By Rachaya Sedthajak
I’m 27 years old, and on Thursday (1 October), I received my master’s degree in education from Chulalongkorn University.
For the past four years, I’ve been a biology teacher at a state school.
School authoritarianism is real.
School administrators and teachers do not communicate, nor do we share the same vision. Well-meaning administrators may want to advance the system. But rather than focus and the “how” and explaining it to everyone else, they jump to the “what” and implement policies without strategies.
The communication gap is also between older generation teachers and new generation teachers.
True, many schools cling to the authoritative culture. For example, schools may have good intentions, but schools don’t explain to students why things are done a certain way.
They simply expect, or force, the students to obey. Hence, their actions and rules are without accompanying reasons. And if students do not comply, there is often physical punishment, which is wrong. No human should do that to another.
Students have no voice in their education. We still practice the same tradition of spoon-feeding information that students ask themselves, “what is the meaning of any of this?”
Students go through school life, wondering “why.” Therefore, the administrators and teachers must explain through a rational dialogue and use respectful language, instead of just giving orders or enforcing punishment.
I believe reasoning and communication are essential to finding solutions. They should be the basis for student-teacher-administrator relationships.
The problem is deep-rooted.
When you find a problem in the Thai education system, you also find that the problem is tangled in a web of a host of other issues.
Some teachers and administrators want to change. But there are not enough of us. Meanwhile, the web of problems are decades in the making, while too many teachers and administrators uphold and perpetuate these problems.
I try to teach students to think critically, to question, and to debate. The problem is that the system expects us to cram as much information into the students as possible, with the only goal to pass the exam. Parents also expect their children to perform well in exams. They see it as a competition, and they don’t pay attention to critical thinking or life skills.
Meanwhile, all of these occur in classrooms where there always are too many students. In international schools, typically, they limit students to no more than 25 per class.
The consequence is there’s no time to teach critical thinking, no room for questions or debates.
I believe in these changes.
The educational curriculum must reflect the demand of the students, and examination assessment must reflect the curriculum.
The problem we see in every generation is that national examinations have little to do with school curriculum or student interests. It’s as if the schools and the national examination board never talk to each other.
Instead of cramming everything in, the Thai education system must nurture the students’ aspirations and skills or talents. The traditional thinking is that no matter what a student aspires to be, drill as much information into his or her head as possible.
This educational culture harms the students by forcing them into curriculums that are not their aspirations. Thereby, they perform poorly, lose confidence, and become confused. Students should be able to “explore” learning and choose the curriculum that fits their talents and aspirations.
Teachers’ should be better compensated. Thai teachers’ salaries generally are less than in other countries. So the profession only attracts those who want to become teachers, but not those who are the best and brightest.
Many of the best and brightest want to become teachers but decide not to because they can’t make a living. Also, there must be better measures to assess teaching qualifications to ensure that we have quality teachers.
The system swallows us.
The way the system is, there are many double standards, and too many students get left behind. Teachers also become exhausted and burn out.
The most challenging thing for teachers is to catch up with the students and the ever-changing world, while at the same time being held back by the educational system and school culture.
The new generation of teachers who are trying to change things instead get swallowed up by the system.
But we must fight on and change things. Teaching is the most impactful profession. Education shapes people and society. The future that we want to build starts with education.