PORN PANOSOT

ประเทศไทย,

Responding to an education system that fails to stimulate and prepare Thai children for the challenges of contributing to their emerging democracy and economy in transition, Porn Panosot is creating an alternative, process-oriented educational program in Thailand that promotes a balance between the physical, emotional, and intellectual development of each child.

This profile below was prepared when Porn Panosot was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.

หมอพรพยายามสร้างสรรค์ระบบที่จะทำให้เด็กๆ รักการเรียน และเติบโตเป็นผู้ใหญ่ที่มีจริยธรรม และความรับผิดชอบต่อตนเองและสังคม  หมอพรต้องการให้เด็กๆ พัฒนาคุณค่าภายใน และมีอิสระตลอดจนมีความคิดสร้างสรรค์ ตามปกติการเรียนแบบนี้เป็นการเรียนนอกห้องเรียน แต่หมอพรได้นำร่องให้โรงเรียนในเขตกรุงเทพให้ความสำคัญในเรื่องนี้ หมอพรเห็นการเชื่อมโยงระหว่างจริยธรรม และการแสดงออกภายนอก เขาเชี่อว่า เมื่อเด็กๆ เริ่มต้นที่จะเข้าใจ เขาคิด และเขารู้สึก เขาจะหมกมุ่นอยู่กับความคิดนั้นๆ และเรียนรู้ที่จะรักและทำสิ่งที่ดีให้แก่ตัวเองและสังคม  และเมื่อความคิดแยกตัวเป็นอิสระจากสิ่งอื่นๆ แล้ว นักเรียนจะรวมกลุ่มกันเพื่อทำประโยชน์ ร่วมกันรักษาทรัพยากรและสิ่งแวดล้อม’ หมอพรไม่เชื่อว่าระบบการศึกษาปัจจุบันจะสร้างนักเรียนให้มีส่วนร่วมในการรับใช้สังคมได้อย่างไร เพื่อส่งเสริมให้นักเรียนบรรลุเป้าหมายนี้ หมอพรนำทฤษฏี Waldoft 

INTRODUCTION

Responding to an education system that fails to stimulate and prepare Thai children for the challenges of contributing to their emerging democracy and economy in transition, Porn Panosot is creating an alternative, process-oriented educational program in Thailand that promotes a balance between the physical, emotional, and intellectual development of each child.




THE NEW IDEA

Porn Panosot seeks to create a system that helps children grow into ethical adults inspired by a love of learning. He wants students to develop their "inner qualities," so that they may become free and creative thinkers who take responsibility for their societies. While such lessons are usually reserved for out-of-school activities, Porn is paving the way for Bangkok's mainstream schools to eventually have a holistic focus.

Porn sees a close connection between inner contentment and constructive actions. In his words, "When [children] begin to understand...their thoughts and feelings, their stress and confusion will decline and_they will learn to do what they love and hence will be happy to do so. All of them will do good things for themselves and society. Whenever the thought to exist for others is inherent in them, ...the students start working together so as to preserve natural resources and environment in their communities." He envisions a population of Thai youth and adults who will participate actively in public service as a result of their current education. To help students achieve this state, he has adapted Germany's Waldorf method to the Thai setting, calling his innovative curriculum and pedagogical ideas the "lively teaching method."

The "lively teaching method" provides age-appropriate learning environments (embracing teaching methods and curricula that most schools reject), builds strong teacher/student relationships, and involves parents in children's education. Proponents of this method focus on the process of learning, as Porn explains: "Our project stresses the importance of the learning process arising from doing activities more than from the success from doing activities_. Man who will be able to change himself must need the process of education - he must have the mind of learning and not [be] attached to any idea or belief."




THE PROBLEM

Many Thais perceive a spiritual crisis gripping their nation and are concerned that the relatively new consumer culture has resulted in a loss of the traditional culture and its values, which once bound the nation together. As with most of the developing world, patterns of urban life have uprooted the population from many of the traditional institutions and practices which provided a sense of community and shared values.

Urban Thai society, which has in recent years begun to mimic and even surpass the West's consumer-driven mindset, results, in Porn's opinion, in a generally selfish population. In the educational realm, this negative atmosphere is compounded by a competitive, tense environment starting at kindergarten and continuing through university, caused in part by the limited number of places available at the country's elite schools. In this environment, short-term, quantitative results in the form of test scores take priority over deep-seated internalization of values and educational concepts. Some worry that this competition makes it impossible for children to achieve balance in their educational development.

In Porn's view, while modern Thai society brings out competition and selfishness in people, traditional Thai society also contributes qualities that limit children's development. He describes a cycle: "In rearing the children, the atmosphere is full of using power, order and regulation so that [children] have to do as adults want. People in society are attached to a seniority system, which in part is responsible for destroying the creative thinking in children_. They have no chance to learn freely. Adults raise them on the basis of fear." The result of this oppressive environment is burgeoning student anxiety, poor attention spans, increasing social problems and juvenile delinquency, and children's general lack of interest in school.

Within the school system itself, Thai education methods may be too inflexible to meet the growing demands of a diverse nation and a rapidly industrializing economy. Memorization is key to success in the highly centralized system, where examinations do little to test a child's ability to creatively approach problems. Students learn neither research skills, nor an appreciation for the process of learning. All these factors contribute to a system which ill prepares young graduates for life after school, particularly a spiritual life.




THE STRATEGY

Thailand's recent economic crisis, which has recently wiped out the savings of many middle class families, has resulted in a willingness to reflect upon the deficiencies of contemporary Thai culture, and, in particular, the educational system. Porn offers an attractive alternative at a time when it may be surprisingly welcome.

He has developed Panyotai School in Bangkok, where he applies, demonstrates, and observes the principles of his Waldorf-inspired "lively teaching method." Activities for the school's 40 children, aged six to fourteen, include camping, art, theater, creative writing, and nature studies, as well as "ashram," which is a model of "living, learning, and working together [to] develop inner life and build a peaceful community free from all fetters and fear." Art holds a special place in the curriculum; as Porn explains, "it is a tool to create an intellectual individual; to nurture in him sensibility, sensitivity, and determination." Porn says that through art, withdrawn and traumatized children, such as the orphans who regularly join the other children to paint, draw, and act, change from being "hard and introverted to [being] open and tender."

Porn has made ethics a focus of his program because without self-discipline and other values, development can never be whole. This concept fits with Thai culture's traditional focus on spiritual life and resonates with open-minded urban parents. Ethics and religion, taught from an early age, help children gain a "balance" in life, and appreciate "virtue, beauty, and truth in this world," in Porn's view. To achieve this goal, the program benefits from the participation of monks as it incorporates Buddhist teachings through stories and plays.

The project begins with children at the kindergarten level. At this level, child development involves interactive learning experiences, such as songs, stories, creative arts, cultural celebrations, and nature studies. Students learn both in group activities and through independent study. The focus of the educational experience at this age is on developing confidence, creativity, socialization, and learning skills. At the primary level, the "lively teaching method" takes an integrated approach to education in more standard curriculum. Traditional subjects in the arts and sciences are taught together, with a focus on experiential learning rather than on textbook study.

In addition, Porn emphasizes the quality of the student teacher relationship. In part, the "lively teaching method" distinguishes itself in the amount of training that teachers undergo before and during the classroom experience. For example, rather than positioning themselves in the front of the classroom, Porn encourages teachers to move through the classroom to interact with students, fostering personal relationships and engaging students in active participation.

Strikingly, one-third of Panyotai School's students come from Child Protection Foundation, an organization run by another Ashoka Fellow for abused children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. These children receive scholarships to attend. Porn and other teachers have learned that children from each background benefit from a mixed learning environment; often shy and quiet children from well-to-do families learn to be more assertive, while the more boisterous and aggressive behavior of less privileged children is tempered by their sometimes gentle classmates.

Porn has become an active advocate for Thailand's educational reform, writing for educational and children's publications. He lectures at teachers' colleges, advocating a revamping of teaching methods. He also works with nongovernmental organizations involved in education, offering them an alternative philosophy and teaching methods for their programs. He is spreading the "lively teaching method" to fifteen schools in four districts and expects a network of teachers to follow naturally.




THE PERSON

Porn was born to a middle-class family with little formal education, in Sukhotai, a regional capital in Central Thailand. His family sent him to Bangkok for boarding school, where he excelled, eventually winning a place at Thailand's premier university, Chulalongkorn, where he studied medicine. Coming of age at a time of great political unrest, Porn became an early student activist and leader. He and his wife published one of the best known underground papers in Thailand, following the military coup in which pro-democracy protests were brutally crushed.

Unlike many of his colleagues who fled Thailand, Porn stayed to serve his country. For several years he worked with a government hospital, before growing disillusioned by the bureaucracy of the health care system. He later entered a private clinic but always felt a need to work directly for the poor. This impulse led him to open a night clinic utilizing the facilities of another doctor who served the prostitutes in Bangkok slums.

Porn's views of his own professional involvement underwent a transformation during this period. He increasingly saw that his work as a physician to young prostitutes was merely a Band-Aid approach to larger problems. He began to search for other means to be involved in the development of young Thais, and volunteered with several programs, including Child Protection Foundation. From this work, he decided that focusing on child development was the most effective intervention to halt poverty. He learned of the Waldorf method at this time, which matched his ideas on the need for independent, creative thinking. He abandoned medicine to get an education degree in the U.S.

In 1994 Porn returned to Thailand. His first work upon his return was with a private corporate foundation that had launched a private school. He broadened his experience working at various orphanages before launching the Panyotai project in 1996.