We strongly advocate that teachers give regular feedback to students and that principals give feedback to teachers because research on learning shows that feedback is a powerful mechanism for changing behavior (Hattie and Timperly, 2007). This basic principle applies to organizations as well, and those that do not respond to constructive feedback miss opportunities to improve their performance. In 2015, OECD and UNESCO sent a team to Thailand to assess the educational system, and they prepared a thoughtful report
(OECD/UNESCO, 2015). The report noted that half of Thailand’s students were failing to acquire the basic skills needed for success in life and, importantly, noted that the Ministry of Education did not pay attention to evidence in making decisions. The report noted four areas that needed urgent attention:
- Conducting a review of the curriculum, defining clearly the standards students should meet, which could be used to drive reform in the rest of the system.
- Building an assessment system that could reliably assess students across the full range of standards in the revised curriculum, ensuring that a range of tests generate the information needed to support student progress, monitor school performance, and inform policymakers.
- Developing a strategy to prepare and support teachers and school leaders to implement reforms, including the revised curriculum, and to address teaching shortages in the most deprived areas.
- Creating a comprehensive information and communications technology strategy to equip all of Thailand’sstudents for the 21 century, with an emphasis on improving teachers’ skills to make the best use of technology in the classroom and improving rural Internet access.
The government has largely ignored this good advice. A reform commission spent a year discussing the curriculum, but no action has been taken. Another commission has been discussing reforms in the teacher pre-service programs in the Rajabhat universities, but as of this date, nothing has been done. Half of Thai students are still not acquiring the basic skills essential to economic success. And as we have noted in our blog, the national assessment system does not provide teachers with the diagnostic information they need to improve their practice and help improve student learning outcomes. And as the pandemic has shown, many Thai schools and students lack internet access.
In 2017, the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at Teachers College, Columbia (CPRE) was asked by IPST, part of the MOE, to review the implementation of the Premium program for the preparation of science and mathematics teachers. A CPRE team visited seven institutions of higher education in Thailand and prepared a report offering among a dozen recommendations, the following:
- Broadening recruitment into the Premium Program by dropping the requirement that candidates be recent graduates, and allowing current teachers and members of the military to apply, being more flexible about the science course requirements so that more engineering students might qualify, and, most importantly, lowering or eliminating the English requirement for admissions;
- Developing in collaboration with National Teachers Council, a set of two or three cultural foundation courses that would satisfy the NTC standards and could be used by all universities. This could reduce the number of courses required on some campuses, free up faculty time to provide more support to students during the practicum, and eliminate some of the redundancy noted by the students;
- Eliminating the requirement that PP students take advanced courses in math and science—perhaps allow them one elective each semester—and the requirement that they teach gifted classes during their practicum. The advanced courses add to their workload but add little value to their teaching.
- Expand the requirements for a thesis from just action research projects to include more applied projects like developing curriculum units or participating in larger, well-designed university-sponsored research projects. Rather asking teachers to conduct research, it seems more important that they learn to access, assess, and interpret research.
- Providing training on instruction, classroom observation and provision of feedback for PP faculty. Few of the teacher education faculty have taught in K-12 classrooms, and many are ill-equipped to support novice teachers; and
- Consider initiating a program to prepare experienced teachers to become professors of practice at the universities. This would improve the courses on pedagogy by making them less theoretical and provide improved supervision of students during the practicum. The number of such professors of practice, or clinical faculty as they are referred to in the United States, might vary between two and four in the universities, but the program might begin with a pilot in three to four universities.
These recommendations would not only help the Premium program but would help improve all teacher education, but this report has also largely been ignored.
There is a lot of discussion about school reform in Thailand. The first step might be to pay attention to feedback from those who come to help and offer suggestions. The new Minister of Education might read these two reports and take action on some of their recommendations. It would represent a fresh start to policy-making in Thailand.