Sam Thompson

School open house

Not something you would expect to find in a Western school

For the past few weeks, all the students in our school have been preparing projects, posters, and games for the school's Open House Expo which is apparently held once every three years.

Me being a science teacher, my students prepared projects about environmental issues (M3) and physics (M2). My M2 students' work was displayed as part of the expo. I had them do a project I did back in middle school called The Great Paper Airplane Project.

As you may imagine for a group of twelve-year-olds, having permission to make paper airplanes for class was a big hit.

The students did a great job with the project. I had them make three different airplane designs in pairs, and then use the Scientific Method to hypothesize and determine what airplane flew the farthest. They had to fill out a small booklet following their steps through the Scientific Method, create a poster with the results (and other required items per my rubric), and present their findings to the class.

I was quite impressed! Remember that I teach the equivalent of the "gifted program" in the States, but even then the amount of effort put into the project quite surprised me! The presentations weren't half bad either, considering English isn't their mother tongue.

The Open House event, which lasted two days, contained these projects and many, many others from every class in the school. It was truly a lot of work to behold, and the idea was that parents could come see what their kids were learning about. Unfortunately, even though the event lasted two days, I didn't see too many parents. Although it would not be good for the teachers, per se, I think the better option would be to hold the event on a weekend; that way, parents who work during the week would be able to visit... which is the whole purpose of the event.

Even so, the students generally enjoyed not having classes for two days (duh), and it was great going around seeing all of the different work. Even though most booths were set up in Thai, most of the students were at least generally able to tell me what their projects were about. And, minus the language barrier, the pictures certainly helped.

Some of the highlights I saw included one showing how to create biodiesel. Another was a dunking booth where students could pay 20 baht to try to dunk one of their teachers (always fun). Another was one of the foreign language booths involving reading your fortune and talking about Zodiac Signs.

Probably the strangest one I saw was about Buddhism, heaven/hell (which I didn't know existed in Buddhism), and how to live your life (complete with the birthing process graphically displayed, I may add). That one probably would have pissed off one or two parents in America.

Hell, what am I saying: the school system would probably get shut down.

But that was a tip of the iceberg compared to the ridiculously fun dancing events and concerts I saw. The expo opened the first day to about 200 students dancing a well-choreographed show that largely included unedited American pop songs. Hollaback Gril by Gwen Steffani was probably the funniest thing. I'm not sure if the students have any inkling what they're saying when they're pulling out the cool moves while singing "the shit is bananas," but they sure had a good time doing it.

The talent show towards the end of the festival was quite fun too. The winner, as I understand, got 5,000 baht, second place 3,000 baht, and third place 2,000 baht. That's a lot of money for a student. That's a lot of money for me!

Perhaps the coolest thing about open house, though, was the rave and metal concert that ended the expo. Seriously, on this huge stage constructed in the area where the school typically has assembly each morning, complete with a professional sound system and lights, they played rave music (dubstep and remixes) while something like 400 students jumped up and down like they were in a legitimate club. And this is at three in the afternoon.

It was so cool to see the students having so much fun! Even without being heavily intoxicated, which is what I usually require to enjoy a rave and/or live concert. After the rave, there were five student bands that played a variety of mainly Thai rock and pop songs, but I was most impressed with the metal band. Metal's not my favorite kind of music, but seeing a boy who couldn't have been more than 16 screaming Avenged Sevenfold while another fellow that couldn't have been older than 12 played some impressive guitar was just awesome. It's crazy how much talent these kids have at such a young age.

I think I'm pretty safe in saying that such an event (either the concert OR the Open House itself) wouldn't be seen as valuable use of time in a U.S. school. I'm sure I'm also safe in saying that dancing to unedited music wouldn't make the cut either. As for the rave and/or metal/rock/pop concert I saw... well, let's just say there'd be a few thousand students waking up in jail, and the courts would be so overcrowded with lawsuits that they would implode.

That's what I love about teaching in Thailand: learning can be fun. Sure, the kids may not learn as much as Western students, or even those in neighboring soon-to-be-ASEAN countries. Sure, they don't know jack squat about history or geography, or really anything that isn't Thai-centric. But in the grand scheme of things, the students get to do a lot more of what kids are supposed to do: have fun.

I realize that, especially with ASEAN coming up, saying such a thing may not be in Thailand's best interest. It would obviously be beneficial to have the students learn, in the very least, enough to compete with neighboring countries, and I would fully support such an initiative. But within the cultural and governmental system we're working with in Thailand, and with the extreme resistance to changing anything as I've seen, I see no reason not to look on the bright side.

I'm just a farang, after all.


Thanks for the comments! Yes, I can't lie: it's quite refreshing to be in an environment where the students generally WANT to be there. I've found that it allows them to focus more on their individual talents.

Why, just yesterday, as I was leaving the school, I walked past a mini dance troupe dancing to the music of one of the student bands in rehearsal. I love it. I wish I had liked high school so much... haha

By Sam, Bangkok (2nd February 2013)

Nice article, Sam.

By jbjanbj2012, Bangkok (1st February 2013)

Regarding the below attempt to bash the west- it is just possible that sometimes political correctness is useful. As an example. growing up, some of my friends were happy that people were discouraged from calling them racial epithets, and that teachers actually tried to stop this from happening. Additionally, I feel glad that health and safety nazis ensured that there was a lifeguard when I went swimming, or that I had to wear a seatbelt in a car, as both saved my life.

I find it the idea that these kids need fun odd. This hasn't been the case within living memory for most of us- we had to go to school and work, just like our parents, and most likely our grandparents etc. Also, there is a difference between kids and Matthayom students. They can leave school in a couple of years- how about preparing them for it?

I won't feel sorry for Thailand if it is thoroughly screwed over by ASEAN; they had a lot of time to prepare and actually put some effort in, and if instead they want to play games or dance, they made their bed. This could start early by actually challenging the kids and getting them to do useful stuff, but, even though most of them spend half their free time at extra study classes, actually making them do something productive at school wouldn't be fun.

However, I don't think Thailand will be thoroughly screwed, as it seems most places in ASEAN are just as corrupt and/or lazy (instead, Singapore will be screwed when it finds that it has to do all the real work and support a bunch of moochers). Hooray for sanook!

By jbkk, bkk (28th January 2013)

Very nicely written article, Sam, and one I could have written myself having seen similar, wonderful sights at my schools over the past 17 years here. It's a great reminder to the world how ludicrous political correctness has become in the Western world and how down-to-earth Thais have remained while the rest of the planet has gone insane. Let's hope that ASEAN doesn't change the things that make our adopted country so special; long live the Thainess of the Thais!

By mr.m.ed., Isaan (27th January 2013)

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