The British Council, the United Kingdom’s international organisation for educational and cultural relations, in Thailand connects people with learning opportunities and creative ideas from the UK and builds lasting relationships between Thailand and the UK. Operating in 110 countries worldwide, it now has 4 centres in Bangkok-Siam Square, Pinklao, Ladprao and Sri Nakarin and one in Chiang Mai, after starting in Thailand in 1938. David Mathias in British Council, Thailand talking to Rumi Mallick of Digital Learning on building partnerships and networks between Thailand and the UK, on projecting creativity, and creating opportunities to connect with the latest skills, ideas and experience.
What are the main focuses of British Council initiatives in ICT in education in Thailand?
I suppose there are many focuses, but the main relationship we have with the various ministries and agencies within Thailand is helping them in implementing their education progarmme. That goes back to revamping the tight curriculum for mainstream education that happened four/five years ago, the curriculum was rewritten and the main focus to that is teachers should adopt different approaches, that is studentcentred approach, integrated to different subject areas within their own subject. With ICT it became easy for the teachers to adopt student-centric approaches. One way was by allowing student access to information online and allowing students to develop project works themselves, where the teacher acts more as a facilitator of learning. So the focus of our education and ICT initiatives is among leaders, teachers and students in mainstream education.
What kind of partnership do you have with the Government in Thailand?
We are working mainly with the Ministry of Education, with the office of Basic Education Commission. For example we are working with them in one large project- Lab Schools. We hope, eventually there will be 900 Lab schools in the country. These Lab- Schools will act as community schools for their region. In these Lab- Schools, we run trainings for teachers in applying ideas in innovative teaching, using hardwares, ideas for putting that in practical use for curriculum teaching.
So is the Lab-School focused on teachers’ training?
That’s one area, but the Lab-School initiative is something about the leaders, how they can deploy computers in their schools. So we have done some Head teacher leadership training through bringing leadership trainers from UK and train the head teachers here. And I have tried to introduce the use of ICT as a tool for professional development of the head teachers. So we look at two things- Head teachers being able to talk to Head teachers in forums, and also Head teachers being able to access resources for self development and professional development.
Do you have any kind of monitoring or evaluation method? You work for two/three years, do you have any kind of measurement system of the outcomes?
Yes, for this there are ongoing negotiations with the Ministry of education. There are number of aims and objectives, also indicators of what is happening. There are ways of monitoring our progress. And when we say we’ll leave the project at a certain stage, n doubt we will continue to consult.
You also promote sports as a means of education!
Yes, that’s one of the very successful projects started in 2003; it’s a global project. It ran from British Council UK in partnership with the Sports Trust of England and its an initiative that looks to leadership skills amongst 14 to 19 year old and gives responsibility for decision making that might otherwise come from a teacher. For some reason, to reengage some disaffected learners back into the mainstream education and to give them the confidence to carry on their education. We started that project in 2003 in three schools in Thailand. Firstly, the head teachers from Thailand went to meet their counterpart in UK and then some teachers fro there come over to do workshops developing sports integrated to other curricular subjects, like sport and Math, Sport and Science.
You still have three schools in Thailand?
The project expanded in to 9 schools now. Five in Bangkok, two in Greater Bangkok, one in North of Thailand Chiang Mai and one in Sonkla. The ministry of Education is impressed with the success. So its an initiative they would like the Lab schools involved in.
There are several challenges in ICT in education. What are the present challenges for Thailand?
The major challenge is the teaching population is quite old. And its getting people to be willing to change their attitude give it a go as such and this challenge is compounded by the fact that we still don’t have very good support teams in some of the schools, IT teams, Internet access are still quite slow and it’s the same in our teaching centers where we were trying to persuade or convince the teachers that the use of ICT might be a motivating factor for a student or might add a different dimension to teaching. There is also a knowledge gap between the teachers and the students. If you ask a student to go on a computer the do that in seconds, but if you ask that to a teacher, they cannot. So our trial is developing a teacher as a mentor or a guide and a student as an expert. My experience as a teacher (I was a teacher in English as a foreign language) is great to work with students; I learn use of ICT from the students. We convert to a very good team, and I never feel the lack of respect or loss of face.
But do you think that kind of culture exist when a teacher and student covert to a team?
It’s beginning. Teachers are realising now, they are more of a team now. And that’s another success of Lab school project.
You are focusing ICT as a prime medium of deliberating education in schools, or is it more in developing content, training, teachers capacity building.
It’s a bit above. I think Thailand still is in the stage of the custom in themselves with use of computers in getting familiar with that. Its in a transitional state than experimenting with the use of ICTs. I think its 50-50. I do quite a work using multimedia devices with students to create learning objects, to create mini projects with series of lessons, to give teachers ideas so that they can have more continuity through out the entire term, rather than from one lesson to one lesson to one lesson. And also we are bringing in teachers of other subjects as well, I run a website, where I put on projects, where I can go an integrate art and English with maths, that also have an online element, where I can discuss projects with other people doing it.
So it’s more blended