To Rayong and beyond

To Rayong and beyond

Province hopes to establish kingdom's own Silicon Valley via multi-faceted approach to cutting-edge innovation

A student walks on a rehabilitation treadmill during a school presentation at the School of Information Science and Technology at Vistec in Rayong on Aug 24. (Photo and video by Thana Boonlert)
A student walks on a rehabilitation treadmill during a school presentation at the School of Information Science and Technology at Vistec in Rayong on Aug 24. (Photo and video by Thana Boonlert)

Rayong hopes to establish kingdom's own Silicon Valley via multi-faceted approach to cutting-edge innovation.

The project is part of the government's flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) aimed at propelling 12 targeted S-curve industries. The megaproject spans three eastern provinces, namely Rayong, Chon Buri, and Chachoengsao.

Located on Highway 344, Thailand's next Silicon Valley covers a verdant tract of over 3,500 rai owned by national energy firm PTT Plc. Of this, the 1,000-rai plot of land is an educational zone comprising the Kamnoetvidya Science Academy (KVIS), the Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology (Vistec), and the Wang Chan Forest Project.

The remaining area is an innovation zone carved into four zones for enhancing knowledge and innovation in bioscience, robot and auto-electronics, food and agriculture as well as space science and communication. They are called Biopolis, Aripolis, Food Innopolis, and Space Innopolis. A community zone is also allocated to be where technology will be integrated for the country's first smart city.

CREATING MANPOWER

Pojchara Ounjaroen looks like a typical high-school student in his neatly pressed uniform. He said he likes mathematics and physics, but his fluency in English is an unusual phenomenon especially in a rigorous education system which puts students into science-maths, arts-maths, and arts-language boxes.

"My school teaches science and non-science subjects, but it is very flexible because we can choose to self-study or work on our projects on Wednesday. In addition, we take a written test, not a multiple-choice test, in social studies.

Pojchara, now in Mathayom 5 (grade 11) at KVIS, said he plans to pursue a dual degree in information engineering abroad because this field will have a profound impact on people's daily lives.

Pailin Chuchottaworn, the chairman of the governing board of KVIS and the council of Vistec, said PTT Plc has set up and subsidised foundations to oversee the development of two new disruptors to produce the cream of the crop from an impoverished background for national development.

"It must begin with a dream. Someday, we hope to see a Thai Nobel laureate. We want to create an ecosystem to cherish and fulfil this ambition. I don't know whether it will come true, but it is the driving force," he said at a press conference attended by visiting Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

Mr Pailin, the former deputy transport minister and president of PTT Plc, said KVIS allows students to customise their own learning programmes and go the extra mile. For instance, they are not afraid to get their hands dirty by making cube-shaped satellites and seismometers.

"However, we are making a plea to parents not to force them to study medicine unless they really want to. We want them to discover their passion. If they want to be chefs, musicians, and economists, we are willing to support them. Only 30% of our three or four graduating classes go to medical schools," he said.

KVIS holds an entrance exam and accepts only 72 students for four classrooms per year. It conducts teaching in English and offers a three-year unconditional scholarship [around 2.4 million baht each] to students who are required to stay at the on-campus residence.

FRONTIER RESEARCH

Meanwhile, Mr Pailin said Vistec offers only postgraduate degrees for now due to the shortage of funding. It is currently supporting more than 200 PhD students, many of whom come from China, Germany, India, and the Philippines, in conducting frontier research on commercially viable products.

"We have managed to rank first on the Nature Index chart [which tracks the affiliations of high-quality scientific papers] after five years, trailing three universities in Singapore at the regional level. We have the vision to enter the world's top 50 universities in 20 years," he said.

Mr Pailin said Vistec is forging a strong bond with industrial estates in the 20-kilometre radius by allowing them to rent research facilities on campus and collaborate with its staff.

"Silicon Valley is the world's best ecosystem for scientists. PTT Plc has dubbed the surrounding area "Wang Chan Valley" in the hope of creating our own Silicon Valley," he added.

Speaking at the construction site of the EECi, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don vowed to press ahead with the megaproject after it was disrupted by the coronavirus crisis.

"Five years ago, these were only ideas, but we are now starting to see tangible results, which I believe will boost foreign confidence," he said.


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