Tags: Classroom Teacher | Headteacher | School Leadership & Management | Teaching and Learning

Headteacher Jim Donnelly reports on a visit to Thailand that shows how community values are reflected in the behaviour and learning ability of pupils.

The British Council runs a number of programmes that encourage educators in this country to visit other countries, to observe practice in that country’s schools and to reflect on their own practice when they return to their own schools in this country. One of the programmes is the Teachers’ International Professional Development (TIPD) one, funded by the DfES, under which a certain number of places are allocated to LEAs each year. Teachers are able to apply to their LEA to take up one of these places. It is usual for two teachers to go from selected schools, to increase the chance of meaningful change on their return. Surprisingly perhaps, some LEAs do not take up their allocations, which means that teachers in proactive LEAs have more opportunities.

Teachers selected by their LEA have to meet beforehand to agree objectives and to ensure that the best possible use is made of the opportunities afforded by the programme. Since many visits take place during term time, this may require a commitment from the school to cover for two teachers for five to seven school days, with five school days being the norm for short-haul visits and seven school days for long-haul ones.

Travel, bed and breakfast and some meals are covered by the programme and all the arrangements are made by one of four providers selected by the government. They arrange the placements, flights and accommodation. They also provide advice on a range of matters, from medical issues to local customs. A report has to be written within four weeks of returning to this country.

The ‘Land of Smiles’
I recently led a group of teachers from Sefton on a TIPD visit to Thailand. In addition to the group leader, there were 12 teachers from six different schools. They covered the infant, primary and secondary school age ranges. The visit was arranged and organised by the British Council through its London, Bangkok and Chiang Mai offices. Since Thai schools have their main holiday in October the visit was arranged for the middle of November – this is also the time when the weather is more temperate.

Each teacher visited three separate schools, in both Chiang Mai and Bangkok, during a week-long visit. Their main purpose in going to Thailand was to observe curriculum development and classroom practice. They were received everywhere with such hospitality and friendliness that it is not difficult to see why Thailand is dubbed the ‘Land of Smiles’!

At each school they saw lessons, talked to teachers and students, and were shown a full range of school activities. Morning assemblies were used to introduce the visitors to the school children, with the visiting teachers often being asked to ‘say a few words’.

Thai society and its impact on schools
Everyone agreed that they had learned a lot about their areas of interest. However, the thing that struck the entire group most forcibly was the respect shown within Thai society towards teachers. Educating the whole child is seen as vitally important and schools are delivering a cultural ethos that appears to be supported by society as a whole. This ethos has a high importance in the school and in lessons across the curriculum. It was noticeable that all teachers see the importance of teaching such values as kindness and respect; they are not taught in separate lessons (eg PSHE).

Even when members of the group were in shops it appeared that any mention of being a teacher was seen as a great accolade – I don’t think this is universally the case in our country!

The children appear to be very happy in their work, possibly on account of the importance attached to responsibility as well as rights. Again, this is clearly not always the case among children in the UK. Litter was virtually non-existent and anger did not appear to feature at all. To this headteacher, it was a clear example that society gets the children it deserves and that young people learn by imitating their elders. There was an ease of relationships in evidence in the schools, which also appeared to be widespread outside schools.

Traditional curriculum
The curriculum in Thailand is more traditional than in UK schools. There was a degree of formality in lessons – for example, in PE, where techniques were demonstrated to quite large groups. However, there is a movement towards more child-centred teaching and learning. There is less ICT in evidence than there is in this country but there is certainly interest in how it might be used to assist teaching and learning.

The very good behaviour of the pupils was noticeable. This had a major impact on teaching and learning. The larger classes that exist in Thai schools did not therefore create problems of class control. Children showed respect towards adults, were happy in their day-to-day work, cooperated very well together and were quick to learn new knowledge and skills.

Pupils were also able to plan and manage their own sports activities and showed a great ability to get on with this without difficulties that might arise in our schools at home. Children were able to act independently – for example, quite young children were trusted to carry out tasks involving scissors and lighted candles. Members of the group saw children making presentations to their class peers and these were received in a very encouraging atmosphere.

Developments in education
Curriculum delivery structures appear to be developing along similar lines in England and Thailand, with long-, medium- and short-term planning evident.

Thai teachers look to their English counterparts to provide good practice in teaching English. There are certainly great opportunities for teachers of English in Thailand and the major draws have to be children who are willing and keen to learn and a nation of people who could hardly be friendlier.

The study visit to Thailand will live long in the memories of those who took part. They saw a society in which community values and ethos are tremendously important. It may be true that children are the same anywhere in the world but their sense of values owes much to the society in which they grow up. In this respect we all felt that we could learn much from the ‘Land of Smiles’!

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Feb 2006

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