Ian McNamara

The evolution of e-learning in Thailand

At last a column with some substance

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to rile a Thai politician, it's his fellow countryfolk being taken advantage of by merciless farangs.

Recently, there has been another example of the out and out, blatant exploitation of this nation's hard working citizens. I'm sure many of you shared my feelings of exasperation and, let's be honest about it, downright disgust at recent newspaper reports in which a Thai Rak Thai minister helpfully pointed out his misgivings on the validity of on-line learning programs offered by numerous scholastic establishments outside Thailand.

He kindly noted that, primarily due to difficulties in enforcing uniform standards, then diligent, hard working Thai students looking for an easy way to get an MBA may be short changed. If I understood properly, these ‘Mickey Mouse', mainly American, British and Australian, universities aren't offering courses which are up to the standard of the mainstays of the Thai government system, for example institutions such as Ramkhamheng and Rajabhat (more of which later).

At the end of the day it doesn't really matter what the government says in its efforts to discredit several well know farang seats of learning because Tata Young has come out in support of internet / distance learning courses. Apparently, if you're like her, i.e. simply too busy to subject yourself to the inconvenience of missing a sale at the Emporium for a class, then e-learning is the way to go. Of course, it also helps if you have a million baht in the bank to finance your endeavours.

" It might sound expensive, but when you consider the cost of first class flights to the USA, the hassle of having to do the work yourself and the loss of star power stemming from a protracted absence (a case of ‘Ta-ta Tata'?), then it's definitely worthwhile.", quipped, the perpetually smiling Tata. (allegedly)

What many people fail to realize is that Thailand is already a world leader in the field of distance and virtual learning. Every year colleges, unwittingly, enroll thousands of distance learning students. For many the classroom is a virtual experience, a place to which they never venture into in reality and which only exists in their minds thanks to descriptions given by fellow classmates.

For generations many students have seen the benefit of not actually bothering to get out of bed and turn up for class, preferring instead to study, in absentia, from home - by way of photocopying their friends notes every week and adding their names to reports done by fellow classmates. Anyone who teaches evening classes at a government college will know the feeling of having some students they only see three times a semester. The three sightings are usually:- the last ten minutes of the first class of the year, a fleeting appearance at the mid-term exam and, what is for them, a marathon 2 hour session which by chance coincides with the final exam.

As a side note, education isn't the only form of ‘distance' activity practiced here - remember the stories of stand in prisoners? If you either can't be bothered or have much better things to do than spend a year banged up, then you can always hire someone to do it for you. This is a form of distance punishment. The convicted does his time about 200km away from the jail, in the comfort of their own home.

If flushing a million baht down the toilet of online learning is too big a hit for your bank balance to take and a cheaper way of avoiding work in order to obtain a decent qualification is required, then it's time to head over to the mecca of Thai online ‘e-learning' www.rajabhat.com. Rajabhat Institute is offering, obviously, top notch high-quality shopping n' study at their new website. This bastion of Thai academia, is currently enrolling students onto three online courses. Lucky punters have a choice of three, rather badly named, courses - ‘Information Technology for Learning', ‘Computer Application for Business' and ‘Artificial Intelligence'.

Predicting the future is never easy but it's probably safe to say that within a couple of years the number of offering, and the number of students undertaking, ‘e-learning' will increase exponentially. One day an eerie silence will pervade the corridors of the local Rajabaht and you, dear English teacher, will have been replaced by a database of correct answers to a multitude of online choice tests.

In Internet cafes across the land, entrepreneurs will be cashing in on this fad by signing up participants for courses with the promise that all the work will be undertaken by recent, hard up Chula graduates.

Expect to see the number of MBA students rapidly increase to the point where an MBA is devalued to the level of a cycling proficiency award. At this point e-Doctorates will begin to take off.

And the best thing about all this? It's all been done by Thais for Thais.

(In other words you've only got yourselves to blame.)


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