In praise of school activities
School activities and the real business of education
Term 2 at schools in Thailand seems to be more about activities and celebrations than actual classroom teaching.
No sooner did we come back from the October holidays and we had Halloween - which was followed by Loy Krathong - we are now in the middle of our annual performance - then early December has Fathers' Day and the King's Birthday celebrations - followed by Constitution Day - then it will be Christmas - New Year's - Children's Day and Valentines - throw in Sports Day, an Open Day, a student-exchange programme and an academic competition, before you know it the year will be over.
As a subject teacher tied to Thailand's rigid curriculum with a seemingly infinite number of indicators and standards for which multiple summative and formative assessments are required, it can be pretty frustrating when classes are cancelled and students go missing for activities and pre-activity preparations.
But while school activities may not be covering the demands of the Thai MoE curriculum, they can however be useful opportunities for the development of life skills.
Students growing up in the 21st Century no longer need be burdened with memorizing facts and figures. These days all that information is just a google away. Of course a strong understanding of core subject knowledge is essential but the skills that will enable today's students to succeed are; team work, problem solving and creativity.
These are the skills which they will need to apply on a daily basis if they are going to successfully navigate their way through the 21st century. School activities, if organized well, can be an excellent platform for students to develop these skills.
Over the past few weeks the students at Varee School, where I work, have been busy preparing for this year's annual performance - ‘Annie'. This performance is a pretty big deal at our school, the city's theatre is hired for the week and each department needs to organise and prepare an entire performance. The departments are responsible for everything- story, script, actors, dancers, music, costumes, stagehands, sets, lights, props, tickets, programs and posters
In the EP Department we apply a student-centered approach to this activity. The teachers provide guidance to the students but the emphasis is on the kids to get involved and contribute to the success of the show. The students this year were great and it was really encouraging to see them working together in groups, sharing ideas and tackling problems as a team.
Different students were involved in different areas - we had the younger students performing dance routines and older kids assisting with choreography - the upper primary students played the main roles - two wonderful young divas sung the hits songs from ‘Annie' - Mathayom EP students designed and created the backgrounds, the sets and the props - a couple of Grade 6 boys controlled the music - a group of M4 girls directed the lighting - a fashion-conscious teacher prepared the costumes - some mums and older sisters took care of the makeup - a couple of foreign teachers raised and lowered the curtains and sets - and a team of dedicated Thai teachers pacified parents and made sure all 150+ students were where they needed be.
Of course it wasn't all plain sailing, in the weeks leading up to the big day it was often chaotic, there were disagreements, disputes and even some tears but it was the ability to overcome these difficulties, pull together as a team and get the job done that really made it a valuable learning experience.
The shows over now and on Monday it will be back to the classroom, back to what's really important - grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, standards, indicators and assessments - after all that's the real business of education, right??
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Well I agree that Thai schools have a few too many activities but i also believe they can be useful if done right and the students are involved.
My step daughter just graduated from Varee School and is now on her way to study engineering at Prince Mongkot University so I'm more than happy!
By Proud-dad, Chiang Mai (13th March 2015)
Andrew is entirely correct. As the OP said, "School activities, if organized well, can be an excellent platform for students to develop (various) skills". Maybe these activities are well organized and useful in more high-end places like Varee, and I would guess many of the supporters of activities work in quite hi-so places. However, in most normal schools, they are about as well run as anything else, i.e. very badly.
In my (actually quite high ranking) government school, any large scale activity which means that classes are postponed or cancelled will inevitably result in 80%+ of the students milling around, doing very little, for extended periods (no, they wouldn't be doing the same amount in normal classes, thank you very much!).
The idea that students can learn skills from these activities is good, but why can't they learn these skills in classes? Is the class environment so boring that lessons cannot be designed to promote such abilities?
And no, these activities shouldn't be replacing subjects as they always do. Think back to your school years- did you have anything comparable to these activities, cutting the time for learning, at least on a regular basis? I suspect not. They would have been mostly extra-curricular.
I can count on (just about) one hand the days I remember from my youth which weren't relatively normal and routine. Does this extra focus mean that I learnt more about the subjects? Hand on heart, not necessarily, but at least I had the opportunity to do so, because they were actually provided, not shortened or dropped.
Actually, I was seriously considering sending my kid to Varee. After reading this, it seems to be no better than the school I work at, which is considerably cheaper.
Finally (whew), is memorizing facts and figures really a "burden"? I know that, unfortunately, the future is probably going to be full of people who can find out things (possibly), but know very little themselves (the death of intellectualism as being a quality to aspire to?), but why shouldn't your students be offered training in both facilities? Is it too difficult, or can't you make it "fun" enough?
By Joe, Bkk (25th November 2014)
Can't really disagree more. All these activities may keep the students happy but life learning skills should happen throughout life and a school is where they receive the education. Students in Thailand, even those who go through University have very little general or specialised knowledge of life around them, both within Thailand and outside.
In most schools, teachers like myself are the only chance Thai students have of speaking to native English speakers. In one week I would maybe only see a class once a week for an hour. Usually by the time I take register, the students arrive, settle down, get their books out and all the usual distractions are dealt with, I am lucky to have the students for 30 minutes. The first period is always late due to extended morning meetings. Last year in my previous school, due to activities, holidays, blah blah, I only saw some classes a total of 4 times out of a possible 20.
This is not only my view but that of most farang teachers, the better students and of parents who are forced to send their children to far away schools to ensure a proper education.
By Andrew Galbraith, Prachaut Khiri Khan (22nd November 2014)
Great to know that students are working on projects together and learning to communicate with each other. They could follow up by getting back to class and having a 'debrief', it would give them opportunities to further improve and explore ways to make events such as these more fun and memorable. Bring it up a notch and collaborate with other schools for such events in future: It will bring new perspectives to their learning for sure.
By Daryl, Singapore (18th November 2014)
Great article.so important for students to interact and learn different skills
By Ann e , uk (18th November 2014)