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Thailand: Education reforms as elusive as ever

Originally published at on 23rd May 2017

LAST week, students across Thailand returned to school for a new academic year, and with it came the prospect of new friends, new teachers and new experiences.

However, one aspect of school life in Thailand will continue to remain unchanged, and that is the outdated and ineffective approach to teaching, learning and assessment.

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A Yearly Reminder…

Latest article for Bangkok Post now online.

Click here to read in full.

The importance of outdoor play

Originally published at TheEducator on 13th February 2017

While advances in digital technologies are opening previously unimagined opportunities in work, leisure and education, our increasing reliance on technology can have a negative impact on our welfare. One issue, which is of particular concern for parents and educators, is that today’s generation of children are spending more time online and considerably less time playing outdoors, a situation which could negatively impact their emotions, health, intelligence and creativity.

A recent survey revealed that 75% of children in the UK, spend less time outside than prison inmates. Furthermore, the report, Play in Balance, which polled 12,000 parents, recorded that 75% of parents claimed their children preferred playing digital games on a screen rather than playing physical sports outside. Following the publication of this report, schools have been urged to ensure primary pupils get ample opportunities to spend time playing outside during the school day.

Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson told TES, “Schools have a big role because kids spend the greater part of their waking hours at school…..I think it’s important that we look again at the importance of play-based learning – there’s a long history of research to show that play is not a waste of time, it is not time that is badly spent. Play, among human beings, has very important social benefits.”

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Lessons from Vietnam and Singapore

Regional success stories point the way, but the government has been a slow learner so far

Originally published in The Nation on 14th February 2017

When the National Council for Peace and Order came to power in 2014, it pledged to reform Thailand’s failing institutions, among which education was a clear priority. Now, with democratic elections expected within 18 months and little sign of any substantial reforms to education, it will take a determined effort by the country’s leadership to start catching up with neighbouring countries.

That Thailand’s education system is underperforming and urgently requires reform is recognised by both sides of the political divide, as well as by the general public. A 2015 NIDA poll concluded that Thais prioritise the education system as most needing reform. Furthermore, the failings of the Thai education system are highlighted annually, with average scores in national assessments rarely breaking 50 per cent. Recent international reports such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, in which Thailand came 55th among 70 countries, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), where Thailand ranked 26th among 39 countries, emphasise the dire situation of Thai education.

These international rankings present points of comparison for educators and policymakers, and examining the success of neighbouring countries provides directions for Thailand’s education reforms. Within the Asean Economic Community, Singapore and Vietnam – which have made significant improvements and now outrank the UK and the US – furnish useful lessons.

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In the UK Meritocracy remains a Myth

Originally published at on 6th February 2017

Over the past few decades educational institutions have successfully tackled many of the traditional gender and racial inequalities which had negatively impacted certain groups within society. However, a recent report indicates that the promise of social mobility, which education is helping support, remain unrealised in the labour market, where barriers and prejudices remain.

The 2016 report, ‘Ethnicity, Gender and Social Mobility’ from the Social Mobility Commission, which tracked student progress through primary school, secondary school, higher education and the labour market, revealed a misconnect between educational success and career progress for women and certain ethnicity groups. This has led Alan Milburn, Head of the Commission to conclude the Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all.

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DeVos confirmed as Education Secretary

Controversial Education Secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, was confirmed Education Secretary for the Trump administration, following a historic tiebreaking vote from VP Mike Pence.

Protests and controversy surrounding DeVos’ nomination had focused on her complete lack of experience in education, her promotion of charter schools and her ‘generous’ donations to Republican Senators.


Singapore: 21st Century Education Superpower

Originally published at on 19th January 2017

FOR a number of years now, Singapore has been recognised as having one of the best school systems in the world, topping the OECD’s 2015 global education rankings, coming top in the 2016 TIMSS report and claiming first place in the most recent PISA rankings.

These reports, which indicate that graduates from Singaporean schools are years ahead of their western counterparts, provide sufficient evidence to declare Singapore a 21st Century education superpower.

And Singapore’s educational prowess is not confined to high schools; the National University Singapore has been the highest ranking university in Asia for the past two years, competing head-to-head with world-renowned institutions from England and the U.S.

What makes Singapore’s record all the more impressive, is that this progress has been achieved in just a matter of decades. When Singapore separated from the Federation of Malaya in 1965, the country’s per capita income was US$500, and the education system was segregated according to ethnicity and religion.

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Lessons from Singapore

Originally published at on 9th January 2017

Singapore Education System, the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings confirm that Singapore has become an educational super power, with graduates from the nation’s education system years ahead of most students in Europe and North America. So what is it, that this Southeast Asian city-state is doing right? What lessons can be learnt? And how easily could other countries duplicate Singapore’s success?

For a decade, Singapore has been at or near the top of international leagues tables which measure student achievement in literacy, numeracy and science. The country’s success story has caught the attention of educators and policymakers worldwide, who are hoping to learn from Singapore’s achievements and replicate the country’s high academic standards.

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Global tests expose realities and concerns

Originally published in Bangkok Post on 19th December 2016

The shortcomings of Thailand’s education system have again been exposed by international education rankings, with Thai students scoring well below global averages in the core subjects of mathematics, science and literacy.

The country has its own decades-long top-down, centralised approaches to education to blame for such poor rankings. Thailand’s education indeed needs structural reform.

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