite internet and computer links with Kent schools.

Wouldn’t Surin4SurinSchools be a key message for Khun Surin’s Bangkok governor campaign?

Certainly any new Bangkok governor would need to consider the disunited kingdom aspects of the Charter referendum and how to broaden education access to Isaan and the North and Deep South. As well as considering how to more equitably redistribute government funding beyond an ever-larger city-state that distorts national cohesion and affects both Krungthep and London.

Issues such as Bangkok lacking potable tap water compared ot Singapore or the Doitung Golden Triangle and Mynamar Wa drugs blight or even the monstrous failure in UK of Thai WW1 monument must surely be in the mix?

If London is cooking on gas to end the North-South divide through the Northern Powerhouse programmes then Thailand has much to do to end blatant inequality with luxury cars nestled next to street food carts. And the generation gap of 6 years of primary schooling in Isaan is a national drain compared to the educational access of central BKK. As would be a failure to expand the 10 baht healthcare schemes with sustainable vocational courses.

Failure by a Bangkok Governor to solve such problems could be the biggest disaster to befall the Thai capital since Ayutthaya in 1767.

While cultural issues such as Mahakan Fort and Bangkok Riverside developments as well as the new Observation Tower or High Speed railways will be a test for any Bangkok Governor in ensuring they graduate from being potentially costly white elephants or concrete vanity projects to credits to benefit future generations of residents and tourists in a world city like BKK.

Khun Surin would surely be pushing against an open door with the dynamic British Council – UK and Thailand’s secret weapon - for both cultural and educational opportunities – yet another UK Education Seminar near BTS Chidlom on 22nd July for example including Kent University:

As well as ensuring Universities UK – the grouping of all 130 UK universities – places Thailand’s needs first as well as with the Erasmus EU programme of university access.

Otherwise what a massive waste of both nations’ human capital?

##Thailand and East Kent##

Kent has 4 universities that are chomping at the bit to partner with Thai and ASEAN universities.

Kent University is a top 30 UK university (with an excellent journalism dept) while CCU Canterbury Christchurch University has strong teacher training and police forensic course, sports sciences and cinema departments. And a very strong business department and vocational courses and apprenticeships and work experience placements.

The latter could also be relevant for Gap Summers and Gap Years for UK students and teachers in Thai schools:

Thailand has a golden opportunity, before eventually the African Commonwealth nations such as Kenya or Ghana will put in place similar programmes, along with strategic growth markets such as Senegal, Mali, South Africa, Malawi and Angola.

Or with tighter Latin American growth market programmes with Mexico, Cuba, Chile and Argentina for example to move UK culture beyond just Shakespeare.

I’ve written before on Discovery Park and Sittingbourne science labs here in East Kent (both sites just 20km from the universities and with their own on-site STEM campus) for vaccines research and production – the former the largest US inward investment in Europe with Pfizer.

Both have excellent International Student departments and calls for Kent to have at least one top 200 university in the next decade. But already nursing exchanges are in place at CCU with DaNang University – Vietnam is not slow in grasping such opportunities and no doubt that reflected in the PISA results Khun Surin cites.
DaNang University in Vietnam is already the largest UK education investment. And UK has an Education export target for £30BN to be achieved – and both Thailand and Vietnam as key growth economies.

Will Khun Surin urge a Thai-UK Education partnership to create ASEAN Studies courses and languages and lift the number of Thai students in UK from 8,000 to 17,000 – the latter figure only the same as Malaysian students in UK now?

Shouldn’t all 8 top performing Thai universities in The Times higher education leagues be linked not only to a UK university but also to specific departments?
Plus there is East Kent vocational college opening its own hotel for customer service training and Creative Industries courses. Plus 400 other schools including Kings School in Canterbury the world’s oldest school, and dozens and dozens of language schools.

And David Cameron before standing down as PM and now MP made it clear that any international student graduating form a UK university and with a graduate-level job would be entitled to stay on in UK if they wished to do so.

Shouldn’t a Thai-UK university and education partnership help deliver on Thailand 4.0? For both nations to miss such an opportunity would surely mark them out as dunces?


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