Tuesday, March 18, 2008

life = education = life

Here's an excerpt from the article Hann wrote about in the previous post regarding the work of the Population and Community Development Association's work in building schools in the rural areas of Thailand. The account was written by Jessica Shortall, CEO of Catalyst Strategy Advisors. Jessica is making the trip as one of the first Population Development International fellows, whose task it is to learn about PDA’s work and share that knowledge in their own communities and with others working in social enterprise.

“If you know how life works, you know how to educate.”
- Khun Wichean, headmaster, Lamplaimat Pattana School

Lamplaimat Pattana School (LPS) is calm. This is the first impression I get upon approaching and entering this beautiful village school (grades K – 5). It’s a private school (with startup funding from a wealthy British businessman) with working farm plots, shaded outdoor spaces, rabbits hopping around the grounds, indoor and outdoor plants, and high ceilings. The children, sitting in stockingfeet on the floors of their classrooms, are just so…calm. They laugh, call out answers, and play games, but not in that manic, over-sugared and low-attention-span way.

We soon delve into the complex system that is contributing to this calm atmosphere. School starts every day with a 20-minute meditation, in which the children and their teachers do simple yoga, coordination exercises to focus the mind, and low-brain-wave meditation. The children’s attention is then drawn along throughout the day and the whole semester by a 10-week curriculum centring on a single subject of study. Students decide the subject with their teachers – this year one group is studying fish, another electricity, and a third, clothing. Through this ongoing project students write stories (improving their writing, language, and thinking skills), learn English, do science experiments, study history related to the subject, learn skills (like sewing, for the clothing project), create art and music, and gain digital literacy by doing research through the school’s bank of internet-ready computers. What about testing and government benchmarks, I ask Khun Wichean, the headmaster. “I don’t take government tests seriously,” he replies. “We use authentic assessment here.” At LPS this means the teachers assess students across all categories (what most of us would put into silos and call “subjects” like reading, maths, etc.) in each project. The children do in fact do well on the government tests but this is more of a box to tick than a goal in itself.

Drawing from any thinking it finds useful for its paradigm of life-as-education (from Montessori to Steiner, neohumanist thinking to Eastern philosophy), LPS sees its students not as “boxes we must fill with knowledge”, but as humans who need to decide for themselves which knowledge is important, and who need tools to go and get that knowledge. “Everyone doesn’t have to know the same thing,” he notes. True: that’s not how life, and good old Adam Smith’s specialisation and division of labour, works.

Read the entire account here. You will find at the same link, her experience with the PDA. I studied the PDA for my dissertation and was very inspired by the work of Meechai. Read Jessica's blog posts for a better idea of what they do. You can also the link to PDA's website at the bottom of the sidebar on the right.