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In Thailand, no child left without a tablet

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The government of Thailand, only a couple of years removed from deadly political turmoil, has embarked on an ambitious educational reform. Every one of the country’s 9 million schoolchildren is to get a tablet computer.

Education leaders say that putting 21st century technology in the hands of students is a dramatic leap forward, especially for those from poor rural areas. But critics wonder if it’s not a gimmick diverting attention to more serious problems of corruption and poor teacher training.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head explains the issue in this video clip.


Yingluck Shinawatra, campaigning on a tablet platform: Reuters photo

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra campaigned on a “one tablet per child” platform during the 2011 elections that brought her party to power. It was probably her most popular proposal.

The program began rolling out last year with the distribution of 860,000 tablets to first graders, according to the Bangkok Post.  The $32.8 million purchase was the largest tablet-distribution deal to date, Digital Trends reported in 2012.

The students are to hold onto the tablets for the rest of their school careers. This year, the government is providing 1.8 million tablets to the new crop of first-graders and to seventh-graders.

Is a blanket infusion of technology the best way for Thailand to catch up? Some have their doubts.

The Economist:

The chief problem is that children’s educational attainments are falling, even as more money is being lavished on the schools. Thailand now spends about 20% of the national budget on education, more than it devotes to any other sector. The budget has doubled over a decade. Yet results are getting worse, both in absolute terms and relative to other countries in South-East Asia…

Why does Thailand fare so badly? Somkiat Tangkitvanich, an expert at the Thailand Development Research Institute, claims that there is no mystery. Most of the swelling education budget has gone on higher pay for teachers (who now often earn more than the starting salary of a university lecturer), yet no improvement in performance has been extracted in return.

Mr Somkiat argues that schools have to be made more accountable to the people who use and pay for them.



World’s best education systems respect teachers, reflect culture of learning

The countries that top the world in education tend to offer teachers higher status in society and nurture a culture of learning, according to a chief adviser of the education firm Pearson.

Unfortunately, the United States is not one of those nations. According to a new global report from Pearson,  the world’s largest economy ranks 17th among developed countries in educating its young.

Finland and South Korea hold the first two spots on the list of 40 countries, followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. The Huffington Post reports:

The study notes that while funding is an important factor in strong education systems, cultures supportive of learning is even more critical — as evidenced by the highly ranked Asian countries, where education is highly valued and parents have grand expectation.

While Finland and South Korea differ greatly in methods of teaching and learning, they hold the top spots because of a shared social belief in the importance of education and its “underlying moral purpose.”

The study arrives at a moment when the linkage between American education and America’s position in the world is getting serious attention from two very different men who seek to influence policy.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a perennial potential Republican candidate for president, said yesterday that the U.S. should adopt global benchmarks for students. He told an audience in Washington, D.C., that American students are competing in a world that is increasingly global and digital.

“Where is the outrage?” demanded Bush, who has long made education reform his signature issue — with some controversial results.

According to ABC News:

Education gaps yield income gaps, Bush said, which are perpetuated by a lack of knowledge, particularly among socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Those who are born in the middle class tend to stay there, Bush pointed out, but those who are born poor also tend to stay poor, so upward mobility is limited.

“This idyllic notion of who we are as a nation is going away,” he said.

The United States spends more money on its students than other countries, yet many students are not qualified for jobs. Even in this tough economy, there is a dearth of qualified candidates for many jobs in science and engineering fields. Conversely, countries such as India graduate an increasing number of qualified jobseekers.

And just this morning, Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and best-selling author, offered his own, unorthodox choice of U.S. secretary of state to replace Hillary Clinton, who is soon to retire: Arne Duncan.

Friedman wants the education secretary and former chief of Chicago’s school system to represent America on the world stage because education is so crucially important.

The biggest issue in the world today is growth, and, in this information age, improving educational outcomes for more young people is now the most important lever for increasing economic growth and narrowing income inequality. In other words, education is now the key to sustainable power. To have a secretary of state who is one of the world’s leading authorities on education, well, everyone would want to talk to him.

Back to that global ranking. Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief adviser on education, said the survey’s findings show that spending on education is important, but not as much as having a culture that supports learning.

The BBC writes:

Spending is easier to measure, but the more complex impact of a society’s attitude to education can make a big difference.

The success of Asian countries in these rankings reflects the high value attached to education and the expectations of parents. This can continue to be a factor when families migrate to other countries, says the report accompanying the rankings.

Looking at the two top countries – Finland and South Korea – the report says that there are many big differences, but the common factor is a shared social belief in the importance of education and its “underlying moral purpose.”

The report also emphasises the importance of high-quality teachers and the need to find ways to recruit the best staff. This might be about status and professional respect as well as levels of pay.

The rankings show that there is no clear link between higher relative pay and higher performance.

And there are direct economic consequences of high and low performing education systems, the study says, particularly in a globalised, skill-based economy.




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