PROVOKING THOUGHT: Overhauling the Kingdom’s education system

News

Eight new centres are designed for learning outside the classroom; rote learning on way out

The government plans to spend Bt10 billion on a giant project called “Thought Provoking” to transform the country’s education system from “teacher-teaching” to be “learner-learning”, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says.

Speaking in January at the grand opening of Thai Knowledge Park, one part of the project, the prime minister said that Thai students had for too long learned by rote and set their sights only on educational certificates.

The government was now offering them learning sources outside the classroom where they could pursue knowledge in any field that interested them.

“The outside-classroom places will help our children discover their own abilities sooner. Then they can make plans for their futures,” he said.

A new public organisation, the Office of Knowledge Management and Development (OKMD), has been set up to oversee the project.

The OKMD has eight units working together – the Knowledge Park, the ICT Learning Centre, the National Discovery Museum Institute, a creativity and design centre, a “morals” centre, a centre for gifted people, a life-sciences centre and a “brain-based” learning centre.

All the units will be fully operational by the middle of the year except for the museum, which will open at the end of 2006.

Thai Knowledge Park

The colourfully decorated and modern design Thai Knowledge Park provides a stimulating learning environment suited to the tastes and expectations of youngsters today.

Set up on the sixth floor of Central World Plaza at a cost of Bt70 million, the learning centre opened its doors in January to attract youth put off by the drowsy atmosphere of normal libraries.

“The TK Park is to help children realise what vocation they might want to pursue and help them develop their skills.

“The faster they do it, the better,” Thaksin said at the grand opening.

The park has a library zone with thousands of books and magazines and computers with Internet access; a 20-seat virtual-reality theatre; an open zone where professionals from a variety of fields offer training to youths, and a shop where teenagers can sell their handiwork.

National ICT Learning Centre

At a time when many Internet cafes are noisy with online gaming, this centre aims to be a true outside-classroom learning centre where students can use information technology to seek knowledge.

The centre, also on the sixth floor of Central World Plaza, has 140 PC and Macintosh computers with high-speed Internet, 2,000 books on IT and computers, a 4-D theatre and several low-cost training courses including English, Microsoft Office, Linux and Animation.

Fees for several services are waived for people under 18 or over 60 years old.

Public-relations officer Aekalak Sumritjeraphol said the centre aimed to enable people, especially youth and the elderly, to use IT technology and find

useful activities for their leisure time.

Since its grand opening on October last year, the centre has welcomed up to 1,000 visitors each day, he said.

National Discovery Museum Institute (NDMI)

The museum is based on the belief that just listening to teachers’ lectures is not enough to make the youth understand their roots. It would be better for them to touch and see the historical information for themselves.

Its director, Asst Professor Pajarie Chinthammit, said the museum would gather a variety of knowledge about the history, culture, ethnicity, archaeology and linguistics of Southeast Asian people.

Unlike ordinary museums, the National Discovery Museum will not collect ancient artefacts. Historical information will be presented through multimedia resources including a theatre and library, she said.

Pajarie added that the museum complex would be similar to that of the Smithsonian Institution in the US, which has a main museum surrounded by other museums, and visitors can easily walk among them.

The main museum will be at the two old buildings of the Commercial Ministry near the Emerald Buddha Temple, while the others will be situated at several locations around Rattanakosin Island, she said.

Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC)

Hoping to inspire Thai youth to start creating design masterpieces within the next five years, the government is spending Bt1.2 billion to set up Southeast Asia’s most modern and largest centre for gathering knowledge in the field of design.

The centre will have a library with more than 20,000 books on design and an exhibition hall to display the work of designers from around the world.

The centre will be located in 4,000-square-metre area in the Emporium Tower on Sukhumvit Road and is scheduled to open in July.

Its exhibition schedule starts with a display of local design work, followed by works

of Japanese and English designers. Each exhibition aims to show the origin of the designers’ ideas and demonstrate how they

developed them.

Centre for the Promotion of National Strength on Moral Ethics and Values (Moral Centre)

This centre has been set up to stimulate the development of morals, since it considered useless if the country develops but the moral discipline of youth regresses.

The centre, headed by ascetic former politician Chamlong Srimuang, opened in December. Its main role is to coordinate the efforts of state and non-governmental organisations working for the religious and moral development of the public, said director Narathip Phumsup.

The centre will support the organisations in terms of funding and other assistance, she added. It will also conduct research into ethical behaviour in other countries.

“First, we have started to study moral behaviour in 10 developed countries and find ways to adapt their moral principles for Thailand,” she said.

The moral centre currently has more than 100 organisations of the Buddhist, Christian

and Muslim religions in its network.

National Centre for the Gifted and Talented (NGT)

It is estimated that 1 per cent of the population is made up of specially gifted people. The centre’s task is to discover them and bring out their true abilities.

Its director, Ngarmmars Kasemset, said that according to this statistic, Thailand might have more than 200,000 gifted people in the 24-and-under age group.

“We have to find them out in every area of the country, develop them to reveal their full abilities and give them a chance to make a contribution to the country,” she said.

The centre has started its hunt for gifted people with pilot projects in Chiang Rai and Ubon Ratchathani and will extend it to all regions by the middle of the year, Ngarmmars said.

Thailand Centre for Excellence for Life Sciences (TCELS)

While Thailand is continuously importing foreign life-science innovations, many ideas and studies from its own universities, research institutions and private sector are gathering dust.

The mission of TCELS is to stimulate investment and

business-development support to promote the country’s life-sciences research and development capabilities, said Dr Thongchai Thavichachart, the centre’s chief executive.

“We have many researchers who have separately developed knowledge in life sciences. So we want to provide a one-stop service to encourage commercial start-ups and licensing of the knowledge,” he said, adding that the goal was to make the country a world-class investment centre for life sciences.

The centre’s official opening is planned for the end of this month.

National Institute for Brain-based Learning (BBL) The brain-based learning centre will be set up to help parents and teachers produce a high-quality new generation and reverse what some researchers say is a decline in the IQs of Thai children.

“It’s absolutely wrong that people pin their hopes on schools to educate their kids, because their golden age has already passed by the time they’re old enough to go to primary school,” said Dr Chanpen Choprapawon, the centre’s director.

She said the centre would translate research findings into practical methods and materials appropriate for raising children at different ages.

The centre’s first task is to start giving out “birthday kits” for each baby born after July 8 this year, she said.

The kit includes a manual for parents on how to develop their child’s brain efficiently and appropriately.

Published on March 01, 2005

Chatrarat Kaewmorakot

The Nation