Here are some thoughts on two recent Bangkok Post articles. Both articles focused on the lowering of standards within the education industry. The first article was about students having access to the internet and the second article about Thai teachers failing exams or tests in their own subjects.
1. The problem is not access, the problem is the control and dissemination of what is taught and what the student's 'should know'. Critical thinking is of course totally out of the question and in one seminar I taught in Bangkok several years ago to teachers, was told in very strong terms that this was something that did not need to be taught.
2. Even when the Internet is installed, schools block such basic resources such as Wikipedia and Google Images. I recently was asked by a student here to tell her what a 'scale was. When I went to the school's network to show her a picture, I found Google's images function blocked. Wikipedia was also being blocked.
4. When the network was down, I was told 'it was not important' by my Filipino teacher colleague who has a 'Masters Degree' in education.
5. The Thai head of a very large English Program told me that she was too old to use the Internet and email. She of course is responsible for what is taught to these curious minds. As the students get older, their curiosity gets crushed. It is much easier to teach children in Thailand before their teens as the system hasn't totally destroyed their curiosity yet.
6. Every student perceives a computer as a 'game machine'. It is a vicious circle of trying to overcome the prejudices of this with teachers, administrators, parents and students. When new computers are introduced there is no concept or idea as to how to use them. The vast majority of the time they are there for show.
7. If a school of 3,000 students has an Internet connection of over 1 mbps, it is exceptional. One school with 3,500 students and over 400 computers only has a 1 mbps connection (most expensive and 'prestigious' school here) . In my apartment however, and within walling distance of the same school, I have a sustained 7 mbps connection. Guess connectivity and bandwidth is not important but since anything of use is blocked anyway, I can understand this.
8. Social networking sites, blogs, personal web sites, 'tweet' (2009 word of the year), etc., all get blank stares when you try to discuss this with students (even high school juniors and seniors). At least 'Google' (word of the decade) most know...now. Forget trying to use a blog for sharing lessons and knowledge with Thai students and teachers.
9. When I walked into the copy room recently, I was astonished to find a HUGE stack of photocopied material on the components and names of a very old manual typewriter. It wasn't even an electric one! OK, I thought, maybe something you need to know in Burma or Laos where there is no electricity, but here in one of the biggest cities in Thailand? Being taught to the up and coming, upper middle class students? There is a disconnect here to say the least.
10. The problem is not the infrastructure or the students, the PROBLEM IS THE SENIOR TEACHERS (the administrators)! Most are TERRIFIED of new things as they just might have to learn something new to keep up with their students or new teachers (e.g. how many times has the age of the universe changed in the last 20 years according to astronomers?). Sit in a Thai classroom day after day as I do and listen to the lectures. Hour after hour after hour the teachers talk, with no questions ever being asked by a student to any subject being lectured on. But the Thai and Filipino teachers always ask 'do you understand?'. Why don't students ask, 'Why? Answer that question and you are on the way to understanding the problem...
Thailand's teachers fail exams in their own subjects
11. In a very large public school outside Bangkok I was invited to lecture to teachers for a couple of weeks. Having asked many times before I showed up for the material, it of course was never sent. I understood why however when I arrived on the morning to lecture because every single page of the many 100s of pages in the material given to the teachers was in Thai. Not a single exercise or page was in English, and this was for Thai English teachers. (This could be why Thailand has the lowest English Standard in SE Asia.)
12. In the same place there was a student fair where they were showing their projects. One young lad had a project in which he was depicting a 3-D rendition of Yugoslavia as a geography project. When I tried to explain to him in a very kind way that the nation of Yugoslavia in his book had broken apart many years ago and was now a place of many new nations, he pointed out to me that I was wrong because in his book, it showed it as Yugoslavia. The book was of course dated 1955.
What astounded me about this was his unwillingness to verify if I was right or wrong and use the Internet to verify his 'research'. His arrogance and his sureness of being right also bothered me. The project of course was in the show and no other teacher (and I guess also his geography teacher) challenged the project's accuracy.
Forget trying to explain to many that 'Peking' was changed to 'Bejing' 25 years ago...
13. Recently I was told how important it was for the English Program students to read 7 books for the semester and write a book report on each (Considering the average student reads 5 books a year, mostly comic, this was an exceptional goal I thought.). As I started getting the reports in, I noticed that several students had copied the reports of earlier students who had read the same books. When I went back to the department head and informed her of this, the rules immediately changed as 'it was just a writing exercise' now. Of course the students who had worked hard and done the actual work now got their own work downgraded to those who had cheated.Would have liked to know the 'new rules' before I read, corrected and graded 100s of reports on my weekends...
14. No one fails. Excellence is not something that children and young adults are encouraged to achieve by their teachers. It is actually frowned upon if the truth be known.
15. I have taught in Korea. Been everywhere in Vietnam. Taught in Cambodia too. (Germany and the states as well.) The Korean children are light years ahead. Vietnam understands the importance of free, high-speed broadband and education. Everywhere in Cambodia young children can communicate with you in English. Thailand better get on the bandwagon or else cultures and economies such as Vietnam are going to leave the Thais in the dust (Actually they already have.). Combined with political upheaval such as the recent Red Shirts protests and shutting down the 8th largest petrochemical facility in the world at Map Ta Phut, one can only wonder where this country is headed.
Companies have options where they can locate their facilities and who they will employ. Even Japanese companies in Thailand require English knowledge as I have tested many of their employees for their personnel files. Promotion is nearly impossible without it. English for the Japanese manager is the medium of communication as well as for massive European based companies such as Siemens in Germany and Areva in France.
16. I could write pages more, but it has all been said before and nothing will change, even if they do want to spend billions of baht for a 'new breed of teacher'. For those however thinking about teaching in Thailand, do not expect to make a difference or change the 'staus quo'. That is NOT YOUR JOB! It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why the people that rule the country got their education outside it.
And here also.
I will once again be blasted for writing the above and having an opinion. I will once again hear, "If you don't like it, leave!". (That always solves a problem...)
I will no doubt also hear again "why are you here in Thailand? Why don't you go back to your own country and work' from a perfect stranger (another Thai teacher) while waiting for copies in the copy room.
There are so many problems at so many levels, it appears to be a problem that can't be fixed. Discussion of the issues is out of the question. But that is the way it is designed. Education of the masses is a very dangerous thing. I remember the rise of the labor unions in the US as the 'baby boomers' became educated. This was followed by massive 'civil disobedience' in the 1960s and early 1970s. Thailand is on the same path as America and those that rule the country know this. My guess is we are in for a bumpy road ahead which could be why the military wants a new division of 25,000 men to be established in Chiang Mai. Imagine however what all that money and resources could be used for if it went for education...