“Turn to page 94. Read it. Take down these notes.”
Pages flipping and soft scratches of pen on paper are the only sounds to be heard in this otherwise silent classroom.
“Want to see more photographs about how this works? I will get back to you tomorrow.”
Such days may soon be coming to an end in Thailand with the new 21st Century Classroom initiative, where classrooms are outfitted with portable computers, a Wi-Fi access point, a ‘smartboard’ (an interactive touchscreen whiteboard) and charging stations.
Thailand’s Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) intends for the project to be implemented at the 32,000 schools under its charge. A stable Internet infrastructure is a prerequisite, therefore schools in rural areas without it will be provided with other equipment to complement their lessons instead.
The programme has been piloted in southern Thailand at two schools: Suankularb Wittayalai Nonthaburi School and HRH Princess Soamsawali School. Implemented for a full semester, 21st century classrooms are being used to teach mathematics, science and English to Mathayom 1 (Grade 7) students. So far, anecdotal results have been positive, with students reporting greater engagement and enhanced understanding of lessons.
For instance, when Areeya and her classmate found themselves stumped by the concepts of ‘sporulation’ and ‘parthenogenesis’, instead of scratching their heads and wondering where they would find the answers, they can simply go online by themselves to search for pictures.
Aimed at helping students master self-directed learning where they gather data and synthesise information from resources other than books, the programme is driven by a rich repository of high-quality education content available on the pre-programmed computers. The compendium of information has been compiled from various sources such as OBEC’s data centre, nonprofit educational organisation Khan Academy and the Microsoft Educator Network, a global social network for educators and teachers.
The project emphasises that technology should be considered as another tool for education, and lessons should be designed to have students maximise their understanding within class time. For example, students studying science can compare their lab results against online science resources, and share their research with the class. This encourages students to engage in lateral and critical thinking, and help minimise rote learning.
Dr Sunee Sorntrakul, Principal of Suankularbwittayalai Nonthaburi School said, “The integration of technology into the classroom does not only lead to improved grades. By turning classes into digitally connected activities, we open up opportunities to practise new ways to think and work, and this makes our students better equipped for their future careers.”
The schools and Microsoft will undertake an evaluation of the pilot project at the end of the academic semester and present their findings to OBEC.