There seems to be a pattern concerning fears about modern technology and education. And it is a mechanism that is used to hammer teachers from the outside and within the profession. The notion is that teachers cannot compete with technology yet they must continually upgrade their teaching methodologies to comply with incorporating those technologies. Mostly this does not come from the students who do not seek learning experiences akin to the technology but when teachers invite such criticisms students join in. This meme reflects this pattern.
When I first started teaching there were apprenticeships in the UK. Business did not like to pay for these apprenticeships and they were phased out passing the burden onto schools without offering any financial resources. Work experience developed as a consequence but from then business complained about the quality of education.
When computers started to become part of the business world there were demands placed on schools. Computer courses that were way too difficult became part of the school system. Various operating systems were introduced as teaching Windows was far too complicated. Computer usage and education always lagged behind the business world because there was never enough money invested in either the resource or teacher education, for most of my teaching life schools did not employ a system manager/technician – the computer teacher maintained them for free. Teachers were expected to embrace every whim of the technology market and introduce appropriate education material without being given any time or training to make such developments. Younger teachers join the profession with more and more computer/smartphone experience, and this slowly pervades through the education system – SLOWLY.
Meanwhile there is ongoing pressure on teachers to incorporate technology – much driven by the vested interests of the computer companies who develop education schemes that require purchase of their products. And many teachers fall in line with this merchandising. Often teachers take a computer career path out of their own interests, and if those teachers are willing to spend sufficient personal time on such projects there are career benefits. Within schools there is always pressure to use technology, I left teaching in 2006 and for maybe 15 years it was a standard job interview question, how do you incorporate technology? Management never offered financial support but only career pressure. Undoubtedly good use of technology benefitted students and benefitted teacher administration such as reports and “markbooks”, but untrained teachers often struggled and it became a big time burden that was often imposed by colleagues – endorsed by the school administration.
When I see memes like the one above it makes me angry. The meme ignores the imposition on colleagues, those people who promote computer usage rarely demand appropriate R&D time for colleagues. Back in the 80s I made such a demand. In the National Curriculum there were maths computer components, I developed worksheets for these and the department liked them. I asked for one day’s research time and one day’s training time for the worksheets, and a supply teacher was quite rightly employed. The last year I did this however the school management placed the burden on the department, because they wanted the worksheets they accepted this. They didn’t tell me until it was already done!!! I would have refused, that happened the last year I was in that school. Because I made such a demand there was no career for me even though colleague appreciation was a good motivation. I hear libertarian attacks on unionism here, but in schools so much work is done by teachers in their “spare time” and then from outside there is criticism of quality; business automatically pays for what is required because lack of quality is lack of profits.
The meme is naïve in other ways. As a child brought up when black-and-white televisions were transitioning to colour, I was always criticised by parents for not amusing myself. But I do remember much time outside the house, football, cycling, “down the tip”, and as a teenager endless walking. As television and computers took hold young people became more and more “hooked”, less and less they learned to amuse themselves. As I said above the pressure to incorporate computing came from management who were unwilling to fund it, it was not the students. Yes the work was boring for them, it always was.
But the real assumption in this meme that makes me deride the naivety is the ignorance the teacher shows of what the purpose of education is. The underlying education methodology behind the meme is that education is meant to educate, and to educate better you should use the contemporaneous technology. Deep down education is not concerned with this. Deep down education is concerned with maintaining the status quo, kids of the 1% getting qualifications and jobs, and poor kids failing but miseducated enough that they think they need to get “loads-of-money”. Part of this conformism in education is the requirement that students accept school discipline, if you can accept school discipline then you can accept the world of work. “Boring” is part of the hidden curriculum, it is part of the training. Education is quite happy to allow teachers to put pressure on each other to include such in the curriculum (without paid Rand D), but it is never meant to be effective education – they want poor computer whizz kids to fail.
And there is an additional factor with “computer games”. Last century a small but significant proportion of computer teachers realised that computer games made for an easy life in disruptive schools. One teacher I had run-ins with made no attempt to teach computing, and just let the disruptive kids play games.
In the end, there is much wrong with this meme and the educational approach behind it. Blind self-interested careerism is a big problem in state education. When younger teachers make demands for such-and-such innovation they should also consider the implications for colleagues, but for many careerists their self-interest blinds them to consequences. This is a sad but common reality amongst the profession.
This article on the teaching of English in Thailand has irritated me – its analysis is so shallow. And it is typical of the colonial aspect of teaching, that western methodology is better.
Firstly the writer cites the case of Khun Dang’s class – students copying from the board. Here are questions connected to that. Did the writer ask Khun Dang if she thought it was good teaching? I would guess not as I suspect she couldn’t speak English. In primary schools the teachers are expected to teach English even though they don’t know it themselves – copying from the board is a compromise. Could the writer teach a Thai class by writing Thai sentences on the board? In an English government secondary school could you get the class to sit quietly and copy from the board? That is those students who hadn’t truanted.
Is formal teaching always wrong? When you listen to western teachers this appears to be the conclusion. Why did formal teaching disappear from British schools? Was it because formal teaching had failed? Now I ask that question fr all the students and nt just the elite. Formal teaching failed the brighter students including those who became the teachers. Such teachers can remember boring lessons in which they tediously fulfilled formal requirements. These teachers became qualified. Did they have questioning minds? Of course not.
Once these teachers started to dominate teaching ethos – starting in the 60s, discipline in the schools went down. Apparently in Thai secondary schools there is too much talking but the discipline is nowhere near as disruptive as UK schools. How can you learn without discipline? How can you begin to teach a questioning mind? And the saddest aspect of this teaching methodology is:-
Can all the students develop a questioning mind?
Show me any evidence that shows that all students can develop a questioning mind. Look at the British population. Since the 60s a more questioning approach has developed in schools, have the population become more questioning? Certainly not, the corporatocracy would never allow it. 40 years later and Tony Blair took the country to war, could that have happened with genuine questioning minds? Not people who bleet because it is expected but genuine questioning minds?
So what are Bill Gates and the others doing when they want critical thinking? They want an elite who will be critical but accept the prevailing paradigm. Is this possible?
So when Thai kids don’t ask questions why do western teachers climb the wall? Quite simple. They don’t understand what education is for. They go to training school and are told education means leading out, and they believe that. Education might mean that but schooling means fitting the school population into society’s status quo. In Thailand that means students cannot be questioning or else why would they accept the social inequalities? But in England it is the same reality that has to be accepted. There are a few who are rich, and mostly those rich inherit it. A few manage to become rich but most spend their time trying to be rich and doing each other down to get there. Maybe Thai business is like that but it appears to be much more pleasant – I don’t know I am retired and never could stomach the business world.
That’s enough, I have vented after the shallow article rattled my cage. It’s going in my Matriellez blog but that’s all. I can’t even be bothered to post it on the facebook-like just to get a Thanks Bill from an apparently equally-shallow analysis.
Yesterday I read an article about Thailand’s education system failing, and I woke up this morning thinking about it – deciding to make an early morning response. Sadly that response cannot happen because I cannot find the particular article. Here is my recollection of the position in the article, and it is this position I want to discuss. The article was written by a western teacher recently employed to teach English in Thailand, and it included an attack on the “always pass” policy. As discussed in my book, testing within the corporate paradigm of western education does nothing but create failures for the reserve army needed to help the exploitation in western society – that sounds hack, sorry, check the book.
I too have many criticisms of the way the “always pass” system works, but does any form of testing work in an unequal system? About 5 years ago I told a friend that she needed to find out how well her daughter was doing at school, don’t just look at the figures in the child’s reports. She, the daughter, recently took her university test and failed. I was told she had to resit. I told the mother not to worry, that the testing was a money venture and that she would pass. The girl has now gone to a university somewhere in Bangkok. We discussed the girl in another context. I asked her what the girl was going to do, and the mother said she was going into the family business. So I asked her why she was going to university, and she said to get an education, then she would come back to run the family business.
I go to a local restaurant, and I was told that the various waitresses who work at the restaurant all have degrees, so I asked why did they go to university. Vague answer – to get an education.
Yet is that answer vague, do Thailand’s children get an education? That is difficult to answer, but if I then ask that same question in the UK or anywhere in the world it is also difficult to answer. The question needs to be asked at the bootstraps level, then Thailand’s education measures up quite well. Thailand is a relatively pleasant place to be, and this has to be connected to the way the people are and the way they are brought up – education is a part of that upbringing. Benchmark one – OK. I am not aware of all the problems of discipline etc. in Thai education but there is nowhere near the level of disruptive behaviour that is a benchmark of western state education. Here in Thailand as a generalisation the students want to go to school, including the kids of westerners (mixed Thai/Farang). Benchmark two – OK. Despite the general feeling of bonhomie in Thai society (Land of Smiles etc.) there are vast inequalities – as demonstrated by the Reds’ debacle 3 years ago that seems to have died down. But the level of social unrest is fairly limited, people accept corruption, they get on with their lives, and are generally quite happy. Considering the level of inequality their upbringing is working. Benchmark three – OK. Based on these benchmarks western education fails miserably. In the UK for example, society is not pleasant, the kids don’t want to go to school, and there is a significant level of unrest that is barely contained.
What about basic societal skills? Do the students gain sufficient organisational and discipline skills to survive Thai society and its bureaucratic system? It appears so. Benchmark four – OK. Does the Thai education system provide sufficient workers to maintain the social structure? Benchmark five – OK. Do the children of Thailand’s rich get an elite education that enables them to remain within the rich echelons of Thai society? Benchmark six – OK. Western education is also successful in benchmarks four, five and six.
What about real education? Neither Thailand nor the West provides this, although it is far easier to move onto a spiritual path in Thailand albeit a Thai Buddhism that is quite exoteric. Becoming a monk is encouraged, and monks in general benefit Thai society. They function on a parallel to western clergy and benefit society in an equivalent way to western clergy, but becoming a member of the clergy is much more of a leap as compared with the more integrated process here in Thailand. This consideration of how much real education there is in Thailand could be pursued more but if I am discussing education systems then there is no real education, and I want to return to that discussion.
Based on the 6 benchmarks Thailand’s education works well. Western involvement in it will only create the turmoil that is prevalent in western education but Thailand makes vague attempts at improving English. When they do so they require western teachers but those teachers are always distanced from any decision-making. It is undoubtedly true that western teachers are marginalised within the institutions, in my view understandably because all they would do would be to disrupt. Their benchmarks would not be the 6 I chose, but they would also not be the benchmarks of educated Thais. However the 6 benchmarks, I could call them the Bilderberg benchmarks, do provide stability in the society.
I have some limited contact with the internal runnings of a school, I teach part-time a few hours a week. The kids go to school, are taught by rote, love the King, and develop a Thai nationalism. They are taught to read and write, do arithmetic. And by the time they are 18, can go off to university if the parents are willing to pay. They do some learning at that level, most find some kind of work, and society ticks over – with far less turmoil than the West. Of course there is not as much money invested here as in the West. With the salaries being far lower we are dealing with far less spending power, and the spending power of people in the West is far higher, the level of their indoctrination is required to be far more repressive. Hence the reactions to education in the West are far more strident.
Let’s discuss the “always pass”. Now I have worked on a satellite to the US system in which schools determine the grades as part of the entrance for university. Schools I worked in cooked the books, I have no doubts at all they are cooked in the US. The only system that can deal with qualifications has to be an external examination system. The US system is dual, a school grade (cooked) and an entrance exam. The Thai system is just cooked. I had a small contribution briefly to the system here, and gave everyone 50% or more. There were students who could have got zero but the only way they could be got up to passing was to give them another test. These students didn’t care would have failed every meaningful test so what would be the result? You would just end up battling the establishment and you would lose. Marks are always meaningless just less so here in Thailand.
When examining education you need to look more at what the kids learn. The 6 benchmarks I use demonstrate a level of harmony in Thailand’s education that the West could envy – as part of a society that they could also envy. But I could not imagine Thailand being any better than countries in the West if they had the money to be more integrally involved in the “Wars for Profit” lifestyle that is integral to western wealth. Thailand ticks over keeping out of most of that.
In the end what is this blogentry about? That is hard to say. Implicit within the article (I couldn’t find) was an analysis of failure in Thailand’s education. Trying to find the article I searched “Thailand’s education failing”, and all the appropriate people are saying the same – discussing failure. There is a limited debate, but for what I am not sure? There is a debate in the West, but the varied agendas make that debate shapeless as well; the practice in education is that of the paradigm irrespective of the debate. Ultimately I was examining the assumptions inherent in the criticism (article). I am reminded of a discussion I had with a guest house owner in Cambodia 8 years ago. She called her staff “stupid” or some such word. This was because her staff lacked initiative and could not be relied on to organise themselves. Every day she made a point of telling them what to do. Here in Thailand it is better than that but not always. People do what they are supposed to do, society is organised and ticks over in its own way. That way does not have the efficiency more associated with the West but nor does it have the repression, stress and lack of general bonhomie also associated with the West. It is all about the benchmarks and the assumptions, when you are examining something like education it is these which need to be examined first. In the West they are not allowed to be examined in any practical way, you can discuss but that’s all the paradigm controls the practice. Things tick over here in Thailand.