This B KK Post article is from 2004. The Thai system is still rote based.
What does SCL mean in Thailand anyway?
— what does it mean for teachers?
Teachers in Thailand are trying to get to grips with a new style of teaching.
We look at some of the techniques involved
Story by GRAY ROGERS
'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. (Charles Dickens – Hard Times).
Thomas Gradgrind, in Dickens’s Hard Times, was not a fan of student-centred education, and although a student-centred approach has been with us for a long time, there are still many teachers who, knowingly or not, may find little wrong with the idea quoted above.
I clearly recall as a 10 year-old in my English primary school the class being asked by a new teacher, “Is there anyone here stupid enough to be left handed?” We used wooden nib holders to write with in those days, and left handed pen nibs were a different shape. As I nervously raised my hand, I received a slap across the head, and a left-handed nib. Although my individual need was met, this was not student-centred learning.
Later, in my grammar school, I was lucky enough to encounter rather more enlightened teachers who actually valued my ideas, and believed the best way to develop those ideas was to be aware of them and to focus them on what needed to be learned in order to pass the tough examinations in force at that time. They weren’t ‘soft’ (the cane still swished frequently in those days) but they realised, even in the early 1960’s, that effective learning meant student-centred learning. It’s nothing new.
A highlight of the Thai National Curriculum 2002 is the proposed shift in emphasis in teaching methods towards a student-centred learning approach. The goal represents a paradigm shift in Thai education from teacher-centred to student-centred learning. For example:
“In organising the learning process, educational institutions shall:
provide substance and arrange activities in line with the learners' interests and aptitudes, bearing in mind individual differences;
provide training in thinking processes, management, how to face various situations and application of knowledge for obviating and solving problems;
organise activities for learners to draw from authentic experience ... enable learners to think critically and acquire the reading habit and continuous thirst for knowledge;
... both learners and teachers may learn together from different types of teaching-learning media and other sources of knowledge;
enable individuals to learn at all times and in all places.”
(Section 24, National Education Act of 1999)
However, this change is not simply something we have to make because the Government says so. It has major pedagogical benefits, which are relevant to learning in any given subject.
So what is student-centred learning?
Student-centred learning puts more responsibility on the learners for their own learning. It involves students in more decision-making processes, and they learn by doing, rather than just by listening and performing often meaningless tasks which are often not in context and therefore ‘unreal’ to them. Because learning becomes more active (rather than passively listening to the teacher), it becomes more memorable: because it is personalised, and relevant to the students’ own lives and experiences, it can bring any subject ‘alive’ and makes it relevant to the real world.
In 13 years of teaching English as a foreign language in South East Asia, I’ve come across numerous students who are adept at choosing the one correct word from a choice of four to complete the gap in a given sentence. Many (both young learners and adults) have a better theoretical command of English grammar and spelling then many native speakers. But they stare like frightened rabbits when you ask them to deliver a sentence in English; a direct result of a teacher-centred approach, supposedly examination driven, where memory is more important than real understanding.
I was forced to learn by heart the location of various countries by poring over world maps. I taught world geography by combining my own and a student’s stamp collection, and later by using the World Cup as a theme for a cross-curricula project. Result: my students had a better grasp of world geography than I had at a similar age.
What are the features of student-centred learning?
When planning more student-centred lessons it is useful to remember the following:
Ask don’t tell: always try to elicit information, ideas, and answers from the students. They are not empty vessels waiting to be filled by the all-knowing teacher. They have knowledge and their own experiences of life. The more they contribute, the more they are likely to remember. We should never underestimate the ability of our students.
Focus on students’ experience and interests: if the teacher chooses the topic, or just follows the course book, the students may not be interested. If, however, teachers use the course book as a base for then moving on to practice activities related to the students' personal lives and areas of interest and experience (personalisation), the students are more likely to become involved in the lesson, and remember more.
Communication over accuracy: the main reason for students learning a language, for example, is to be able to communicate with other speakers of that language. In reality they will probably speak English with more non-native speakers from the region than with native speakers, and the ultimate goal is to be able to understand and respond to each other. Students therefore need opportunities to practise communicating in English without the constant fear of making mistakes hanging over them. Mistakes are good! We all learn from them.
Learning by doing: the more actively involved students are in their own learning, the more they are likely to remember what they learn.
Students have choices and make decisions about learning. Group work requires negotiation and decision making – working together towards a common goal.
Focus on confidence building for real-world skills. By developing communicative competence, by doing rather than just listening, the subject becomes real and part of the students’ lives. Get them to grow their own rice – not just study its biological structure, or the growing process from the unreal world of the classroom.
Encourage interest in the subject. By using authentic materials familiar to the students (magazines, newspapers, the internet, video, television, etc.), students are constantly in touch with the subject in an absorbing way.
Tasks are open-ended, i.e. there is more than one possible answer. Traditional grammar based tasks, for example, are either right or wrong and test only one skill at a time. They are generally unimaginative, often in the form of multiple choice answers (so the students have a 25% chance of being right without actually knowing the answer at all) and totally divorced from ‘real world’ situations. Open-ended tasks are wider in their focus and involve a variety of skills.
Make homework meaningful. Encourage students to discover information for themselves; they are probably much more skilled at surfing the internet, for instance, than many of their teachers, and if they can use a computer to play games, they can use them to search for information they need!
Students learn more than just the subject. They are also encouraged to think critically and develop problem-solving skills through more creative tasks and group work.
Now that all sounds pretty good, I hope, but how do you actually put these ideas into practice? In terms of devising activities which are more student-centred, there are a few brief and very basic guidelines to follow:
Think first of the final product. What do the students need to know at the end of the activity? Work backwards from this point – how can I get them there?
Consider the procedures the students need to go through, the resources they’ll need and the different skills involved (e.g. team-working, decision-making).
Make a task or an activity that’s relevant to them – not a tedious reading or written exercise.
Never underestimate what your students are capable of achieving on their own.
Act as a facilitator, not a gushing fountain of all knowledge. Encourage questions, and work with the students.
But what about…?
Change often does not come easy to teachers, especially those more experienced ones who have been working successfully for many years. My own philosophy, that has held good for all of my 25 years of teaching is that when I stop learning, I must stop teaching.
But there are many practical problems to overcome, too. Change, especially in education, cannot be made overnight, and the move from a teacher-centred to a student-centred approach is a radical change which must be made step by considered step. Some of the more common problems teachers have raised with me include:
“We don’t have the facilities to do this.” Yes you do – the most valuable facility you need is inside yourself!
“We can’t do this with 50 students in a class!” Yes, this is always a problem, but pair and group work can be conducted effectively whatever the group size, and students themselves can be appointed to monitor their own groups. If appropriate, there is always more room outside the classroom!
“If we do this, there will be too many discipline problems.” If the activities are well structured, geared to the students’ interests, and they are motivated to achieve something on their own, they should be too involved in the work to misbehave.
“We haven’t got time for this – they need to pass the Entrance Exams.” The Government plans to change the Entrance Exams to include concepts like critical thinking. A student-centred approach is more likely to lead to a greater understanding of the subject, rather than a mindless learning of facts.
“The students will just copy and not learn anything.” There are actually fewer opportunities for copying with a student-centred approach than with a more traditional approach, as students are producing their own work rather than merely completing exercises.
Student-centred learning is not the whole answer to successful education. But we always need to adapt our teaching methods to the world that our students know and understand. We need to understand our students and use their interests in order to facilitate their learning. In short, we need to listen more to what they have to say. As teachers we should always remember the ‘Wise Old Owl’:
The wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can’t we all be like that bird?
Thomas Gradgrind had been forced to change his views by the end of Hard Times. And I’m still left-handed.
Gray Rogers is Head of the Business Communication Unit and Special Programmes at the British Council, Bangkok. This article is based on a paper delivered at Djurakijbundit University in May 2002, and additional acknowledgements are due to Assoc. Prof. Richard Watson Todd, King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, and Ms Sheila Taylor, formerly of the British Council.
Great article. What we learned on the CELTA is very difficult to put into practice here. You need to wear them down and get all those 'facts' out of the damn way!
"If you're not interested in changing where you work (and thus the student population, obviously) then a) your success at applying various and sundry teaching techniques is unlikely to have anything to do with how effective they are in general, and b) your sweeping generalizations about Thai students serve no purpose but to fuel your inertia and your feeling of being an 'insider'. Sadly (for you) few who read your sweeping generalizations will perceive it that way, but hey if it makes you feel good, knock yourself out." -zeusdogg
The new graduate teachers are trying to use the student centered model. Many of them take detailed notes of the foreign teachers classes and I have seen some of them trying to duplicate the techniques in their own classes.
Faith, by itself, isn't a good enough reason to believe. Instead, a belief must be defensible through reason, logic, and evidence.
The idea that faith is somehow justified by the fact that the beliefs cannot be proven is a truly Orwellian position to adopt - not to mention intellectually and ethically dangerous.
My understanding of SCL is that T's act as facilitators.
All well and good if your employer has sufficient resources, otherwise it's an uphill struggle.
Fortunately, my school is well equipped and SCL does work better than more traditional methods.
My P1-4's take to it like a duck to water!
I also base some of my lesson plans on Kolb's experiential learning model just to make sure that I'm catering to the needs of all S's and not just those that are more academically inclined.
I suspect, without being sure, that much of what we do and think is individualistic, because we come from societies that value individuality and individualism over communalism.
I supect now why SCL hasn't caught on yet among Thai teachers: it's backward, it's opposite, not only to traditional educational methods, but to THAINESS. The boss says jump, the government or the monkhood says jump, or the teacher says jump, and the subordinate Thais only ask, while they're in the air, "How high, Boss?"
This is a radical changeover that will take decades, long after anybody who's over 40 now has been cremated in a wat. But for most Western teachers, SCL is intuitive. It would be difficult to program us otherwise.
Help me out here, please, those of you who have a clue: would EFL teachers from Singapore or the Philipines know how to do SCL?
"The times I've been mistaken, it's impossible to say" - by the Moody Blues
I'm not sure about this
My suspicion, would be to say no.Help me out here, please, those of you who have a clue: would EFL teachers from Singapore or the Philipines know how to do SCL?
Yeah P.B., I think you've hit the essential points well. And I think it will take decades to change, and will probably never change to that much of a degree. In Korea they have a saying that "the nail that sticks out gets pounded down". That goes for all of Asia. (not including the Indian sub-continent here). I would even argue that this is as much a genetic thing as it is behavioral.
When being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it appear like a parade.
Thanks in advance and in arrears, Russell.
As a believer in behaviorism, I don't think it's genetic. All behavior is learned, including submission to authority. Thailand is a top-down authoritarian culture, and this SCL sounds counter-cultural.
let's see 30 minutes of class...SCL...teach them 3 times a week, wow! 90 minutes of English a week. No wonder these programs are working so well.
Now afterschool: band practice, 4 hours every day after school. The band is good.
These people are ignorant.
it is not student-centered-learning. Not until the school becomes learning-centered.
Most of these schools are half and half. Half the rooms are used for teaching, the other half are filled with paper pushers, shufflers, filers, copiers, stampers, data enterers, time keepers, clip board handlers, notebook stuffers, ect...then there are the teacher offices, departments, department heads, executives, deputies, assistant directors, and the director with their personal apartment style room/ office, their secretary, the secretary's assistant....
Here Suda sit on this chair with Parinya, and share this work sheet. Look up here to this chalkboard.(oh no chalk) what do you think about that new song, you know the one the Thai teachers are listening to on their brand new digital CD/DVD/radio player, (I'll translate it from ebonics to English) "my ars, my ars, my little breasts..." should be playing that as it is student-centered..right from the center of soi cowboy.
enough from me
Miles and miles to go before I sleep...
Agree 50 years or more before this method will work in Asia
Fifty years from now they'll be speaking Chinese and reading from Mao's Little Red book.
Thai's wouldn't know SCL if it snuck up and bit them hard in the ass.
IMO a hopeless situation. :sad:
After working for the Chinese military I have grave fears about what China will do to the rest of Asia. The middle class mind set is world domination.
Domination?.....no. they will dig a mine so vast and deep that all of china will fall in it.
The education system can not be reformed by hiring some foreign teachers to teach and sending the Thia teachers to more work shops.
because everything is structured and managed in the same in effective way it has been for the past ???? years.
Everything is director-centered.
It's more idealistic TEFL crap that can be marketed - another old idea with a fresh new name. Sure, it looks good on paper and I know for a fact SC classes render more, and the right sort of learning. So what? I'd say once they're at about P-4 it's too late. Thai kids don't have enough personal experiences to draw upon to make the class worthwhile. My guess is a good as yours whatever it is that keeps their interest. I say it would be: 1) Things that are shinny. 2) Gold. 3) Control. 4) Stickers. 5) Nokia. 6) PS2. So how many classes can you milk these themes for? Then what do you do next week?
oh they get eng 3x a week.."but they get all other subjects in eng"...give me a break
math...students say.."we can't understand our filipino teacher"(fact)
science...students say.."teacher talks too fast and has filipino accent"(fact)
IT....students say.."we wear headphones and get to listen to Thai music while learning IT" (fact)
I don't get it....but maybe that's the point. I don't get it, they don't get it...
That's the saddest thing I've heard in a while.Originally Posted by jonny danger
But I think you're right.