Thailand, like all other ASEAN countries, has been hit hard in every respect by the pandemic.
Social structures which rely a great deal on tourism have been severely affected, leaving people homeless and in abject poverty. The hospitality industry, one of Thailand’s biggest employer, has been in a free-fall over the past 24 months and that has reverberated with all aspects of Thai society.
The switch to online learning
One part that has seen significant upheaval over the past year has been the country’s education system with schools, colleges and universities transitioning to online learning from in-class instruction. The level and quality of lesson delivery has dropped and schools have been trying to adjust by offering instruction using various online platforms. This has resulted in teachers who needed retraining for online instruction and students who had to learn to navigate zoom, google classroom or MS Teams, to name a few.
Schools that opened, believing the threat of the virus within their specific environments had miraculously vanished found themselves closing after merely a few days of staying open as one or two returning students were tested positive for Covid. This was and has been an ongoing issue.
Within this context of physical school closures, however, there may be a silver lining. Thailand has a huge opportunity to revamp its educational structures and teaching methodologies while the education sector tries to regroup.
To date, instruction in the Thai education system has been primarily teacher-centered with students fearfully sitting at their desks in rows and columns attentively listening to the teacher spouting the lesson. There is no interaction and little, if any elicitation of student feedback, ideas or opinions. With many instructors, expressing views was seen as an affront to their authority in the classroom.
It’s not the teachers fault either because the training they received was focused on teacher-centred instruction which has been the cornerstone of Thai culture; high discipline, strict adherence and punishment for non-compliance and never, ever argue with your elders. Now I am not advocating any form of rebellion; however, there must surely be some debate allowed where students can openly express their sentiments without retribution.
While Thai culture may dictate this form of instruction, the government has an extraordinary opportunity to begin the transition to student-centered learning which is being successfully implemented and used around the world with impressive results. With a strong education foundation in place already for teacher training, Thailand could effectively transition to this learning model within 5 to 7 years if the motivation is present.
Another very important reason for the restructuring of the Thai education system is developing the ability of Thai students to communicate,compete and excel internationally.
A large number of Thai students travel to international universities annually and they have great difficulties in adjusting to the teaching styles and models in their new environments. Their ability to communicate freely and openly which is demanded in most of these countries is especially hindered by their lack of social and life skills which are not addressed in the Thai education curriculum. This makes them “outcasts” or feel abandoned and lost and sometimes ridiculed by their peers. The result is significant drop in grades, difficulty in coping with assignments, depression and sometimes, alcoholism and drug addiction.
One only has to travel to a college or university in a European or North American university to witness the result of this phenomena. Furthermore, since many of these young people have affluent families, there is little incentive or motivation from them to perform to their full potential once they stroll down this path of self-destruction. Their parents have no understanding of the pressures in Western societies on Asian youth and simply accept the belief that their son or daughter is studying diligently as they had been strictly told to in Thailand.
Reforming the Thai education system to student-centred education does not provide all the answers in developing Thai students who are confident, charismatic, happy and successful. It is, however, one small step that can be taken by the government and schools to begin the transformation process.
It is no small undertaking, however. To be successfully implemented, there have to strong guidelines and rules for all three actors, the students, the teachers and the parents. The government has the power to mandate new learning and teaching guidelines and methods, including how class-rooms are set up for maximum interaction between students, how guided lessons are administered with accountability for understanding and helping teachers and students reflect on lessons and information.
In general, Thai students are intrinsically highly respectful and motivated to succeed if the right conditions are present. Thai parents must break out of the mind-set of being able to “finance” grades and certificates. If the country wants to be competitive in a rapidly changing global environment, they must embrace responsibility for their children’s education in conjunction with guidance and strict oversight on schools and teachers from government regulatory authorities.
Parvez (Par) is the Business Administration Program Director at Raffles International College in Bangkok.