The online 'Distance Learning TV' program (DLTV) is an ambitious attempt to make classes available to all students and schools in Thailand no matter how remote the area they live in.
On paper, it's a good idea and one that expansive and remote provinces in Thailand could definitely benefit from. The scheme has been going on for years and has flown under the radar for city dwellers and the larger, more condensed areas of the Kingdom who have not found a need for its services.
Suddenly, though, it's now in the media spotlight. As the recent coronavirus pandemic takes hold over the world, there has been renewed interest (and subsequent critical public review) of this hitherto 'underground' educational resource. And that appraisal hasn't been at all kind!
But the inadequacies and shortcomings of the DLTV project might yet have escaped national attention and continued almost un-noticed if 'accidental whistle blower' English language teacher, Anchalee Pratansub, had not found online infamy as one of the participating educators.
Kru Wang managed to do, in one short video, what a nation of parents have been quietly raging about for decades, and that is to bring to national prominence and scrutiny the appalling state of state education.
An imperfect online world
But before we dive in to explore this particular incident, it's important to bring down the whole DLTV system first. Because, despite its ambitions, 'distance learning' is NOT an effective way for children to learn, even if the materials and educators are up to the task.
There are many reasons why the system is flawed, but in short, here are the three most significant ones:
1 - The TV/tablet screen can't absorb student reactions. The most valuable tool of education for kids is the teacher/student relationship.
2 - The program has no way to measure student understanding or to chart their progress. Once a child has missed a single step, no further steps can be undertaken by online classes.
3 - The program can't go 'off-topic' to illustrate a point in a different way that a 'live audience' could more easily connect with.
So why bother at all?
Well, because if properly organized and stocked, and used in conjunction with other resources and real teachers, it can still be a useful reference point for kids who live in isolated areas or who learn from home. (It would probably better to have the whole thing put on YouTube, but that's another issue.)
The accidental whistle blower
So, from an 'academic achievement' perspective, we can say that the unfortunate Kru Wang is no better or worse than any Thai teacher teaching any subject in any Thai classroom, online or otherwise - and it’s the ‘otherwise’ that has hit home with parents and other observers when they watch this poorly performing teacher at work.
There's an army of teachers all over Thailand just like Kru Wang who are poorly trained, poorly resourced, and poorly managed who are teaching the nation's children.
Parents know this and are powerless to make their voices heard. They also feel uninvolved and unable to prescribe the changes so desperately and obviously needed. Too many educators are unmotivated, overworked, underappreciated, lazy, and unambitious. Parents have noticed this, and they want to kick up a stink about it.
I've witnessed it first-hand
I worked at one private Thai school for ten years with the same six Thai ‘English language’ teachers. None of them could speak English with any level of competency, but what frustrated me is that in ten years NONE OF THEM got any better! They didn't have any ambition or motivation to actually want to be more capable and effective at their jobs.
THIS is what Kru Wang represents to parents... a lifetime in the classroom and still the same shitty standard of ineffectiveness and lack of student achievement riding on the bended back of an unbearable burden of administrative incompetence.
I understand that some of the criticism has been unkind and hurtful, but so bloody what? This is a person who has progressed through the required steps of academia to be in a position of trust, influence, and power, NOT some untamed animal who hasn’t been properly broken. She could have made the required changes to benefit her students, but didn’t.
This teacher is as useless today as she was when she first set foot in a classroom forty years ago. There's been no personal growth, no effort to master her craft and as a result we must conclude that there has been seemingly little interest in her students. This is what parents see and this is why the nation is having its moment of uproar.
The anecdote you can relate to and why we are complicit in this failure
My first ever corporate job back in 2001 was for Kingfisher. (The people who make tinned tuna chunks!) It was a heady time for me and as I waited for my first class to assemble in the fancy corporate boardroom, I gazed out of the top story window overlooking the city-scape of metropolitan Bangkok. THIS was where I was supposed to be!
The class of about twenty well-suited men and women shuffled in and took there seats and my 'liaison officer' (HR chap) introduced me to the rather bossy-looking Nok, who was 'really good at English' and would be answering all my questions. And so the HR man left and Nok started rattling off in English and all the other executives and managers in the room listened admiringly to her as I nodded my head sagely and smiled in affirmation.
The thing was I couldn't understand a bloody word she had been saying! It was just a fast, garbled noise to me! But I continued to smile, and she eventually ran out of noises and we all sat down to begin the class. Her friends were in awe of her and Nok was smiling that smug smile of victory over her fellow colleagues.
And thus started my seduction into the childlike and destructive embrace of one aspect of Thai culture, the saving of face... which continued up until the day I left in November 2019!
In the teacher's defense
Who is hiring bad teachers?
Actually, it’s more important to ask who is turning potentially good teachers into bad ones! It's bad administrators, who can deflect their bad decisions onto other people. So, why are admins getting it so wrong and what can they do better?
Teachers need motivation, training, and assessment. But as it's too hard to fire a teacher, they are often neglected and left to coast along till retirement. I've seen it in action. Even the most progressive school owners where I worked are up against a brick wall of intransigent employees who simply can’t or won't embrace anything new. Computers? Forget it. A new work/activity book, even? No damn way! It's too much trouble for them. So, bad school owners don't care and good ones are left frustrated.
Most of the ridicule and frustration lobbed heartlessly at Anchalee Pratansub is the justifiable anger and frustration of millions of reasonably knowledgeable parents and other educated observers who are seeing this video as one isolated example of the entire complicated map of incompetency that is the fetid swamp of Thai state education.
But if you’re inclined to blame the ‘trolls’ on ‘social media’ for her persecution then you’re dangerously missing the point. Her culture has let her down.
The cultural trade-offs for expedience and convenience at the expense of results and advancement have been costly. They have cost the country a generation or more of students who would otherwise have had the tools to embrace and confront the world and its challenges. With the end result, presumably being, to make Thailand a better, more competitive, and advanced economy.
Anchalee Pratansub isn't a bad person. She's not even a bad teacher - but everything around her stinks. The training, the support, the assumption that things are OK, the insane conviction that by doing things the same way over and over, decade after decade, then expecting that somehow things will get better!
We're all a part of this ongoing, hopeless, systematic failure. Even the farangs (like me) who so willingly play a part in this cultural charade that inevitably leads to poor outcomes for students must accept our share of culpability.
Thai education authorities are treating education like an inconvenient and inebriated dinner guest. Laughing away his poor behavior and pushing him into a tuk-tuk home. Then cleaning up the puke as best they can and just forgetting it ever happened! But it's not forgotten and it's not OK to pretend that the lingering, damaging stench of malpractice is OK.
If we're going to be pointing a condescending finger at one teacher in one video at one moment in time then we should maybe look into a mirror and point it at ourselves, too.
There's plenty of blame to go around and from the very top to the very bottom, we're all a contributing factor that led to this one single example of one teacher getting it so badly wrong