Developing civil responsibilities

Spotlight on social studies teachers

Recently, Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU), in collaboration with the Association of Social Studies Teachers of Thailand (ASSTT), hosted a conference under the topic "Roles of Social Studies Teachers in the Production of Good Citizens". Hundreds of academics attended the event, at which Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva delivered the keynote speech.

Prof Paitoon Silarat, PhD, far left, suggests changes in the responsibilities of teachers at a conference under the topic ‘Roles of Social Studies Teachers in the Production of Good Citizens’ held last month at Dhurakij Pundit University. Also participating at the conference was Assoc Prof Panida Maprasert, centre, and Kiatchai Pongpanich, right. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN

Social studies critical

In his keynote address, headlined "Procedures for Producing Good Citizens", the prime minister admitted that the current education system compels students to compete against each other, especially in the matter of gaining entry to high-preference universities where seats are limited. He pointed out, however, that this situation does not lead to only negative outcomes, as students will learn to work under pressure and to develop their sense of direction.

"However, we must instil in our youth that winning is not everything. All competitions have rules, regulations and a code of conduct that govern the participants' conduct," said PM Abhisit.

"This is where social studies become important, as the cornerstone of social studies is to make students aware that they don't exist outside of society, but are an integral part of it, which includes their community, their country and the world. It is important for people to understand their purpose in society in order to live together in harmony," continued the PM.

He added that knowledge of one's local and national heritage that is gained from a social studies subject, such as history, teaches people to love and cherish their motherland. At the same time, social studies also help students to live amicably with world changes resulting from the impact of globalisation on the environment, human rights, trade and other areas of human activity.

He suggested that the teaching of social studies components such as morality, ethics and civics should focus on practice-based learning. Pupils should learn more from sources outside their classrooms, such as learning from local scholars and engaging in activities with local communities and senior citizens. Such an approach would enable students to develop close relationships with their communities.

On inculcating an appreciation among students for democracy, PM Abhisit commented that activities to promote democracy could go beyond school elections as democracy is not just about the electoral process, but that students also need to be aware of the responsibilities that campaign winners must have to their voters as well as the importance of respecting the rights of all participants in the democratic process.

Students and media

PM Abhisit said students are quite influenced by the media, their peer groups and online social networks.

"It is important that we prepare students to live in the current world, and teach them to responsibly receive information from the various media and how to use that information properly as the media has a strong impact on people's language and behaviour," the PM commented. He noted that today's students have grown accustomed to receiving information very rapidly, and so they are easy to become impatient and frequently want immediate results.

He suggested that teachers need to coach students to be able to use the media wisely and creatively and to verify the information received. Teachers should encourage students to analyse news and information, their effects on society and real life and then challenge students to use that knowledge to improve matters for the common good.

Teaching diversity

The PM's speech was followed by a seminar. On the panel were Assoc Prof Noranit Setthabut, president of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, the Royal Institute; Uthai Dulyakasem, PhD, president of Silpakorn University (SU); Kiatchai Pongpanich, senior consultant to Matichon Plc; and Prof Paitoon Silarat, PhD, vice-president for research and academic services of DPU and president of ASSTT. The session was moderated by Assoc Prof Panida Maprasert, vice-president of ASSTT.

Mr Kiatchai suggested that social studies teachers need to overcome two challenges. First, students come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, nationalities and face various economic challenges. Second, teachers also come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds that might differ from those of their pupils.

"It is a challenging task to teach social studies in such a multifaceted classroom environment. Accordingly, social studies teachers must appreciate the varied backgrounds in play in a classroom setting and possess the necessary skills to empower pupils to comprehend the message taught so they will become good citizens in the future," Mr Kiatchai said.

He added that in order to instil a love of democracy in students, a democratic classroom in which all students feel that they have an integral part to play needs to be established. "Teachers need to create classrooms that give opportunities for students to interact, question, argue and express their opinions creatively and peacefully," he advised.

From perception to transformation

The SU president said that social studies become effective when the course: contains relevant content; is presented in such a way that allows learners to absorb information but which also transforms their behaviour; is part of a suitable learning environment; and has a teacher who is a positive role model.

Mr Uthai then used history as an example. "The problem is that students are taught to simply memorise history," he said. Instead, students should be taught to develop a historical perspective, he recommended. This means that teachers need to teach students to be able to explain current phenomena and conflicts and link them to incidents that happened in the past. In the case of geography, teachers need to not only transfer fundamental knowledge like physical features and natural resources but also information on today's events and problems.

"If we are to encourage students, through history and geography, to love, cherish and be proud of their pedigree and ancestry, as well as foster in them an enthusiasm for preserving natural resources for later generations, we need to modify the teaching procedures and content of the courses," he commented.

Mr Uthai further suggested that teachers need to guide students through three steps that will create a real learning process. They are: perception, where students receive facts; comprehension, where students understand the reasons and logic behind the facts; and transformation, during which students can apply the facts and adjust their attitudes, ideas and, ultimately, their behaviours. A major problem with education today is that students are taught only at the perception level, he noted.

The president stressed that social studies teachers should be cognizant that there may be competing socialising agents that might take students in an undesired direction. Such agents include social websites, peer groups, religion, community values and sometimes parents.

Globalisation

Mr Uthai suggested that social studies teachers need to keep up with new developments that are brought on by modernisation and globalisation and that might act as obstacles to building good citizens. These include, for example, the speed at which information travels nowadays and how quickly one can reach a decision. Often youngsters are able to attain their goals through fast-track channels and they sometimes relinquish ethical and moral boundaries in order to reach their objectives.

The globalised society also tends to emphasize "superficiality", whereby relationships among parties are only skin-deep, whereas collective effort and wisdom are needed to solve today's more-complicated conflicts. The two other values are "consumerism", whereby people spend money profusely, and "symbolism", whereby people pay more attention to the brands of products and services than to their real benefits and degree of necessity in life.

Changing world

Apart from the need to be wary of the values raised by globalisation, Prof Paitoon suggested that social studies teachers need to keep abreast of the changes that take place in this fast-moving world _ changes, for example, from modernisation to post-modernisation, where people in the post-modern era have high self-identity; from industrialisation to post-industriali-sation, where there is more diversity of thought; and from capitalism to post-capitalism, where more attention is paid to social responsibility. Other elements include new globalisation, a learning-based society, etc.

"As a social studies teacher, you need to keep abreast of these changes and should be able to affect these changes at some level," said Prof Paitoon.

Teachers also need to keep their students aware of future incidents, such as borderless economies, new kinds of workforce resulting from a changing society, climate change, and individualism.

Prof Paitoon suggested that in their new roles, social studies teachers should:

Change from being information providers to learning enablers;

Shift from the rote-learning teaching methods to a mental stimulation (student-centred) method of teaching;

Direct their students to move beyond universally accepted principles and debate current events and changes;

"Think outside the school" and take students out of the classroom to experience real-life learning opportunities;

Encourage students to learn without expecting to get marks as a reward;

Encourage students to have CCPR, which stands for critical minds, creative minds, productive minds and responsible minds. It is important for students to produce original products and drive society towards producing goods, not consumerism;

Guide their pupils into recognising that they are valuable to society, that they have responsibilities to discharge as members of society, and that they have a part in moving society forward;

Think "how can we and our students improve society?"

By putting the recommendations presented at the seminar into practice, the academics who attended the gathering can transform themselves and their students into effective and efficient citizens who will lead their respective countries with capabilities that can only bring about a better global community.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Purich Trivitayakhun
Position: Reporter