October 20, 2022 ─ The SEAMEO Regional Centre for STEM Education (SEAMEO STEM-ED) with support from Chevron Asia Pacific has initiated the “Chevron-SEAMEO Policy Advocacy for Strengthening Regional STEM Education” project to boost policymakers’ capacity and allow experts to share evidence of effective programs and research practices.
The hybrid workshop (on-site at Rembrandt Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand) included 320 participants from 11 SEAMEO member countries and also from Turkey, Maldives, and Pakistan. With a common vision of developing pre-service education in STEM, experts came together in an engaging environment (round table meeting) to share their expertise on effective policies and practices, as well as to serve as consultants and provide technical assistance for policymakers.
The discussion in this workshop centered on literacy skills since they are a crucial learning aspect to be improved. This is underscored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that shows the reading literacies of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines lag behind many other countries.
To address this issue, SEAMEO STEM-ED initiated a workshop to advocate reading literacy at a regional level and sought collaboration with Professor Kate Montgomery, an International Education Consultant and Curriculum Designer for the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University who is also an expert in English language literacy and critical thinking in challenging contexts.
In the opening remarks, SEAMEO STEM-ED Director Dr. Pornpun Waitayangkoon highlighted vivid examples of how reading and writing skills are the foundation of personal, national, and economic development.
“You cannot understand messages on your phone unless you can read them. You cannot use materials from the internet unless you can read them, and you certainly cannot understand science unless you can read,” Dr. Waitayangkoon asserted.
She also urged that “reading is a 21st-century skill, and all high-level jobs require writing skills, so we are gathered today to ask what we know about helping our children, and how we can put our knowledge into action.”
The implication of literacy skills development, Dr. Waitayangkoon concluded, is that literacy skills can evoke critical thinking, imagination, and creativity, which can later give birth to many innovations.
Chevron Corporation’s Senior Social Investment Advisor, Dee Bourbon pointed out that in a world that’s rapidly evolving a digital economy and all the challenges and opportunities from globalization, “We think it’s never been more important than now to focus on improving literacy.”
Sharing her childhood experience, the Senior Social Investment Advisor said, “As a child, I always had a passion for reading and learning; my favorite place was the library, and I believe every child deserves the opportunity to experience the joy of what reading provides.” She added, “All teachers deserve to have tools, skills, and learning materials to develop effective learning structures.”
Meanwhile, Professor Montgomery summarized teaching practices as synthesizing and distilling its meaning, and ultimately connecting the picture and its narrative to the real world.
“The crucial method is to make students participate, without making them feel that their answers are right or wrong,” Professor Montgomery remarked.
Professor Montgomery later demonstrated how picture books can bring out much imagination and critical thinking using two images. The first image showed a fruitlike figure with the text “This is not an apple,” while the second image portrayed a psychologist saying to a unicorn on a couch, “You need to believe in yourself.” With this, participants from the Southeast Asia region provided many answers from which the discussion then took place.
Professor Montgomery then explained the powerful shifts in literacy instruction in which teachers are advised to frame questions revolving around the participation of the students. For example, “look-at-me” questions should be converted to “think-about-this” questions.
During the event, participants from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other member countries posed questions on how picture books can be one of the important forces of learning development. In response, Professor Montgomery answered that different mediums, practices, and methods not only enhance students’ critical thinking skills but adults or educators can reflect on different perspectives for their development. In support, The Centre’s Program Director, Dr. Kessara Amornvuthivorn noted that the joy of exchanging ideas and perspectives is the foundation of the human learning process.
Tom Corcoran, Senior Advisor at SEAMEO STEM-ED summarized that for students reading more frequently is an important strategy. He further emphasized that “the more children read the better readers they become.”
At last, he concluded by posing one question to all participants from SEAMEO member countries that we should all think about: “What can we do to get the children to read more outside of school?”
The workshop ended with much appreciation voiced from SEAMEO member countries and in the next phase, these practices are expected to be integrated into different classrooms throughout Southeast Asia.