Education Leader Shows Students the Path to the Ultimate Prize

On a sizzling April afternoon in Nakhon Nayok, Thailand, Mrs. Sutchaya Bumrungkit sits down at a picnic bench to discuss her outlook on education and explain why she’s optimistic about the future of schools under her supervision. With every word and gesture oozing with passion, spectators cannot help but be captivated when Mrs. Sutchaya speaks. As someone who has committed her life’s work to brightening the prospects of students in Thailand’s rural, disadvantage schools, she understands the enormity of the challenge of making education work for all.

In Thailand, students in wealthy, urban schools are taught by highly-trained, experienced teachers who have access to cutting-edge resources. Conversely, their rural peers learn by memorizing information from antiquated textbooks and only have outdated equipment at their disposal. In the modern world, in which students must develop 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity and teamwork, and apply them to solve complex problems that integrate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the status quo of learning in rural schools won’t cut it.
Mrs. Sutchaya long understood that she must move her teachers away from rote learning towards a more hands-on approach, but the challenge was how to do so. In 2010, she found her answer when her district was invited to join Kenan Institute Asia’s Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) project, sponsored by Boeing. Eight years later, Mrs. Sutchaya remains a steadfast supporter of Kenan and continues to recruit new teachers to TEL each year for one simple reason – it works.

Under TEL, teachers are immersed into Kenan’s 21st century education model that features professional development training, continuous mentorship support to help teachers bring pedagogical theory into practice and the provision of research-based, internationally-proven materials and resources that have been localized to match the Thai curriculum. The model forwards student-centered pedagogies, such as inquiry and project-based learning, that put students in the driver’s seat of their education, and, by doing so, shift teachers from lecturers into coaches who spur students’ curiosity and guide, rather than dictate, the path of their learning.

Since her schools began implementing Kenan’s model at the 4th-6th grade level, Mrs. Sutchaya has noticed students developing key 21st century skills as well as a genuine joy for learning. From her perspective one unit that exemplifies the power of the model is a long-term water filter project. In its first stage, students are tasked with cleaning cloudy water. The teacher never tells the students how to do it, but instead asks probing questions, such as what materials may be useful for collecting sediment while the water still trickles through? The students come up with all sorts of solutions – from tattered t-shirts to fishing nets – and after some trial and error find a way to clean the water.

And now the real fun begins. Rather than ending the project with this lesson on water purification, teachers ask their students to take the sediments they collected and sculpt something (popular items include toys and door signs) of their choice. Students then create their items which invariably fall apart. Why? The teacher explains that the sculptures must be heated to hold together. Mrs. Sutchaya says that some students become so excited that they then bring ovens from their homes to school to heat their creation!

After the sculptures are heated, the students again find that they crumble. Why? The teacher explains that heat needs to be disbursed evenly throughout the object, and then asks another inciting question – how can we spread the heat? Again, the students analyze the situation and come up with solutions. Eventually, they discover that putting the sculpture on a rotating plate, like a microwave, does the trick.

Mrs. Sutchaya loves this unit because it forces students to think deeply about hard science content, while building fundamental skills, such as team work, problem solving and creativity. Moreover, the iterative nature of the project helps students learn from their failures and keep pushing to find solutions. For Mrs. Sutchaya this latter point is critical because “in the past, kids quit after failure because teachers blamed them for not memorizing well enough.”

The TEL project has helped Mrs. Sutchaya develop outstanding teachers who empower students with the inspiration and 21st century skills to build a brighter future. When reflecting on her eight years with TEL, Mrs. Sutchaya expressed that “this project opens students’ minds to what is possible. Ultimately, they learn that the process of learning is the ultimate prize. This is the heart of education.”

Kenan’s 21st century education model has proven effective in dozens of provinces throughout Thailand. Every day, we strive to help more dedicated education leaders, like Mrs. Sutchaya, and empower more teachers to give students in disadvantaged schools the opportunity to reach their full potential. Click here to learn more about our work to deliver 21st century education in Southeast Asia.

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