Nations around the world have been caught off guard by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which is sending economies into tailspins and disrupting societies as we speak. This fast-moving virus is striking country after country. Though pathologists, epidemiologists, and other medical professionals are working hard to keep us safe, many lives have been lost, with more sure to come.
As governments scramble to slow the spread and make painful decisions to close restaurants, entertainment venues, and schools, and individuals commit to social distancing and washing their hands religiously, we may finally have a plan as we attempt to control the virus. And once we are in a position to reflect, will we learn anything from this experience? What can we do to prevent the next outbreak from getting to this point? How can we save lives in the future?
You can answer these questions in several ways. One area that is certain to play a key role is education. We will need to equip today’s students with the knowledge and skills necessary to solve the outbreaks of tomorrow. After all, when these kids grow up, many of us will be the vulnerable elderly individuals who will depend on them to become doctors and scientists capable of protecting us.
What Thailand Needs
Experts agree that no silver bullet exists to solve the current pandemic with the snap of the fingers. We have to do the best we can with the resources available. It would be a mistake, however, to think that there will never be another devastating virus that flies across our interconnected world. We should heed the experience of COVID-19 so that we’re ready next time.
For Thailand to prepare itself, it must develop the capacity of its human resources to diagnose and solve complex challenges quickly. We need to increase not only the quality of our doctors, scientists, and public health guardians but also the quantity of such skilled personnel, so that every hospital, from Yala to Chiang Rai, is stocked with the people needed to save lives.
In short, our education system needs to start producing an abundance of students with 21st-century skills. At Kenan, we define 21st-century skills as the combination of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) knowledge and 4C skills (critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration). In other words, a 21st-century student should be able to take STEM content and use his or her 4C skills to apply that knowledge to solve real-world problems.
When you zoom in on the current crises, it is clear how badly needed these skills are. For example, we need pharmacologists with chemistry knowledge and critical thinking skills to develop a vaccine. We need epidemiologists with collaboration and communication skills to work with colleagues not only in Thailand but also around the world to track the spread of the virus. Without such skilled professionals, Thailand must rely on experts from abroad to solve the challenges inside its borders.
Because of the stickiness of rote memorization teaching practices in Thailand, the country has struggled to develop the widespread 21st-century workforce that is necessary to fuel 4.0 industries and, yes, mitigate the effects of complicated problems like COVID-19. Fortunately, we can change this dilemma, so that COVID-40 is a pond ripple rather than a tidal wave.
How we can Prepare for COVID-40
To put it bluntly, we need to change how we’re educating students. You cannot expect a student who has never had the opportunity to apply chemistry concepts in the friendly confines of a 7th-grade laboratory to become a highly capable pharmacologist when she grows up. She is missing too many rungs on the ladder to this type of high-value career.
At Kenan, we are working on adding those critical rungs into the Thai education system. We do this by providing comprehensive professional development (training and on-going mentorship) to STEM teachers and supplying them with the equipment they need to deliver hands-on, inquiry-based learning in the classroom to today’s students to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. The results of this approach have been impressive, and, with the support of more forward-looking companies, we know we can change the prospects of today’s students.
While we are conscious of the immediate concerns of COVID-19, we remain committed to ensuring that students across Thailand are getting the education they deserve. If we succeed in this endeavor, these students will go on to do life-changing work in the future. After all, investing in students today may save your life tomorrow.
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