In 1970, I took the 11+ (IQ test for 11-year-old kids in the UK) and then waited a few weeks to find out that I had passed. My mum was chuffed... and surprised! I assume my dad was pleased, too - he was in the pub! A few weeks later, I was bundled off to boarding school and promptly forgotten about.
Maw and Paw took me back for the holidays and gave me food and stuff, which was nice, but it was clear to me that from an early age, I'd be teaching myself how to make a success of life.
Fast forward and I'm sitting with the rest of my co-workers taking part in graduation day for the prathom 6 students that I have been teaching since they left kindergarten six years earlier.
The day unfolds
The day starts off with everyone assembling in the playgrounds and common areas of the school at around 8 o clock. There are meals and snacks available if you want it. It's a good opportunity for students and staff to catch up. Kids from previous graduations wai and acknowledge me, but they don't stop and say "hello" as their English hasn't progressed since I last taught them. In most cases it's RE-gressed!
At 9:30, the teachers all take their seats at the back of the arena, the VIPs and school admins take the comfy seats at the front and the prathom 6 students start trickling in to accept their expensive looking graduation folders and have their photo taken. (It's the only photo the students will have to look back on, where they aren't making ridiculous hand gestures!)
In other parts of the school; visitors, parents and other family members mill around drinking water, take photos and peer in over the proceedings to make sure nobody has fainted.
An activity-packed day
I was hopeful that this performance would be over in an hour or so and that I could get out of the relentless heat, but I was wrong. There's a lot more to this day than just a 'photo op'. There are speeches by principals and owners of the school. There are motivational videos and other videos on how to deal with bullying and cyberbullying. There are special commendations for the 'head boys and girls' and other students who have over-performed over the previous year.
This was all a far cry from the almost total abandonment that I had been through nearly 50 years earlier and as I sat at the back of the arena watching these events unfold it occurred to me that it's worth highlighting the good things that happen in Thai schools...
There is much to mock about the academic system here in Thailand but the school does have a few things going for it.
East v West
Firstly, unlike the West, there isn't an epidemic of junior suicides! Kids aren't swinging off trees or wrapping the net curtains around their throats in their bedrooms. There's a social inclusiveness in Thailand that stops this from happening and it's taught from an early age.There is absolutely NO bullying going on at all. It just wouldn't be acceptable and anyone who tried it on would soon be 'outed' and set straight.
Schooling is stress-free. In the West, students and teachers actively hate school and want to avoid it as much as possible. In Thailand, it's a non-stop party with some lessons thrown in. Kids and staff like being here!
Students are applauded and rewarded for the good things that they do in many effective ways. Now, you may think that there's not much point to all this, but kids yearn to be acknowledged and appreciated... even when they probably don't deserve it! It's part of what creates 'good people' and it's one thing that Thailand is good at doing.
Getting it right
In my view, there is the correct balance of intrusion and encouragement when it comes to junior school. In Taiwan and Japan, they are just fanatical about studying and in the West, we're almost at the point where we've given up caring. Thailand seems to have a nice balance... the parents, teachers and the government care and are involved but they aren't crazy-ape-shit bonkers about it!
"No child left behind!" may not have academic application in 'The Land Of Smiles' but it does apply socially. It might be worth thinking about when a new term starts.
When you get frustrated because kids aren't learning as much as you are teaching - maybe there's more to life and school than just your lesson plans!