'Learning boxes' help boost skills

'Learning boxes' help boost skills

A Samut Sakhon school finds a novel way to keep students with no internet access keen on learning at home

Students at Ban Yokkrabat school in Samut Sakhon learn additional skills such as crafts, cooking or arts once a week to widen their knowledge. (Photos: Penchan Charoensuthiphan)
Students at Ban Yokkrabat school in Samut Sakhon learn additional skills such as crafts, cooking or arts once a week to widen their knowledge. (Photos: Penchan Charoensuthiphan)

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the education system, affecting how students learn and testing teachers' ability to keep students engaged in online classes.

However, amid general concerns about the high rate of school dropouts and learning loss among many of those who remain in the system, the pandemic appears to have had little impact on Ban Yokkrabat primary school in Samut Sakhon.

Students' reading skills and confidence in interacting with teachers have left Unicef education officer Rangsan Wiboonnuppatum with the impression that access to technology is not necessary for students to learn.

One of the tools at Ban Yokkrabat school's disposal to keep its students without access to the internet and smart devices engaged when school is closed during the pandemic is "learning boxes", which contain learning materials and assignments for students.

The packages of schoolwork cover the Thai and English languages, maths, art and craft and they are delivered to students' doors for at-home classes.

Mr Rangsan said teachers must adapt and find ways to ensure students can access learning in a way that best suits their environment.

The success story of Ban Yokkrabat school has much to do with teacher development. Nanthaporn Chancharia Seributra, CEO of Starfish Education Social Enterprise, said the company helps Ban Yokkrabat school with that.

Teachers are the school's key players and their ability to design a learning plan and create lessons and teaching materials to suit students' needs will help see schools through a crisis, she said.

"Ban Yokkrabat school was interested in teacher development before the outbreak of Covid-19. We offered guidelines about teacher development and recommended tools with a focus on students.

"For the past three years, both teachers and students have gone through the process step by step," she said.

Students at Ban Yokkrabat school in Samut Sakhon learn additional skills such as crafts, cooking or arts once a week to widen their knowledge.

Discovering potential

Starfish Education Social Enterprise, a non-profit organisation that aims to promote quality education, set up Starfish School, a private school, in Chiang Mai's Mae Taeng district.

Managed by the Starfish Country Home School Foundation, Starfish School offers early childhood education and primary school (Grade 1-6) education with a goal of preparing students for the 21st century.

Through STEAM, an applied and interdisciplinary curriculum, integrating science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, students are encouraged to explore their interests, discover their potential and develop their skills and knowledge.

Starfish School shares its method with others, and more than 100 schools, mostly in the northern and central regions, have joined its teacher development programme via several channels such as Starfish Maker Project.

Under the Starfish Maker Project, Makerspace, a collaborative workspace, is created to provide opportunities for children to explore their interests and potential without using expensive equipment.

In this project, five steps called the STEAM Design Process are created for problem-solving exercises: they involve asking questions, imagining and planning, creating, reflecting and redoing.

"We intend to transform a school into a place where students can explore their potential, experiment, express and discover themselves," she said.

Learning by doing

Khattiya Thaoboon, a sixth-grade student, has explored such activities and loves fixing things because this kind of work requires preparations and planning.

"I like watching my father when he fixes electric appliances, such as fans. I'll stay close and hand him the tools," he said.

At school, he and his friends installed sprinklers and water pipes for vegetable farms and made baskets from various materials. At home, he replaced an old leaky faucet.

Khattiya did not enjoy spending long hours on his mobile device for online classes but he scored A for every subject except maths. So he was excited when the school opened its doors and he could return to the classroom and activities outside class.

Nam Wongkhamchan, 12, and her sister have no smartphone and access to the internet so the school had learning boxes delivered for at-home classes.

She said their parents are factory workers and come home late, so when school is closed, she can help with housework after finishing her assignments for the day.

Makerspace

Founded in 1963 and located in tambon Tha Sai in Muang district, the school, which has 364 students, 14 teachers and five other staff, offers kindergarten level 2 to sixth grade.

With support from the EEF and Starfish Country Home School Foundation, which promotes access to quality education, the school implements Makerspace to encourage learning, says Sompit Kobjitti, the school director.

Each class will hold an activity once a week and students choose among six areas -- cooking, arts, performance arts, computer, sports and craftsmanship -- what they want to do each week.

"We see changes. They have developed various skills. Before this, they did what teachers told them to do. But these days when they get a project assignment, the first thing they do is to see what supplies they have.

"They will plan how to do it and adapt if something doesn't work out. Once the project is finished, they see what can be improved," she said.

Ms Sompit said the Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for teachers who have to design lessons to keep students engaged during online classes. They have learned how to make use of technologies to support learning.

For those with limited or no access to the internet, learning boxes are ideal. The packages contain learning materials, exercises and assignments for students to do at home and finish by the deadline.

"One big change is that students are happy to learn and to explore. They can collaborate and work as a team. They brainstorm and solve problems to get the work done," she said.

Despite prolonged closures, the school has kept all its students, said Ms Sompit.

Teachers take notes of their students' learning development and the information is passed on in the next school year. The school also works with the local community in tracking down children if they miss school.

Retaining children

Teachers will keep track of students in their class and report every week on class attendance and assignments to the school director.

When children miss class, teachers first contact their parents and if this fails will turn to a school committee to help track the students.

Somsri Wanichsamran, 63, a retired teacher and committee member, said the committee allows people in the community to participate in teaching and learning and helps the school meet its needs.

The committee comprises local leaders and health volunteers who have good networks and can locate students and offer help so they can continue their studies, she said.

Uthane Ngernsombat, a village head, said more than 80% of parents in his community work from dusk to dawn and are unable to tend to their children who study at home.

"Children study at home by themselves so we have a home visit project by teachers who work with the committee. Through this the school knows if students need any help and offer them that so they don't quit school," he said.

Thantida Wongprasong, acting director of EEF's innovations office for learning opportunities, said learning loss among children must be addressed, and it is urgent for those in third grade, sixth grade and ninth grade.

If students do not understand what they are studying at these levels, they are likely to experience difficulties when they move to the next grade and may decide to quit, she said.

Assoc Prof Varakorn Samakoses, a member of the national committee on education reform, said the pandemic has revealed a gap in educational opportunities which must be addressed.


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