A view from the bridge: How Thailand's lockdown is part of a wider education vision
Since the world has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, education ministries worldwide have been set the task of maintaining a gateway to learning for all students and ensuring educators are able to continue to teach. Despite strong progress in containing the virus, the Thai government has taken the decision to push the reopening of schools from the 18th May to the 1st July. The decision to push back the reopening of schools is due to the Government’s concern around creating a safe space in which students can learn and not pass on the virus to relatives especially the elderly.
In order to ensure that students remain engaged, the Thai government has continued to support students whilst they are learning remotely. Students are actively being encouraged to engage with virtual learning and the Ministry has set up 17 TV channels designed for virtual learning, catering for the learning needs of students for all ages up until 18. Existing Content for Kindergarten up to Junior High School will be provided by the Distance Learning Foundation under The Royal Patronage. The leading Thai schools have supported the development of this initiative, with the provision of content for Senior High School. Moreover, leading teachers will be delivering the content.
Online teaching is also being done with the creation of a virtual learning platform that will provide access to learning for 90% of Thai students. When platforms are up and running students and teachers are given an ID which they can use to access the platform. They will see only individual content that is bespoke to them all the content is for that particular grade at the time. Students can see only a week in advance to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity and ensuring that nobody gets left behind. To strive for further inclusion, students can still though review past lessons to make sure that they understand what they have learnt.
The whole point of the process is to ensure keeps students engaged during times of lockdown and not about high academic performance. The Ministry has done more than just maintain steady academic attainment and has taken steps to help establish a culture of care across its virtual education platforms. For many the process is overwhelming, particularly with the sudden transition to technology. Teachers and school leaders are unfamiliar with the usage of EdTech, and have had to improve their digital literacy at a rapid pace. The decision to launch the virtual platforms on 1st July was in order to train the teachers on how to become more EdTech literate. COVID-19 or no COVID-19, this is an important skill that they need.
For students, being in lockdown is unsettling so the Ministry have reinforced that this moment in history is strange for everyone, encouraging them to prioritise their wellbeing. Students are continually made aware that this is not forever, and to continually remind them that their ambitions and goals are important. By shifting the focus and highlighting that it is not just grades that are important, students are able to be more relaxed about learning and adjust to new learning environments more gradually.
Diversification of skills and seeing to all abilities have a been a large part of Thailand’s education manifesto, and this has extended to the vocational training of students. Experts have been bought in to maximise student potential and ensure the skills they develop are in line with the economic needs of the nation. For example, top chefs have been bought in to design catering courses that are both engaging for students but fulfil the industry requirements.
The digitalisation of Thailand’s education system, that we are witnessing right now, is an idea that was planned originally for two years from now. The modernisation of both vocational and academic curriculums and learning methods are part of a wider goal to support learners ambitions and desires from as early on as possible. Thailand was at an interesting frontier in which old teaching and learning methods were not economically viable and in the wake of COVID-19 lockdown, has been given the opportunity to further understand the needs of its student population and plan strategically going forward. Overall, preparing for a country that is economically robust and a society happy both personally and professionally.