Learning from the late King Bhumibol

Learning from the late King Bhumibol

Students of Klai Kang Won School in Hua Hin listen attentively to King Bhumibol during his visit to Prachuap Khiri Khan in 2003. The late King believed that education can empower the people to be self-sufficient. JETJARAS NA RANONG
Students of Klai Kang Won School in Hua Hin listen attentively to King Bhumibol during his visit to Prachuap Khiri Khan in 2003. The late King believed that education can empower the people to be self-sufficient. JETJARAS NA RANONG

The passing on Oct 13 last year of the late monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, made 2016 a sad year for Thailand. The country lost a great monarch and the Thai people lost a guiding light.

King Bhumibol, King Rama IX of the Chakri dynasty, ruled the country with love and led it with compassion and commitment to lift his people out of poverty and illiteracy.

To commemorate his legacy in education and development, Rattana Lao, a recipient of the Anandamahidol Foundation, talked to Privy Councillor Kasem Wattanachai about the late King's life work and his monumental role in education promotion.

What did King Bhumibol do to develop Thailand? What was his focus?

During the 70 years of his reign, his projects were divided into different groups. In each decade he tackled different issues related to development in Thailand. During the first few decades, he focused on health because diseases took away thousands of lives. He focused on cholera, tuberculosis, polio and leprosy.

Then he focused on nutrition and the health of the Thai people. He became interested in poverty and the livelihoods of the people through agricultural work.

During the last few decades he focused on education and the development of human capital.

What were King Bhumibol's thoughts on education?

In the year 1962, at a commencement ceremony at Chulalongkorn University, he said "whether the country is going to be developed or deteriorated depends on education of its people". He used the words "education of its people", not the words "schooling for students". This is very important. Since 1962 what he spoke of was the the concept of lifelong learning. On another occasion, at Srinakharinwirot University, he said "the roles of teachers and lecturers are to teach and discipline".

Today we are beginning to talk about the character of education, that educational institutions need to define the students' values and skills. Later he said that students must posses three characteristics: knowledge, ability to work and goodness. He was very visionary and ahead of his time.

What were his projects regarding education?

When he resided at Siriraj Hospital, he called upon four to five privy councillors to meet him and then he gave us his seed funding to found The Education Foundation. He wanted us to use this money to uplift the worst-performing schools in the Central Plains and border areas to make people there more educated and more prepared. Everyone has to be prepared. The principals need to be ready to lead, the teachers need to be ready to teach, the students need to be ready to learn. Another objective of these schools is to make students "good" for society. Now we have 155 schools like these throughout the country.

How did he view the roles of teachers and students?

In 2012, during his illness, there was a small note from him to all the privy councillors. Three of the main messages were: 1) Teachers need to love students and students need to love teachers, 2) students must be generous toward each others, and 3) students must learn the value of teamwork. We were guided by his thoughts and we used it to improve the quality of 155 schools. We asked educators from Srinakharinwirot University to evaluate (the schools). It is evident that there was a vast improvement: better quality, better environment, better standards. It's not just a 5% improvement in (students' performance in) Onet (the Ordinary National Educational Test), but an overall improvement of the schools.

The late King founded the Anandamahidol Foundation 61 years ago to send young Thai scholars to be educated abroad. What were the ideas behind the Anandamahidol Foundation?

He believed that education must empower the people to be self-sufficient. The Anandamahidol Foundation is evidence of this. He wanted to support the best and the brightest students who graduated from higher educational institutes in the country to attain world class education. He believed they could work anywhere they liked as long as they contribute back to society, dedicating their intellect to the improvement of Thailand. It does not matter if they come back to work in Thailand or work overseas.

There is also a different foundation that targeted education, called the Phradabos Foundation. What does it do and how does it contribute to Thai society? Can you tell us more about it?

The Phradabos Foundation targeted a different group of students. These are students who need to leave educational institutes and become adults. The foundation provided one year of training for them to be equipped with the necessary skills to take care of themselves. He believed if they could take care of themselves financially, they could take care of their families, and subsequently they could contribute back to society. This was a prototype of non-formal education in Thailand.

He did tremendous jobs in education projects. There are a variety of names throughout the country.

How does His Majesty King Rama X envisage education for Thailand? What does he have in mind?

On Jan 23, 2017, His Majesty King Rama X asked seven privy councillors to meet and share his vision on education for Thailand. He believed education must deliver four main functions. First, students must have the right attitude toward the nation, the religion and the monarchy. Second, there must be stability for students to grow. Students must be able to differentiate between the good and the bad. Third, education must empower young students to ensure their employablility. Fourth, education must make students become good citizens. If we embrace the educational philosophy of King Rama IX and His Majesty King Rama X, we will be able to produce education that serves the development of Thailand.

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