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25 ตุลาคม 2012
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Alternative schools and Innovative Learning in Thailand

Sunthorn Tunmuntong

Thailand Development Research Institute

sunthorn@tdri.or.th

Education never seems to be an easy task. Looking at Thailand, even most Thai students devote more and more time in their study, the overall attainments are falling. This has brought a lot of questions to Thailand’s mainstream education. However, there are a small group of schools who distinguish themselves from the traditional way with different approaches of learning. Surprisingly, their students’ test results are quite impressive. They are known as “alternative schools.”

How does ‘alternative school’ look like? In Thailand, alternative schools are officially similar to those of mainstream establishment which provides education ranging from primary to tertiary stages under the Ministry of Education’s Basic Core Curriculum. For example, Moo Ban Dek (Children’s Village school), Roong Aroon, Amatyakul, and Sathyasai. What makes these schools different from ordinary schools is their innovative learning and teaching.

According to TDRI’s study, which sampled 14 alternative schools in Thailand, their innovation in learning and teaching consists of three core elements; namely, philosophy, teaching approach, and schooling resources.

First, learning and teaching innovation has been rooted in various educational philosophies, for instance, Montessori, Waldorf, Summerhill, and applied Buddhism. Despite different practices, these philosophies share a focal point; human is heterogeneous in nature, therefore education should be diversified and learner-oriented.

Second, as spelling out their own philosophies into concrete actions, the teaching approaches do not strictly take forms as identical as a normal school’s. Instead of providing eight core single subjects, for example, Mathematics, English, and Thai language, alternative schools combine those into a set of integrated packages. In addition, most alternative schools in sample tend to set up learning outdoors, working as a team, and lecture in classrooms together as a dominant teaching method. For example, high-school students in Darunsikkalai School learned a story of rice and ship which would bring learners to study a serial of Suvarnabhumi history, agriculture, irrigation, culture, and international trade. This method, called ‘story-based learning,’ would encourage students to study various core subjects and curiously find the answers by themselves. One of the reasons behind this learning design is to help students to comprehend the variety and interconnectedness in real life and equip them with the right mindset and solution.

Finally, certain schooling resources are necessary to enable such alternative learning. TDRI’s analysis found that, compared with private and public schools in Thailand, the number of students per classroom in alternative schools are smaller, similar to the ratio of students per teacher. These, therefore, will allow a teacher to take care of students more closely.  Furthermore, these schools tend to recruit teachers with graduate and philosophy degrees proportionately more than other schools. One school in sample explained that teaching in alternative approach needs a comprehensive skill in order to understand the school’s philosophy and the learning quality of each student as well. These required resources would totally cost more than a number of schools operating in Thailand.

Interestingly, in 2010, students in the sampled alternative schools, on average, got higher Ordinary National Education Test (O-NET) scores than those in the ordinary schools. Even Amatyakul school, which decides to draw lots with applied students rather than leaching for a smart kid by a competitive test, had O-NET results more than national mean.

On one hand, many alternative schools are still in an experiment process in order to improve and develop a solid method. On the other hand, this educational alternative has been making an argument that education is not a ready-made process as similar as manufacturing a product in factory, but a delicate procedure with intensive devotion. The above test results suggest that performance of students educated in alternative schools was not bad, even though the exam itself is probably not their main purpose.

The big question in revamping Thai education system is how to increase students graduated from alternative schools and spur the success of their education innovations to other ordinary schools.

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