An alternative youth education scheme is changing young people’s lives
Local children, once considered “rogue and stupid”, are turning over a new leaf after taking part in the “Plai Khao School” learning project initiated by Phatthalung municipality.
Under the project, the municipality has been successful in its efforts to rekindle a thirst for knowledge among children who have been put off by schooling and left on the margins of the formal education system.
A boy who could barely read or write has now won first prize in a dhamma story-telling competition for two consecutive years while a game-crazy teen has pledged to become a better person and focus more on his studies and continue his education in computer science.
Kosin Phaisarnsilp, mayor of Phatthalung municipality, said the project was launched in 2008 with a learning approach different from the mainstream formal education system.
“If society recognises the value of these broken tips of rice grains [plai khao] and knows how to make use of them, they could prove a real boon.
“But if they are discarded as worthless, they will become dirty waste polluting the environment,” Mr Kosin said.
He likened juvenile delinquents to broken rice grains excluded from mainstream society but who can be useful workers once reformed.
Under the learning project, there are no formal classrooms or fixed school hours. Temple grounds, public parks, or rice fields can serve as classrooms and school hours are flexible to suit teachers and students.
At present, 100 teachers from schools run by the municipality pitch in to teach the children on a voluntary basis. They teach “with heart” and do not expect any recompense.
Mr Kosin described how the project was launched.
❚ A student of the Plai Khao School learning project practises tossing rice in a process to separate bad grains from the healthy ones.
❚ Students at Wat Nang Lad School band together to welcome their peers from the learning project.
❚ Students in the project attend an art class.
❚ A girl from Wat Nang Lad School in Muang district of Phatthalung tries her hand at making sweets. Some students from the school have enrolled in the learning project.
❚ Boys enjoy the hands-on experience of harvesting rice.
❚ Another student is taught to grill khanom jak, a swee
In 2006, the Office of the Basic Education Commission asked the municipality to take care of students who graduated from the Prathom 6 level from Wat Nang Lad School.
Most of these students could barely read or write and other schools were reluctant to admit them.
With no school to go to, they drifted through life aimlessly, hanging out in game shops and behaving badly with some taking up smoking.
Mr Kosin said a drive was launched to survey and gather together children in the municipality who had dropped out of school. It was found that there were about 100 school dropouts.
When we first approached them, they rejected us. They were sceptical of the Plai Khao School project,” Mr Kosin said.
It took municipal officials a lot of time and effort before they could convince the children to open their minds and listen to them.
“After the launch of the project, the municipality has seen a perceptible change for the better.
“The juvenile delinquency rate in the area has declined. Communities are more peaceful without crime or drug abuse among teenagers,” Mr Kosin said, adding that municipal schools have begun to realise the importance of reaching out to delinquent children and finding ways to help them turn over a new leaf instead of leaving them out in the cold.
Suphanee Youngsang, deputy director of Wat Nang Lard School, which is a model school under the project, said 105 students aged between 11 and 16 from five schools run by the municipality take part in the project.
Each student has different, unique interests. Some want to learn reading and writing. Some prefer flower arranging, while others are keen on computers.
Ms Suphanee said classes are tailored to suit the needs of each learner, although all students are required to learn the Thai language, English, and arts.
The project also provides courses for students who receive a certificate upon graduation and can transfer credits if they want to further their studies at a higher level.
A 15-year-old boy called Prab, a participant in the project, said he was denied admission into a secondary school after he completed Prathom 6 (Grade 6).
“They said I couldn’t read and write, and was messy. This made me lose confidence and I became afraid to go to school,” the young boy said.
But when he signed up for the Plai Khao School project, he was impressed with the way he was taught.
Prab said teachers have taken him for rides on motorcycles and taught him to read signs or billboards around town, which is a fun way of improving his reading and writing skills.
Teachers have also taken him to a local temple where he can enjoy reading dhamma stories. This inspired him to take part in a dhamma story-telling competition in which he he has won first prize for two consecutive years.
Ekkapol Chiathud, 16, said he dropped out of Matthayom 6 because he was very poor in class, scoring zero in most of his subjects.
He added that teachers tended to ignore slow-learning students and pay more attention to smart, clever ones, which made him feel put off. He decided to quit school.
When he joined the project, he found that the learning approach was more flexible and relevant to the needs of learners. “It’s fun, relaxing, and practical,” Ekkapol said.
He said he has now completed a course equivalent to Matthayom 3 (Grade 9) and plans to further his studies in computer science at a technical college.
A 15-year-old boy called Title said he dropped out of school and spent every day playing computer games at gaming shops. After taking part in the project, he also completed a course equivalent to Matthayom 3 and is determined to continue his education in computer science at a technical college.
Suppakorn Buasai, manager of the Quality Learning Foundation, said about 2 million children across the country are not receiving basic education.
Mr Suppakorn said local government bodies, which are close to local communities, play a key role in educating and reforming these “marginalised” children, thus cutting the rate of youth problems in their localities.
Local administration bodies wishing to apply for grants for this year can submit projects to the foundation for consideration by Oct 15. Funding for each approved project ranges between 300,000 and one million baht.
Source: Bangkok Post, 18 September 2011