Thailand's one tablet per child policy

How can tablet computers be used to educate children? Suranand Vejjajiva takes a look at the issues.

tablet PC

Photo above of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during her election campaign displaying the one free tablet PC that she promised each child would receive if she was elected.

Click button to listen to One Tablet Per Child to download

COMMENTARY: Can PC tablets solve our education woes by Suranand Vejjajiva


...a tool such as an e-book or a computer tablet would give the child access to vast amounts of information and knowledge. A majority of children around the country cannot afford to buy books and printing costs limit the government's budget. If books can be downloaded at a fraction of the cost of their paper copies, it may be more affordable for the government to subsidise such devices.

It could even be a way to resolve corruption in printing school books - a continuous scandal that has led to illegal printing and sub-standard quality of the books, both in physical presentation and content.

And if it is not just an e-book but a tablet, the student could use it to explore the internet, play interactive educational games while at the same time engaging in art and writing skills of the new digital world. As the world turns paperless, a different set of skills is needed to be taught and learned for our children to compete and survive...

...Now, with Pheu Thai running the government, Education Minister Woravat Au-apinyakul is pushing for implementation of this programme. He started his job by mentioning his intention to revise the Education Ministry's 400-billion-baht budget - especially pertaining to those projects that seem to overlap with the tablet policy, such as budgetary items involving libraries and computer rooms. He has also indicated that the tablet handouts will begin with students attending Prathom 1 (Grade 1) nationwide.

And that is when the warning alarms began to ring. For even if the intentions are good, in order to turn a vision into reality the government must not let policy falter into mere populism. The handing out of an educational tool such as an e-book or tablet is not an end in itself - and certainly not a substitute for the entire learning process. The "one tablet per child" policy alone will not solve all the nation's education woes. There is the larger context in which the tablet policy must fit in, and a preparation process will be necessary to make the tool effective...

...The gaps in education opportunities exist. Poverty remains a barrier to access and school attendance. The classes are large and many still learn by rote. The target of studying is to pass exams and therefore parents are forced to send their kids to tutorial schools designed to make students score highly in various examinations. The well-to-do can afford this, even with a strain on their wallets. But the poor are left out.

For the computer tablet itself, many issues need addressing before the handouts can begin.

First is, what content should be put in the digital libraries and allowed to be downloaded? Essential school books with interactive features would be very valuable. But have these even been developed? Will the content be of good enough quality? Some materials in present school books are outdated, so to merely change the medium - from paper to electronic - would be a waste. A whole new design to engage students in the digital medium is required, as these are totally different from printed matter. Who will be responsible for updating the materials and measuring their quality and relevance.

Second, what about other books? I would imagine an extra reading list with books ready to be downloaded. But do they have a price tag, or will these be for free? Has the government secured the necessary intellectual rights for digital distribution? It certainly should. And not only for books and digital knowledge in Thai but also in other languages; and will some of the needed material be translated and disseminated for free, or at a minimal cost.

Third, a word of caution. Advertisements must not be allowed, except perhaps from respectable state enterprises. If allowed, these ads should come in the form of sponsorships, without the blatant advertising. No products deemed exploitative of children should be considered.

Fourth, will games be allowed to be downloaded? Are certain websites to be locked out? How are we going to control the use of the computer tablets for educational purposes only.

Fifth, in the digital world the younger generation are quick at adapting, but what about the teachers and trainers? Has the ministry thought of programmes to re-train teachers and instructors into facilitators of the new tools? Do the teachers understand the implications and are they willing to use the tablets in an effective manner.

Every government comes in with sugary words about improving the quality of teachers and increasing their salaries and welfare. But teachers always end up with more paperwork rather than teaching, and must struggle each month to make ends meet.

Sixth, the budget and procurement. This involves the hardware part - the tablet - and the software that makes it operable. How much of the taxpayers' money is going to be spent? If the Education Ministry plans to give concessions to the private sector, at what price and terms will these be? I personally do not think it should be a concession, as the companies involved will try to make a profit out of our children in return. What is the ministry's business model.

All the above questions must be thought through and answered. The process must be hatched out in its entirety and explained to the general public. All stakeholders must participate in making such a programme effective. Merely buying the tablets and putting them in the hands of students will guarantee the project's failure and a waste not only of financial resources but the invaluable time of our next generation.

Suranand Vejjajiva served in the Thaksin Shinawatra cabinet and is now a political analyst.

(Source: Bangkok Post, COMMENTARY, Can PC tablets solve our education woes, 9/09/2011, Suranand Vejjajiva, link)

Tablet Computer Vocabulary

tablet computer - a flat computer that looks like a book and is easy to carry and hold (See Wikipedia)
computer tablet - same as "tablet computer"
PC tablet - same as "tablet computer"

e-book - a book that can be read on a computer or tablet computers, with text and images (See Wikipedia) (also called an: e-book, ebook, electronic book, digital book)
content - the subject, ideas, or story that a piece of writing or a radio or television programme deals with เนื้อหา,สาระ

digital library - a collection of ebooks that can be read on a computer or tablet, that people can access over the internet or at a library (See Wikipedia)
extra reading list - extra books you can read (after you have read the books required for school)

paperless -
the goal of most offices: create, read, process and store all documents on computers (not bulky filing cabinets full of paper documents)

access to vast amounts of information and knowledge - can get large amounts and knowledge if they want to get it
access - the ability to get something โอกาสในการใช้
vast - extremely large in area, size, amount, etc. กว้างใหญ่, มหาศาล ส่วนใหญ่

books with interactive features

interactive - of a system or computer program which is designed to involve the user in the exchange of information ซึ่งมีการสื่อสารระหว่างกัน
interactive educational games -

intellectual rights for digital distribution - intellectual property rights for e-books, etc (See Wikipedia on copyright and intellectual property)
rights - what the law allows you to have and do สิทธิ์ (See Wikipedia)
distribution - giving or delivering things to many people การจำหน่ายออกไป

disseminated
- when information or reading material is given (or made available) to large numbers of people

skills
- a type of work or task requiring special training and knowledge ทักษะ ความสามารถเฉพาะทาง
engaging in art and writing skills of the new digital world

medium - a method or way of expressing something สื่อ
engage students in the digital medium

tool -
something that helps you achieve your goals (or do some work task effectively) (example: A carpenter's saw and hammer are the tools of his trade.) 
educational tool -  a learning tool, something that helps people learn things or helps teachers teach things
effective
tool - a tool that gets the job done

process
- a series of actions that you take in order to achieve a result แนวทางปฏิบัติ, กระบวน, วิธีการ
learning process - a series of actions that a person takes to learn something
preparation process - a series of actions that a person takes to prepare something (for some activity)

vision
- the ability to imagine how a country, society, industry, etc. could develop in the future and to plan in a suitable way วิสัยทัศน์
reality - actually happening ความเป็นจริง
turn a vision into reality - carry out a plan, realize a plan

X is a means to end Y -
doing X to achieve goal Y (X is not the goal, there might be other ways to do Y that are better) 
not an end in itself -
not the goal (only a means to an end)

policy
- a plan of action to guide decisions and achieve outcomes นโยบาย (See Wikipedia)
tablet policy - the election promise policy of "one child, one tablet"

handouts - things given to people for free สิ่งที่หยิบยื่นให้ฟรี
tablet handouts - giving free tablets to people

woes - great problems or troubles, things causing great sadness ความเสียใจ, ความทุกข์ร้อน
education woes - educational problems and troubles (that the whole country is experiencing) 

election - the process of choosing a person or a group of person for a position, especially by voting elect (v) electoral (adj) synonym: the polls การเลือกตั้ง
election campaign - a planned series of activities designed to persuade voters to vote for a particular candidate or political party การรณรงค์หาสียง

majority
- most of the people in a group (more than 50%, more than half) เสียงส่วนใหญ่ คนส่วนใหญ่

afford - to have enough money to be able to pay for something มีเงินพอจับจ่าย ซื้อหา  มีเงิน/ทุนพอ
affordable (adjective) - not too expensive, so you are able to buy it with the money you have ไม่แพง
cannot afford to buy books - do not have enough money to buy expensive books

printing costs -
how much it costs to print copies of a book to sell (3,000 copies, for example, which is expensive) 

illegal
- against the law ผิดกฎหมาย, นอกกฎหมาย
illegal printing - when the people who are not ownders of a book print the book in large quantities and sell it (against the law)

budget - the amounts of money that an organisation has available to spend on different things during a period งบประมาณ (See Wikipedia)
subsidise - to pay part of the costs of something ให้ความช่วยเหลือด้านการเงิน ชดเชย เงินช่วยเหลือจากรัฐ

corruption - (See Wikipedia on bribery, corporate corruption, and political corruption)
resolve - to solve a problem, or to find a satisfactory way of dealing with it แก้ไขปัญหา
resolve corruption - reduce or put and end to corruption (in activities where it is common)

scandal
- a situation in which important people behave in a dishonest, immoral or embarassing way that shocks people เรื่องอื้อฉาว (See Wikipedia)
continuous scandal - a scandal that never ends, a never-ending scandal 

physical
- real things that can be touched and seen (not just an idea or legal right)
physical presentation (of a book) - the cover of a book, the design of the type and the quality of the paper and ink used to print the book  

sub-standard quality -
low quality, does not meet quality standards

survive - to stay alive after a difficult or dangerous situation; to continue to exist รอดพ้น  อยู่รอด สืบต่อไปได้ มีชีวิตรอด

implementation - making a plan into reality, making a plan, system, idea or law start to work and be used, making sure it actually gets done (See glossary) นำ (แผนการ) มาบังคับใช้
implementation of this programme - making this government programme into a successful project (achieving the educational goals of the project)

intention
- a goal; what you want to do or achieve; a plan in your mind to do something; a plan for what you are going to do in the future ความตั้งใจ เจตนา แผนการ
revise - improve, create again or recreate with improvements
intention to revise budget - having as a goal to change and improve the budget

X overlaps with Y - X does some of the same things as Y
pertaining - regarding or about
pertaining to those projects that seem to overlap with the tablet policy  

nationwide - throughout a whole country ทั่วทั้งประเทศ

warning (noun) -  when something or someone tells you to be careful, to watch out for danger สัญญาณเตือนถึงเหตุร้าย, คำเตือน, ที่เตือนให้ระวัง
caution (noun) - being careful when you do something, avoiding danger 
warning alarms began to ring - saw something that might be a problem
a word of caution - just to tell you that you should be careful

intentions - plans in you mind about what you are going to do ความตั้งใจ เจตนา
intentions are good - the plan is good, the goals of the project are good

mere
- not large or important เพียงเท่านั้น
populism - government policies that claim to help the poor (whether they actually do or not is a big question)
must not let policy falter into mere populism

substitute
- a person or thing that is used instead of another person or thing คนหรือสิ่งที่เข้าแทน

X fits in with Y -  X goes with Y, can be used with Y
relevance -
related, connected in some way  ความสัมพันธ์กัน,การเข้าประเด็น,ความเข้าเรื่องกัน

effective - works well, gets the job done, solves the problem; producing the result that was intended ได้ผลดี

opportunities - situations in which it is possible to do what you want or need to do; benefits or profit that it is possible to get
gaps in education opportunities - when two groups of people have a big difference in the opportunities they have to get an education (which will affect the job they can get as an adult)

barrier
- anything that prevents people from doing something อุปสรรค
attendance - going regularly to school or work, being at school or work for the required number of hours การเข้าเรียน
remains a barrier to access and school attendance

learn by rote -
learn just by memorizing (not by actively involving the brain in the learning and problem solving process) (See Wikipedia on rote learning)

target
- a goal; the amount you are planning to achieve เป้าหมาย
target of studying - the goal of studying

pass exams -
take a test and get a score that allows them to finish the course successfully
tutorial schools
- schools that provide extra teaching after-school or on the weekends

well-to-do
- rich people

strain on their wallets -
costs a lot of money (uses up a lot of the money they make at their job)

left out -
not included in an activity
poor are left out - poor people not included in some activity (because they don't have enough money) 

issues
- subjects that need to be considered; problems that need to be solved ประเด็น
address an issue - think about and consider an issue; solve the problem

valuable
- 1. helps to do some job better or better achieve some set of goals; 2. worth a lot of money มีค่า
outdated - old and no longer suitable or useful, old-fashioned

printed matter -
something printed with writing on it (book, newspaper, brochure, comic book, etc)
updating the materials - adding new information (so that the book has current information and is "up-to-date")

have a price tag - have to buy, costs money (not free)

minimal
- very small in amount น้อยที่สุด, น้อยมาก
at a minimal cost - at a very small cost, very cheap, very inexpensive

state
- government รัฐ
enterprises - companies
respectable state enterprises

sponsorships -
when a company gives money to support something (not just paying for one or two advertisements)

blatant
- done in an open and very obvious way; very easy to see (in a bad sort of way, for example: blatant favouritism)
blatant advertising - open and very obvious and easy to see advertisement

deemed
... - considered to be ... เห็นว่า ถือว่า
exploitative - treating unfairly, using someone unfairly for some purpose (here: young minds are easily changed by ideas in advertisements) 
products deemed exploitative of children - products that try to use or manipulate children unfairly (try to get them to buy something they don't need or that may be unhealthy, for example)

sugary words - sweet words, sound nice but maybe not true or very meaningful

welfare
- good health and happiness;  living in good conditions (with health, wealth, and happiness) ความสะดวกสบาย, ความมีสุขภาพดี, สวัสดิภาพ

paperwork
- the routine part of a job of filling in forms, faxing, photocopying, filing, writing emails and reports งานเอกสาร

struggle
- a very difficult task that you can do only by making a great effort ความพยายาม
struggle to make ends meet - work hard to make enough money to live and support your family

generation - a group of people in society who are born and live around the same time รุ่น (คนรุ่นต่างๆ)
younger generation - young people

quick at adapting -
can change quickly in new situations

ministry
- a government department dealing with an area of activity กระทรวง

facilitator -
people who help other people to do something (teachers)
facilitators of the new tools -
people who help other people use the new tools (the tablet computers)

X implies Y -
if X then Y
implications
of X - the things that are true (Y), if X is true

manner
- way วิธีการ
use the tablets in an effective manner - use the tablets in a way such that learning goals are quickly achieved

procurement - process of buying large numbers of supplies for an organisation or company การจัดซื้อ
operable - when a machine or computer works and is able to do its job

sector
- a part of the economy ภาคเศรษฐกิจของประเทศ (public sector = government, private sector = all businesses, household sector = families and consumers, banking sector,...) (See Wikipedia)
private sector - all the businesses in the economy

terms
- details,  conditions requirements in an agreement, contract, or arrangement ข้อกำหนด
price and terms - the price and all conditions (in a contract to buy or sell something)

concession
- official permission from the government to do a certain type of business สัมปทาน (search for oil in an area, build a phone network, for example)

profit
- money that you make from selling goods and services after all your costs have been paid กำไร

business model -
a plan to create a successful and profitable business (See Wikipedia)

entirety - the whole of something

stakeholders
- anyone affected by a decision; all the people who will benefit or lose from a decision or outcome ผู้ที่ได้รับผลกระทบจากการตัดสินใจ ผู้ได้รับผลประโยชน์ (See glossary) (See Wikipedia)

participate
- to take part in or become involved in an activity มีส่วน

guarantee
- promise that something will happen (See glossary) คำรับรอง, การประกัน

resources
- things such as money, workers and equipment that can be used to help achieve something ทรัพยากร
financial resources - the money needed in some project (to achieve your goals)

invaluable time -
time that is very valuable

About the author

columnist
Writer: Jon Fernquest
Position: Online Writer