Instead of listening to a teacher standing in front of the class and using a blackboard, students’ educational environment in the near future will undergo a big change.
Last month, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) scrapped the Pheu Thai-led government’s policy to distribute tablets to all Prathom 1 and Matthayom 1 students, and instead pushed for the “smart classroom” project. Ten education-related state agencies which were allocated budgets for the now-defunct “One Tablet Per Child” policy agreed to use the funds — 6.5 billion baht — to provide smart classrooms for the schools under them.
As the term replaces “tablet” as a new educational buzzword, many are left wondering: What exactly is a smart classroom?
The idea is that the old pattern of learning in classroom will be transformed, as books will no longer be the primary source of knowledge for students, according to Anek Ratpiyapaporn, senior adviser at the Bureau of Technology for Teaching and Learning, Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec).
Obec is in charge of the smart classroom initiative, and is defining the specifications for the 32,000 schools under its watch. The initial budget will create smart classrooms in 15,000 of those 32,000 schools. The remaining schools will need to wait for the next academic budget.
Don’t imagine a scene from a sci-fi movie in which kids study with machines. The smart classroom in Thailand will be equipped with two-in-one portable computers for students and teachers, a Wi-Fi access point, a “smartboard”, or interactive touchscreen whiteboard that integrates to a PC, and charging stations. The two-in-one computer can serve as tablet and notebook. Wi-Fi connectivity will be provided at every school by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
Schools will be divided into three groups by size — small, medium and large — which will receive 20, 40 and 50 portable computers per smart classroom respectively.
“This is comparable with a computer lab in the past ... but the smart classroom serves for five major subjects including Thai, English, maths, science and social science,” Anek said.
Sources of content are varied, but mainly come from central servers and the Cloud, depending on teachers who apply project-based learning. Some international content such as maths, science and English is already available, and Obec is working with universities to develop Thai and social science content.
Much of the quality content will be offered free of charge. Under the new model, teachers and students can use content that is available on the preprogrammed machines, online sources and Obec’s data centre, as well as those contributed by global companies such as Khan Academy and Microsoft Educator Network.
“It is the duty of teachers to know how and where to get this content. Now we are training educational supervisors so they can train teachers about new sources of content and the teaching process,” said Anek, adding that teacher training must be given to every level of teacher in many subjects. Training courses for teachers have already been conducted since the initial announcement of the tablet project, but the new initiative will require more due to the change in the process of teaching and learning.
Principally, content should have various forms and come from a variety of sources in response to learning in various models, as the process of learning and teaching in schools in urban and rural areas differ.
Early feedback for the planned smart classroom project has been positive, as it serves a large number of students. Smart classrooms under Obec support iOS, Android and Windows RT platforms for two-in-one computers, which are 10- or 12-inches in size.
“Based on the minimum budget, we offer several solutions. If some schools require higher specifications, they can do that on their own for additional cost,” Anek said.
Bangkok’s Samsenwittayalai School and Horwang School have rolled out iOS-powered devices, and access to science, maths and English content from Apple’s Los Angeles-based Cloud.
Taweethapisek School in Bangkok uses Google’s Android tablets and software. A Microsoft RT-based platform is running at Suankularb Wittayalai Nonthaburi School.
Out of the 15,000 Obec schools to receive smart classrooms, only 4,000 will be in cities. Top specification equipment, with a budget of 1.2 million baht, will be allocated to the largest school in each province. The other schools are in rural areas, and don’t meet the requirements set for a smart classroom. Basic equipment will be provided to students in these schools, allowing them access to new technological sources of knowledge. Most important is the establishment of a Wi-Fi connection.
In the new environment, the teacher is not the only source of knowledge, and students will be encouraged to minimise learning by memorisation. The world is out there, and the new classroom, if all goes as planned, will help bring it to the children.