When the schools in Thailand closed this spring to stop the spread of the coronavirus, many students lost a lot of instructional time. The schools struggled to provide instruction online, but many lacked the necessary equipment and teachers lacked experience with developing online lessons. Students also faced hurdles. Some lacked access to computers; others were unable to get online. Some didn’t show up to virtual class or were not motivated enough to show up consistently.
This was the case in countries around the world. Everywhere where students were behind the desired levels of achievement, they fell further behind when the schools were closed. As a consequence, England, the Netherlands, Australia, and the USA are launching or considering the launch of national tutoring programs designed to help students make up for that learning loss.
“Even if we did our very best while schools were closed, there was going to be a need for compensation and additional support,” said Robbie Coleman, head of policy of the London-based Education Endowment Foundation, which is part of a coalition launching the initiative in the UK. American policy analysts (see Kraft and Falken, 2020) are promoting the idea of making small group tutoring a permanent feature of public education, arguing “Tutoring is among the most effective education interventions ever to be subjected to rigorous evaluation.” (Dietrichson et al., 2017; Fryer, 2017; Nickow et al., 2020) The strategy is a sensible one as research shows that regular in-school tutoring is one of the most effective ways to help students make academic progress. (Nickow, et. l. 2020)
England’s program, and a similar effort in the Netherlands, highlight how other countries are investing in addressing the potential academic fallout of the coronavirus through temporary tutoring programs, while the U.S. has made only a modest, patchwork effort — a small federal program here, a few philanthropic grants there — to make tutoring available to low-income students. Kraft and Falken (2020) estimate that the cost of an effective tutoring program in reading and mathematics in all of the public schools serving disadvantaged students would be between 5 and 15 billion US dollars annually. However, they contend that it would be worth the cost because it would close the achievement gap between affluent and disadvantaged students. However, the cost would be much less in Thailand because salaries are lower, because of the traditions of volunteering, and because the infrastructure needed to operate a tutoring program already exists.
The Situation in Thailand
When the pandemic is over, Thailand should not just return to the way things were before in the schools. Because things were not so good. The World Bank reported in 2018 that nearly 40 percent of Thai lower secondary students were functionally illiterate in Thai. If you are functionally illiterate, you cannot read a newspaper; you cannot fill out a job application; you cannot read the manuals for machines in factories. If you are functionally illiterate, you are doomed to a life of poverty. When asked about this problem, teachers say students do not like to read, that they are unmotivated, but the reality is that they cannot read school texts because they have not been taught to read or write Thai adequately. Similarly, large numbers of lower secondary students struggle in mathematics; they cannot multiply or divide. As a consequence, they are unable to prepare themselves for the new opportunities being created in STEM fields. They also are the victims of poor teaching. And what do the schools do to help these students who struggle to read or to multiply; sadly, little to nothing is done. But Thailand could learn from the Co-vid crisis how to address these problems in education.
With schools closed, or only partially open, students were expected to learn remotely, to use online lessons, which author Doug Lemov aptly describes as “like teaching through a keyhole.” Many students lacked the equipment to get online; some had difficulty accessing the internet; and others simply lacked the motivation to sit at the computer and listen to teachers or complete worksheets. And many teachers lacked the skills
required to design engaging online lessons. So many students have fallen further behind. The statistics in other parts of the world say that a tenth or a quarter or even half of all students, depending on where they are, are not logging into online learning even once. This is probably true in Thailand as well. For disadvantaged students and students in rural areas, this may be due in part to a lack of access to equipment or to broadband. But talk to just about any teacher or parent or student, and they will tell you it is hard to sit at the computer for hours at a time. The ineffectiveness of online education in this crisis is a crisis in itself. The ultimate result of the school closures and the apparent implosion of online teaching is that students have fallen further behind.
Thailand has managed the Covid-19 pandemic relatively well, and as a result, there have been fewer cases and fewer deaths from the virus. Now Thailand’s leaders must show the same resolve and focus to address a crisis in education that has been neglected for many years. I am optimistic that the nation’s leaders will take the steps needed to improve the performance of Thailand’s education system and enhance the life-chances of the children they serve.
This paper is about a novel strategy; yet it is a strategy that might be the most practical thing to do in the circumstances. Our premise is that all students could benefit from small group instruction by a tutor. Tutoring is among the most effective education interventions ever to be subjected to rigorous evaluation (Dietrichson et al., 2017; Fryer, 2017; Nickow et al., 2020). There are also many reasons to be optimistic that tutoring
would have benefits beyond developing students’ academic skills. Positive, caring relationships with tutors might support students’ social-emotional development, enhance their attachment to school, increase their motivation to learn and increase their work effort in school, and create relationships with older peers who might serve as mentors for successfully navigating the education system (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2018; BowmanPerrott et al., 2014; Christensen et al., 2020; DuBois et al., 2011). In fact, tutoring may also have reciprocal benefits for tutors’ academic and social emotional development as well as tap into their need to contribute and feel respected (Allen et al., 1997; EskreisWinkler et al., 2019; Fuligni, 2018; Yaeger et al., 2018). Tutoring could provide valuable employment opportunities and experiences for youth, and create an expanded and more diverse pipeline of potential educators in ruralcommunities. Further, to the extent that tutoring increases educational achievement it would have economic benefits for the students as well as for the nation’s economy as a whole (Hanushek & Woessmann, 2020). Few educational interventions offer such a range of potential returns.
In their policy paper on the implementation and cost of a national tutoring program in the United States, Kraft and Falken propose 10 design principles. With some modification to fit the Thai context, we borrow from their principles to create six principles for the design of a temporary tutoring program for Thailand. In this paper we will discuss how these principles might be applied in Thailand and what it would be mean to implement them.
This is an instance where we are faced with a problem that we know how to solve; we just have to persuade the government to take the necessary steps. There are a number of things that the government could do in the coming months to make up for the education lost due to Co-Vid 19. First, once students return to school, teachers will find out how far behind they have fallen, and the Ministry could declare an educational emergency, and launch a program to address the problem. Here we propose that the program be a national tutoring initiative and we offer a set of design principles to guide its development. The primary goals of national-scale tutoring would be to accelerate foundational skill development in math and reading and promote student motivation, persistence and engagement in school. learning. However, recognizing that schools have different needs, the program should allow local flexibility in program design. Successfully taking education reforms to scale is a balancing act between maintaining fidelity to the core components of a program and providing flexibility for local actors to
shape implementation within their contexts.
We also imagine undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs might collaborate with school tutoring programs and that part of the year-long practicum required of novice teachers could be spent tutoring. This would benefit new teachers as they would learn a great deal about the needs of the K-12 students and about effective
pedagogy in literacy and mathematics.
The Design Principles
Here we offer a set of eight design principles for a temporary tutoring program in Thailand.
1. Tutoring should be a school-wide program. All students can benefit from tutoring and mentorship. School-wide programs would not stigmatize low-performing students in need of remediation. Tutoring all students could foster a collective commitment among school staff to supporting the program because it would be seen as a core practice rather than a special program.
2. Tutoring should be done through small-group instruction. Effective tutoring programs maintain low student- to-tutor ratios — no higher than 4:1 or 5:1. The proposed program for the US would offer individualized instruction by tutors, but this would be quite expensive and hard to organize, and research shows small group instruction is also effective. Student-to-tutor ratios pose a tradeoff between individualization and cost-effectiveness (Fryer & Howard-Noveck, 2020). As ratios increase, tutoring becomes more affordable but requires tutors to increasingly divide their focus across multiple students and teach to the middle of the skill distribution.
3. A major portion of the tutoring should be conducted by older students. The research shows that peer tutoring is nearly as effective as tutoring by trained adults or teachers, and it also shows that student tutors benefit from the experience. So we propose that pre-service teachers and other undergraduates be asked to serve as tutors for students in the upper secondary schools; that
upper secondary students serve as tutors for lower secondary students; and that lower secondary students serve as tutors for primary students. Teachers can serve as the mentors for the tutors and be tutors themselves for students who have more serious problems. Recent university graduates who have not found employment in the Co-Vid economy might be trained to serve as coordinators of tutoring or as tutors themselves. In addition, educated adults in each community might also be trained as tutors. From these various sources, it should be possible to recruit and train an adequate number of tutors.
4. Tutoring should be a high-dosage intervention. Tutoring programs that meet more frequently are more effective. The most successful tutoring programs typically meet three to five times a week for at least thirty minutes per session (Nickow et al., 2020). These could be held before school, during the school day, or after school.
5. Tutoring should be with the same tutor or tutors all year. Relationships are at the heart of tutoring. Effective programs ensure continuity in tutor-student pairings to support the development of these relationships and allow tutors to learn about students’ individual strengths and areas of instructional need (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2020). Such an approach may also support the development of positive, caring relationships between tutors and students (Hill & Jones, 2018).
6. Tutors should receive intensive, ongoing training. Tutors are more effective when supported by adequate training and ongoing coaching (Hänze et al., 2018; Jacob et al., 2015; Kraft, 2015). Organizing tutor training through a combination of ongoing professional development, professional learning communities, and on-the-job feedback supports continual improvement. The TCRWP at Teachers College, Columbia has over 70 literacy coaches and brings them together every Friday to discuss their work, the challenges they have encountered, and collaborate on development of new tools for teachers. This could be done for the tutors at the provincial universities weekly or bi-weekly.
7. Tutoring should be curriculum-based. Tutors would use proven curricular materials and scaffolded tutoring models for instruction that are selected by the Ministry of Education to support students’ success. The success of cross-age peer tutoring in particular depends critically on high-quality instructional resources to guide tutors’ efforts and align tutoring with class content (Kraft and Falken, 2020).
8. Tutoring should be done during the school day. Thailand might extend the school day to 5 pm in order to provide time for tutoring during the school schedule. It is important to incorporate tutoring within the school schedule in order that students see it as an important part of their education. Organizing tutoring before or after school might encourage students to skip the meetings with their tutors as it would be viewed as an extra-curricular activity.
1. The tutoring program should be piloted for a semester in four lowperforming provinces. As this is a new idea, it should be piloted and carefully evaluated before requiring all provinces to implement tutoring. We recommend that a pilot program in reading, writing, and mathematics be implemented in four provinces and in twenty-five primary schools per province for at least a semester before mandating the program.
2. Training programs for tutors should be established in one or more universities in each province. The training of tutors for the pilot might be done by the SEAMEO Stem Education Center or a similar organization. The Ministry should review the evidence about the effectiveness of tutoring programs worldwide and select one or more model to use for the pilot program. The evaluation of the pilot program might suggest modifications in the training of tutors. During the pilot phase, the Ministry should work with one or more universities in each province to prepare them to train tutors. The universities should serve as hubs to support the tutors while they work.
3. School adoption should be voluntary. Successfully scaling tutoring should follow a ground-up process of voluntary local adoption rather than a top-down, Ministry mandated expansion. There is little reason to expect that schools lacking parent and teacher support or that are not committed to integrate tutoring into their core structures would succeed in implementing tutoring in a way that would benefit students.
4. Funding the program. The government might allocate funds to the provinces to pay for the tutoring program or give grants directly to schools to hire an army of tutors to work with small groups of students, especially in elementary reading and mathematics, where there are many proven programs available. The Ministry could provide a reading and mathematics test that could be scored by teachers to identify the needs of individuals and to help place students in groups for tutoring. These test scores could also be used to identify students who might serve as tutors for younger students. To ensure the effectiveness of the intervention, the government might consider, following the pilot program, asking all schools to devote a semester to intensive instruction in mathematics and literacy, and ask teachers of other subjects as well as older, more able students to serve as tutors.
5. While the tutoring program was addressing the needs of the current student population, the Minister might appoint an expert committee to review the Thai language curriculum, especially in grades K-4, and teaching practices commonly used in these classrooms and make recommendations to strengthen language teaching in the early grades, including reforms in the training of teachers of Thai. Thailand might even follow the example of Singapore and focus the early grades on language and mathematics. This could prevent the continuation of the crisis in literacy and mathematics.
In emergencies, governments often accelerate funding for research and development to quickly find solutions for pressing national problems. This is happening now in many countries as many labs are racing to develop Covid vaccines and cures, If Thailand declares an education emergency, the government could invest in research and development to respond to high-priority needs. For example, there are some proven programs for elementary students struggling in reading or mathematics, but they are not widely used in Thailand. And there are no similar programs in Thai language. And we have few if any proven tutoring programs for lower and upper secondary schools. Middle school tutoring methods have been proven effective in England, so we know tutoring can work in lower secondary schools, but we need to adapt and evaluate the English models for use in Thailand., and evaluate existing programs used in Thai schools that are promising but unevaluated, or develop new models for Thai schools. If we are wise, we will do all four of these things. Given the education emergency we face, this is not the time to fiddle around the edges. It is time to use our national innovative capacity to identify and solve big problems.
Alegre-Ansuátegui, F. J., Moliner, L., Lorenzo, G., & Maroto, A. (2018). Peer tutoring and academic achievement in mathematics: A meta-analysis. EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 14(1), 337-354
Nickow, A., Oreopoulos, P., & Quan, V., 2020. The Impressive Effects of Tutoring on PreK-12 Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence. Washington: NBER.