Monday, December 7, 2015

Welcome to Sakolrajwittayanukul School: Part I

      Chaos. Utterly and purely chaotic. In reality, it's probably worse than that. I don't know if the proper word has been invented as of yet. That's the best way that I can illustrate my experience teaching at a Thai school though (and schooling here as a whole). There are so many intriguing, puzzling, dumbfounding, and insane moments that occur during the school day. I don't know that I'd say that Thai schooling is any better or worse than in South Korea or America, but it's surely different from my prior experiences. The daily schedule, the consistently canceled classes, the absolute freedom given to students, and the lack of adult supervision are surprising to say the least. However, the biggest head-scratcher is that students can't fail. Any class at any school. For any reason. How do I hold any of these 5,000 students accountable for even the simplest of tasks if there are no repercussions?

      My school, Sakolrajwittayanukul, is in session Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. At least for some students. Others seem to flow freely as they please. Most do, actually. They come and go in and out of the classroom as they please; they come and go to and from campus as they please. A class of 50 to 55 students are organized as a section of a particular grade level known as a Mattayomusa. This is based on their age and – in theory – their intelligence level (not necessarily true). I teach M 1 students (~12 years old) and M 6 students (~18 years old). Each section of students has a classroom that they remain in while it's the teachers who ping-pong around campus. Though there is a daily schedule that signifies the time of the subjects which take place in each classroom, this should be expected to change at any given moment. My classes have already been canceled numerous times unannounced to me, so I typically wait ten minutes before leaving any lonely and unoccupied classrooms.

I draw stares for some reason
      The expectations for the students are saddeningly low, especially pertaining to learning English. I imagine that a foreign language isn't seen as anything of value in a small town such as Sakon Nakhon. And perhaps the natives are correct; how or why is one to expect a child to make it out of this town or even come to the realization that it is a plausible option? But in this Digital Age, technology has opened doors...and minds. I'm always taken aback by the family whose "house" is nothing more than a sheet-metal roof hung on weathered wooden pilings, yet there is a child playing on an iPad as they lay in a hammock or a bed of woven banana leaves. They have the world at their fingertips. And it's because of this and the dreams which might be conceived that maybe, just maybe, one of these 5,000 students could benefit from acquiring a foreign language and thusly an open door. Cue me.

      But the lack of educational standards across all age levels is the elephant in the room which Thailand isn't addressing. Unfortunately, the neighboring countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines have been and Thailand is rapidly losing opportunities as a result. I was fortuitous enough to sit in on a speech given by the President of the Ministry of Education, which was incredibly enlightening and telling (Side Note – Those holding government positions such as this are royalty! This man was treated like a king). The President acknowledged the faults and failings of the Thai school system's non-existence standards by citing examples in relation to neighboring countries. While Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines require a fluency level of "intermediate" (which is pretty freakin' good based on Teaching English as a Foreign Language [TEFL] Standards are concerned) before their students can enter an M 1 level of English, Thailand doesn't regulate this based on fluency at all. Once a student is twelve years old, they are enrolled in M 1 classes regardless of English comprehension. They'll be moved to M 2 next year and M 3 the following year since they can't be failed. I was genuinely intrigued by the President's speech for two hours and then he concluded it with the very reason Thailand is behind and will be for the foreseeable future. "To make the necessary adjustments which would introduce educational standards and benefit Thailand's students moving forward would be too vast a change; it's political suicide." All respect instantly lost.


Attempting to smile although we're all soaking wet from sweating in a classroom with no electricity on a +90° day.
Stay tuned for Part II of my adventures at Sakolrajwittayanukul School.

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