Problems of Basic Education Quality
It is widely known in the media that the quality of both academic and moral knowledge in most students and graduates from basic educational institutions are currently low and they have hardly been developed or trained to be socially responsible members of society. The adverse effects of such low quality provision of school training is frequently seen in the media today, such as rival students from vocational colleges engaging in assault and murder. Those whose careers developed in almost every facet of society have had to rely on corruption for the survival of their career within both industrial and political arenas.
Improving Quality of Direction
Before you can determine the direction and quality of basic education, the facilitators of learning should understand ‘what the purpose of a school’s basic function’ is.
A general answer is: ‘to prepare students to be able to study in higher or vocational education.’
The correct answer under a successful Educational Reform is: It must not just cater for the development of intelligence and knowledge to allow for technical curiosity for further study at a higher level. The school also needs to create opportunities for students, found during the course of everyday events in schools that lead them to develop the social skills and virtues necessary to live happily and contribute to the wellbeing of the Thai society.
The 5 moral and social skills necessary to prepare students to become quality citizen of the country are as follows.
1) Courage 2) Generosity 3) Imagination 4) Principle 5) Resolution
The meanings of the five morals:
1) Courage – meaning the teacher encourages students to dare to express themselves in various fields. As well as the courage to take the lead in situations and activities that teachers set up, aware of the students’ own capabilities which student themselves may not have realized they possess. That is, we must take advantage of what students hide inside and bring this to fore. Teachers must be observant, being careful not to make other students feel down, envied or despised. Students in the group should receive admiration from their peers and teachers alike. By nature children prefer to be within their comfort zone, more so for Thai children as the result of more conservative and modest culture, Thai teachers themselves are naturally non pro active. Thus proper training of teachers is essential but is beyond the scope of this lecture. The school and teachers must play a significant role in encouraging students to realize that they have more inside them than they think they have. For example, Thai students never thought of volunteering to lead a group of friends to service children infected with HIV at a local medical centre. This positive courage needs to be groomed inside the children at young age. Then they will understand that they do have a vital role to play in the Thai society. This experience may not be readily available within the school’s compound, thus the school and teachers must either bring in or take students out to meet community partners who would benefit from this important extra curriculum as well.
2) Generosity - means tolerance and forgiveness to friends as well as assisting others in society who are weaker, disadvantaged, less smart or are poorer than us. Teachers should point out to students to understand the difference between pity and care. Pity makes students feel obligated to just give some help, simply donating money or unneeded items. When we pity the poor, we give him fish, but if we care about their wellbeing we share our fishing rod and teach him to fish. Teachers should teach students not to just have pity on those who don’t have or have less for it could be perceived as prejudice which is a cause of resentment and hatred within society. With the same example of the HIV infected children at a local community partner, students should be involved more as a partner than a donor in carrying out regular activities with these deprived children. Generosity will pour out of these students without having to be told.
3) Imagination –means teaching students to be creative. Learning to imagine good things or what are the better ways to increase conveniences or happiness in the lives of their families and of people surrounding them and in the society we share together. An example could be for students to think of problems or calamities which could be brought about by the lack of healthy food or clean drinking water. Then encourage students to think and imagine by themselves how such problems could be resolved. Some practical activities could be a survey by students to identify two hard hit schools in rural area or on remote hills. Students then write to student heads of these two potential community partners and ask if it is ok to visit their schools to develop joint activities to resolve the lack of clean drinking water supply which could lead to building a rainwater storage tank in order to have clean drinking water throughout the year. Such imagination should be applauded by teachers and students alike for such compassion. The two community partners will join in the discussion to find most effective ways to solve their problems.
4) Principle – refers to the means to teach students about the principles of integrity and honesty. Students should be informed of the importance and necessity in the integrity to be able to live with dignity in the society. They too can contribute to the goodness of other people. They should be taught not to make promises on what they cannot deliver. They should also know to apologise if they cannot fulfil the promises and learn from that lesson. Teachers must also teach students not to do things against their conscience. Then they will be highly regarded by people around them. All good moral virtues can be regularly reminded and commended as they behave well in class.
5) Resolution - means teaching students to know how to assess mistakes on a daily basis and reflect on them. Students should be encouraged to that before going to bed and not wait until the new year to make resolutions such as I will stop lying or to stop bullying people . The key here is to study own actions and own minds and learn how to better them day after day. Similarly these intentions to do better in their daily life can be regularly reminded and commended as mistakes or negligence were noticed.
Next Question is: what is the preamble in the class room or on school grounds before teachers can teach these 5 behavioural and moral values?
Answer: The key point is that teachers must create an atmosphere of warmth and happiness in the classroom before the students could be exposed to those five valuable experiences. It sounds easy but how to create such happy environment in class and in school. The ultimate objective in reaching this quasi utopian atmosphere is that every student must be happy in each subject in each class. How? The answer is simple. Each student must understand what is being delivered and discussed in each subject and in each class. How can each teacher achieve this is in the next paragraph. When students understand the subject matters discussed, they will be enthusiastic and eager to learn, teachers will then be happy to teach students. Of course some teachers are not happy to teach despite all students being happy and ready to learn. This may come about as the result of teachers’ incompetence or personal problems. This crucial problem will have to dealt with in another occasion. Thus we now will assume in the remaining of this lecture that teachers are competent and are not affected by personal problems.
Next Question : Why is each student’s happiness so crucial to learning?
Answer: One can visualize that the direct consequence of every student being happy in school is happy teachers and effective learning. Collectively the students and their teachers make the school a happy place, then all good things will stem out from this positive and enjoyable atmosphere. This, in fact, should have been the ultimate objective of our 10 years old Educational Reform. That said, it is not too late yet to proclaim that as the ultimate objective of our Educational Reform in the next ten years.
In our school life we all have seen some of our classmates were better than us but some were worse. This mixed ability in one class tends to be assumed as unavoidable. In fact, some educationists believe that mixed ability is good as quick learning pupils will assist slow learners. Or the slow learning students will be motivated to put more effort in order to catch up. This is true only if the disparity is trivial and within reach. But in most cases the slower will become more distanced as each chapter passes by. The feeling of a pupil who is lost in what his teacher delivers is miserable and painful. He is feeling worse and becoming hopeless. He dislikes the subject, the class and his friends and especially his teacher. This disliking will soon become hatred. His unintentional hatred has developed from feeling inferior to everyone around him. Soon one will notice that the boys has become the obstacle to learning in his class. This is so true if his teacher begins to pick on him. The unintentional hatred suddenly becomes real hatred. As a person who is perceived to be a loser, he will have to make it up by showing off that he is good in something else. Weak but rich students may corrupt poor teachers by paying for test paper or special marks. Weak but good looking female students could do the barter with dishonest teachers.
We are now talking about all common problems we can find in many schools, namely bullying both physical and verbal, skipping classes, straying in shopping malls movie theatres, overspending, falling victim to gamblers, drug pushers and pimps. He will then have to resort to stealing and drug pushing himself. Virtually all fatal near fatal incidents between rival schools on the street are the result of these lost boys. The negative impact on the society and younger generations are quite stressful and damaging.
To avoid these disturbances in classrooms and on the streets which undermine the growing of the nation, the Educational Reform must bring about happiness in every classroom by ensuring that no single student in any class is lost in the learning process.
Next Question: How can teachers make every student happy in classroom and in every subject ?
Answer: This is about the simple management of teaching and learning.
Goal: The management of teaching and learning to ensure every classroom’s atmosphere is filled with fun, and each student understands the contents of the subjects clearly.
Principle: Teachers have to understand that one student’s suffering is the sufferings of teachers and fellow students. Teachers need to know straight away which students do not understand and cannot catch up. Teachers must not let any student feel any of inferiority for he or she may get insulted from friends. Teachers themselves may lose patience and begin to blame the slow learner. Thus teachers may not pass fault in his teaching to slow learners. They are the one who must be blamed for not being able to get every student to understand them.
How to achieve:
The objective is to group students of same ability in each subject. The number of groups depends on the class size desired or necessitated by economic reason.
Let us take a secondary school class first
Assume that there are 4 classes of Grade 8, each with maximum 40 students totalling of 160 students in Grade 8. The management should test the ability of each student in each main subject for example English, Thai, Maths, Science, other modern languages. Then students of similar ability should be grouped under Set A for the first 40 best scorers, then Set B, C and D for the second, third and fourth 40 scorers respectively.
It will take more time in the assessment by the management but the results will be worthwhile. Now the 40 brightest in Maths will enjoy one another in learning in a relative faster pace or in a more vigorous discussion group. The worst 40 students of Maths will also enjoy themselves at least the slowest person will still be able to understand what is discussed in Set D class. He is not lost, he is just not updated or he just missed some basic knowledge in previous years. He will dare to ask and to answer questions (Courage).
Friends will not insult him as 'stupid'. His fear and hatred are gone. Teachers may also be involved in encouraging the student to find imaginative new ways to achieve faster results (Imagination) such as working in groups to solve problems. He may even want to help friends who could be even slower than him (Generosity) in certain subjects.
He will find the learning more manageable and he now has hope to climb up the ladder of learning with determination (Resolution). This is the key ! He himself is encouraged and motivated by the solid light in the tunnel which is now clear how he could move out of this tunnel of darkness or ignorance. Finally, teachers should encourage the student every day to remain a good role model to everyone in class (Principle).
When grouping all 160 students by ability in English, some bright students in Mathematics Set A could be very weak in English and put in Set D. This is a real life experience which students must face in order to learn that no one is perfect in everything.
It is indeed a very useful experience students get from this Setting approach. Students are allowed to be proud of themselves when placed in Set A and also they learn how to be humble and feel inferior to other friends when they are put in Set D. Some time they are winners and some time they are losers. This is important because everyone’s real life will face ups and downs.
Another experience students in Set D will get is that even they are at the bottom set but if they still enjoy the subject, student will likely to be motivated to do better. Thus, it is not unusual to see that, at the end of term, four sets could be collapse in to three or two sets. Teachers will also enjoy teaching this Set D for every student understands him.
However due to staffing constraint and the management’s responsibility to ensure that all staff are given equitable and fair teaching loads, a technique known as ‘Blocking’ should be introduced. This technique allows grouping of similar subjects as one larger group of subjects such as all science related subjects and math, bundled as ‘pure science’. Another group could be social studies subjects. In this arrangement the school does not have to have 4 teachers to teach math concurrently but two in math and the other two in science.
In most local schools in Thailand at the present time, ‘ Setting’ was improperly used. Due to a number of reasons, most use the total point average from last academic year to group them regardless of the subjects and they are in such groups for the entire year. This placement is called ‘Streaming’ which the UK has already abolished this system for the reason cited earlier, i.e. some students tend to become lost and hopeless.
In case of a primary case
The system of “mixed ability” is suitable for most subjects in the primary school because the ability gap among young pupils is usually not too distant and reachable with some minor support. But for Mathematics , ‘setting’ could be very useful to ensure no pupil is lost or giving up. In case of international school, English in primary could be a subject which needs ‘Setting’ to ensure weak pupils are catching up. But if the number of slow pupils is small, then ‘pulling out’ by learning support specialist will simplify the time tabling. The pace and time of this support in primary school will be much shorter.
Summary 1. ‘Setting’ is a technique which groups students of similar ability in a particular subject together. The objective is to allow every student to understand what is being delivered in class so that no student is lost or becomes so frustrated that he becomes a problem in classroom. However due to staffing constraint and time tabling difficulty, another technique is used to group similar subjects together to avoid having too many teachers teaching the same subject concurrently. This technique treats similar subjects such as pure science and maths as a block of subjects. This technique is called ‘ Blocking’.
Summary 2. ‘Streaming’ is an old technique currently considered ‘obsolete’ in more developed countries but it is still used commonly in Thailand’s secondary schools. It is the grouping by the averaged marks of all subjects in one go and student s are kept in such groups for the entire year in every subject. One can visualize how many unhappy students are in each class. It is almost impossible to call this school a happy place and it is impossible to instill moral values and social skills in the students. How can such unhappy schools produce well rounded leaders for the future communities?
The direction of improving the quality of Basic Education in this second decade of Thailand’s Educational Reform must focus on this true mission of the K-12 Education. That is, all involved in reforming Thailand’s educational system must understand that schools have more responsibility than just to prepare students for universities or vocational schools. They must prepare students to have adequate experiences so that they can live or survive in that matter successfully in the real world. Schools must create or bring into classroom as well as take students out to meet community partners to face real experiences through interaction and services that will demand these five moral values and social skills from their students:
If the schools achieve this, then a holistic (education) approach has been fulfilled in which both head and heart of students have been holistically developed. The students now have knowledge in their brain and also have good social skills and moral virtues in their heart These students can be proudly called ‘well rounded’ citizen or leaders for the future society.
To achieve this, the school and each classroom must be filled with fun and happiness so that students will have a great time in learning. Whether it is a happy school can be easily identified by finding out if there is any student feeling lost in classroom. It is not impossible to find such a happy school. Please come to visit us at the Regent’s School to observe any class at anytime.