Scaling-Up Educational Reform in Thailand: Context, Collaboration, Networks, and Change

Article excerpt

Southeast Asia has witnessed a decade of transformational change such that children entering primary school today "cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born" (Drucker, 1995, p. 75). Yet, even with the massive political and economic changes observed in Southeast Asia, fundamental cultural norms have proven more resistant to global forces. As Ohmae (1995) has observed: "The contents of kitchens and closets may change, but the core mechanisms by which cultures maintain their identity and socialize their young remain untouched" (p. 30). This frames the challenge of educational reform in Asia and throughout the world where educational systems are struggling to keep pace with rapidly changing environmental demands (Fullan, 1993; Hallinger, 1998a, 1998b).

Nowhere is this observation more salient than in Thailand. Thailand's schools were never designed to produce the highly motivated, independent thinkers and learners demanded by an information-based economy (MoE, 1996; ONEC, 1997a, 1997b). Professor Kriengsak Charoenwongsak of Thailand's Institute of Future Studies for Development has noted: "increasing the quality of Thai products also involves improving the quality of education. The current emphasis on rote learning does not help students assume positions in the workplace, which stresses problem-solving and other analytical skills" ("Higher-value," 1998, p. 2). There is a national consensus that traditional Thai ways of managing schools and teaching children are unlikely to produce students who have the capacity to live productive and satisfying lives (Hallinger, 2000). Thai parents, school practitioners, and policymakers agree that one of the nation's greatest challenges is developing the capacity of school graduates to meet the demands of the information age.

This recognition led to the passage of a comprehensive national educational reform law in 1999. The major components of this act include: a) ensuring basic education for all children, b) reforming the education system, c) reforming the learning process, d) reorganizing the administrative system, e) introducing a system of educational quality assurance, f) enhancing professionalism and the quality of the teaching profession, g) mobilizing resources and investment for education, and h) adopting information and communication technology (ICT) for educational reform.

This act outlined new educational goals for the nation that included literacy, numeracy, improved language capacity, and IT capabilities as well as an emphasis on the development of skills in critical thinking and independent, lifelong learning. The same law initiated structural changes (e.g., decentralization of administration to local districts) as well as cultural changes (e.g., shift toward student-centered learning) in the educational system. While these changes parallel those found in many Western nations, their implementation is an even greater challenge, given the educational traditions of Thailand.

Five years following the passage of the educational reform act, observers agree that reform in educational practice has lagged well behind political rhetoric. There is a widespread perception among the Thai public that the impact of these reforms has yet to reach schools and classrooms in significant ways or on a substantial scale (Fredrickson, 2003, 2005; Fry, 2002). Parents and educators are wondering what it will take to translate policymakers' intentions into observable changes in teaching and learning in classrooms and schools. Moreover, administrators and policymakers are seeking means by which they can both stimulate local change initiatives and transform isolated cases of successful innovation into systemic changes.

This article presents a case study of successful curricular and instructional innovation in Thailand. The innovation involved a curricular program, Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This student-centered curriculum models many of the features highlighted in Thailand's educational reform such as the student-centered learning approach, curriculum integration, and involvement of the local community. …