Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Erica
This Harvard Doctoral Student Gives Us A Look Inside Thailand's Education System
Erica Jordan-Thomas is a Columbus, Ohio native. She is a first-year doctoral student in Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) at Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), who recently made a trip to Thailand.
We spoke with her via email about her program and her recent visit to Thailand to study their education system.
Travel Noire: Tell us about your Doctoral program?
Erica: I am in a full-time, three-year program that focuses on preparing diverse education leaders for system-level leadership to transform American PreK-12 education. System-level leadership could look like creating positive outcomes for children as a superintendent, becoming CEO of a non-profit, leading in a state department, or heading up a foundation. The Ed.L.D. program requires first-year students to visit an international education system during January term (three weeks between the Fall and Spring semesters) to glean lessons of leadership.
TN: How did you decide on Thailand as your international education system?
Erica: I chose Thailand because of the similarities between their education system and our education system in America. In both Thailand and America, low-income students and students in rural areas are experiencing more academic challenges. I wanted the opportunity to see how another country is addressing educational inequity. This is my first time in Asia, and I wanted to take advantage of the chance to see as much as possible. I am also making a quick visit to India and Dubai.
TN: What have you learned about the Thai education system thus far?
Erica: Thailand passed the Equitable Education Act last January which established the country’s Equitable Education Fund (EEF). Essentially, the government in Thailand has mandated a portion of government funding to be earmarked to address the needs of underprivileged students. This type of policy is huge. I had the chance to meet with the Assistant Managing Director of EEF to learn more about their spending strategy and was blown away by their community-centered approach.
There is also a unique government emphasis on the development of teachers. Teachers in Thailand receive 10,000 Baht per year (about $300 USD) from the government to spend on professional development. The Teacher’s Council of Thailand manages the relationships with providers and curates a list of professional development opportunities for teachers to choose from.
TN: In your opinion, how does the Thai system compare to America’s?
Erica: The biggest difference I observed between Thailand’s education system and education in America is the intentional preservation of the Thai culture through education. I was able to visit a Thai school where they offered classes such as Thai dance, Thai instrumental music, and ribbon art. The students had access to some western learning experiences, but it was not held as superior. The principal shared that it was important for students to know their community and the Thai culture they come from.
I also visited the College of Learning Sciences and Education at Thammasat University. Students attending the university on scholarship are required to work with local farmers in the rice paddy fields as conditions of their school funding.
TN: Based on your observations, would you move abroad to work in education?
Erica: Why not? I fell in love with Bangkok. I deeply enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a culture outside of my own. I was also inspired by Thailand’s system-level commitment to educational equity. One of the success factors defined in the Ministry of Education’s 30 year National Education Plan is “shifting the paradigm of education management, considering that education can be managed by all of society and not just by government institutions.” There is still much work to be done here in America and Thailand taught me so many lessons I look forward to applying to my future work.