Destroying old education paradigms

Destroying old education paradigms

A student holds a placard that reads 'Listen to the youth' as part of a 2015 proposal on education reform that was drafted by students. (Photo: Thiti Wannamontha)
A student holds a placard that reads 'Listen to the youth' as part of a 2015 proposal on education reform that was drafted by students. (Photo: Thiti Wannamontha)

A shift in thinking is required for education to move forward. According to Thomas Kuhn, a paradigm shift required for scientific progress is much more about destroying the old paradigm, or the accepted mode of thought, than it is about creating a new one.

For us to be aware that two widespread modes of thinking in Thai education are incompatible, I want to give examples of how they conflict. For long-term change and progress, we must get rid of the inefficient ones and truly embrace the efficient ones. It is time for us to be assertive; we cannot compromise by simultaneously pursuing both schools of thought.

Role of innovators

Thai education has recently emphasised creating young innovators who invent new products and services -- this is, young people who can turn problems into progress and improve our Thai standard of living. Encouraging students to think outside the box is quite promising, as is developing their courage to try out ideas while not fearing failure before success. Most importantly, in the process, they don't let the noise of others drown out their own inner voices.

Most Thai youths learn to respect older people, something ingrained in our DNA. The young tend to respect the old, regardless of their abilities, qualities, or achievements. We have a Thai tradition of pressing one's hands together (wai) to say hello, as well as a sign of respect when meeting people who are older than ourselves.

While this encourages us to be more aware of another human being who has his/her own rights to live and be free, it often entails the young being less free and less respectful of their own ideas and abilities. For instance, young children are often trained to listen to their parents and do what they tell them without asking why. The unsaid thoughts behind this are that our parents love us. They know what is best for us, so we should trust them without understanding the reasons behind their statements. For Thais, respecting older individuals means questioning them less about their actions and thoughts.

This blind admiration of what we call "respect" must be replaced with respecting youth.

It is time for Thais to adopt a new way of thinking. The voices of the youth must be heard and understood by those older than them. In classrooms, teachers must encourage students to share their ideas without being judged for their correctness.

Parents and teachers must practice their way of speaking that shows respect to young children and learn to advise them without forcing them to do or believe in certain things and instead have them think for themselves. This mode of thought is compatible with supporting a young innovator who fears nothing. They would believe in their own ideas and have the confidence to design their own lives while also designing ways to help others.

Youths who receive respect will, in turn, become adults who respect the young of future generations. These people will also respect older generations for their own abilities, and not just because elders spend more time in the world than themselves.

Next time you wai others, please remind yourself of their qualities or worth besides wrinkles on their face, as this will remind you of your own worth and abilities.

Being our best selves

In education, we believe that every student can improve and that their full potential is developed at their own pace, which cannot be judged by specific criteria. If we humans are better than ourselves yesterday and keep improving in whatever way, this is all it matters.

However, encouraging students to receive awards goes against this fundamental belief in education. Teachers are often encouraged -- or forced -- by schools to send their students to competitions. If students receive awards, this is an indirect reflection of their teachers' achievement. The idea makes perfect sense: teachers teach well, so students receive recognition. This, to some extent, can indicate the quality of the school, which in turn attracts more parents to send their children to that school. Should award-winning students be the school's and teachers' focus now? The answer is no.

We must take into consideration our Thai context. Firstly, we do not currently have competition in all areas of intelligence. Only certain students are suitable for existing competitions that are held yearly for most Thai schools. Focusing on only these groups of students would create unequal opportunities for others. Most importantly, this creates perceptions in students' minds that certain areas of intelligence, such as logical-mathematical reasoning, are valued more than other areas, like interpersonal skills or language abilities.

Students who are good in currently disregarded areas of intelligence are likely not to value their own abilities. This is not a great way to support students to become their best selves in their own ways.

Secondly, students perceived as "smart" and suitable for most existing competitions in Thailand often already have access to additional resources such as one-on-one tutoring with experts. Thus, we cannot guarantee that these students' success results from qualified teachers and/or schools.

The focus on students receiving awards must be replaced with tracking their learning progress. Policymakers, as well as influential leaders and decision-makers in education, must provide teachers with time to learn about each of their students. This seems simple, yet it is extremely important. To support students in becoming their best selves, teachers need time to observe and monitor how their students learn.

Allowing teachers to take their minds off their students can rid students of their bright futures. Teachers should be allowed to say no to other non-teaching tasks, workshops, and teacher professional development programmes they find irrelevant.

Students being their best does not equate to receiving awards. Awards, as well as punishments, must be removed from our Thai education system as much as possible, so students can be free to be their natural selves and simply learn.

Their best selves mean that they are better than yesterday, and they can only know it with their own hearts.

Only one small change -- such as listening to young students more or spending more quality time with our children -- can make a big impact on our Thai education. So why not start doing it now?

Sara Samiphak is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University.

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