U.S. and Thai actors strengthening Thai STEM education
Public school teachers in three Thai provinces began receiving specialized training last week to promote science and mathematics learning among their students through a project run jointly by United States energy giant Chevron Corporation, the U.S. development organization Keenan Institute Asia and seven Thai public sector organizations including the Office of Basic Education (OBEC).
The objective is to nurture science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in order to raise Thailand’s longer term competitiveness and support the shift from a manufacturing, assembly-line economy to one which draws its strength from knowledge and creativity. Guiding the development of a knowledge and creative economy has been a goal of several recent Thai government administrations.
Thai policymakers have become keenly aware that the country is in danger of falling into the “middle-income trap,” in which growth stagnates because of a failure to create value added in what it produces, and therefore has difficulty maintaining an edge over competing economies with cheaper labor.
A total of 58 trainers conducted sessions with teachers last week in northeastern Khon Kaen province, southern Songkhla province and Samut Prakarn province on the outskirts or Bangkok. The three provinces are pilot areas in what has been named “Chevron Enjoy Science,” and plans exist for scaling up the trainings to other provinces across the country.
Staff from Teachers College, part of Columbia University in New York, helped conduct the trainings though the Keenan Institute’s participation in the project.
“Our goal is to promote long-term competency of the country in a sustainable way, in response to market demand. This will be the platform where all personnel involved can play a greater role in inspiring our kids,” said Pairoj Kaweeyanun, president of Chevron Thailand, which has allocated roughly $34 million for the project.
Over a five-year span, the project aims to deliver trainings to 600 schools, covering 10,000 teachers and benefiting 250,000 students. Twelve STEM centers will also be established, as learning centers for all.
Piyabutr Cholvijarn, chairman of the Kenan Institute Asia, said that he hopes that OBEC will scale up the program to cover all schools nationwide.
“One party cannot do this, as we need both software and hardware. Our efforts must be integrated to raise awareness that giving education is the responsibility of all. And this will help us withstand challenges,” he said.
The project is providing scientific equipment, but the schools will not actually own it. Use of the equipment will be managed by a center, which will also maintain it.
Japan has also been working on a similar track. Toyota, Honda and Denso have committed to helping establish a vocational STEM center. They are hoping to recruit more companies in the energy, electronics and agricultural sectors to join the project. Those industries would benefit from a larger pool of capable technicians.
Thailand Focus Week of October 26, 2015
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