STEM center opens with help from Chevron, Kenan Institute

stem2Thailand’s third center to train teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and the first in the central region, opened last week as a joint project of United States-based energy giant Chevron, the Kenan Institute and Rajabhat Rajanagarindha University.

Teacher training and production of STEM education materials are foundational components of Thailand 4.0, the policy of developing a more innovative economy and society to boost the country’s competitiveness and escape the ‘middle income trap.’ That type of economy relies on developing human resources through a better education system, and accomplishing that requires raising the skills, knowledge and abilities of teachers in STEM education.

“We joined the campaign because it is a good sign that a private sector company like Chevron (Thailand) placed importance in supporting Thailand’s education by allowing schools full access to educational resources,” Rajabhat Rajanagarindha University’s vice president for academic affairs and research, Duangporn Pupaka told The Nation newspaper.

The joint project has an investment of $30 million for the next five years and in addition to raising the level STEM education in public schools, will also work to improve technical vocational education and training. In addition to Chevron and the U.S.-based Kenan Institute, which works on development issues, other local partners include the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office, the National Science Museum, the Office of the Basic Education Commission, the Office of the Vocational Education Commission, the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology, and the Labor Ministry’s Department of Skills Development.

A Chevron executive said that prior to opening the new center in Chachoengsao province near Bangkok to serve the central region, the project has trained 3,000 teachers in the north and northeast. In addition, 62,000 students in 381 schools participated in campaign activities during its first year.

Science teacher Rattanasak Thongpanya told The Nation newspaper that the project taught him how to use teaching instruments, strategies and techniques effectively and how to encourage students to fully engage in the class.

“The STEM class allows students to do experiments and instill skills on how to seek knowledge by themselves and work as a group. Students get to discuss and express problem-solving ideas together with other team members. It also trains them how to express their opinions through writing and debating, which are needed as 21st-century skills,” Rattanasak said.

Kenan Institute Asia president Piyabutr Cholvijarn said each STEM center will arrange activities to improve teachers and school administrators, and coordinate with network schools for academic support and equipment. They will also train teachers using better learning materials, and have university students taught in associated schools. Networking with officials will also help drive the campaign forward, he said.