Phuket carves out learning niche
No longer content with being a mere tourism draw card, the resort island opens learning, innovation centres in ‘smart city’ quest, writes Sirinya Wattanasukchai
Phuket municipality is celebrating the completion of its quest to introduce a “trinity of knowledge” to further the learning of locals, especially youngsters in primary schools. As experts define it, the knowledge is acquired primarily from three sources: textbook subjects learned in the classroom, a school or community library, and an outlet outside school where students can apply the knowledge they have cultivated to create something tangible.
In most communities in Phuket, a municipal library is a rarity, as is an outlet where the young can put their knowledge to the test by attempting to produce something they have read about in books.
The Phuket municipality has filled in the blanks with its recent unveiling of a “Life-long Learning Centre” and “Creativity & Innovative Centre” in the heart of the island province.
The centres were recently inaugurated by the Phuket Municipality Office and the state-operated Thailand Knowledge Park (TK park).
They have long been a missing link in the local education scene. Local students lacked the opportunity to research projects and turn that knowledge into something real.
The Phuket municipality realised the necessity of accomplishing the task before it, and set about creating the centres to cater to knowledge-starved youngsters.
The municipality, however, figured that not everything has to be constructed from the ground up. It also dawned on the administrators that they could not pursue the task alone.
The learning centre is an upgrade of the old, under-used community library opened to people of all ages.
The municipality plans to build more such libraries, with help from the TK park, as it carves out a new niche for Phuket, which enjoys a reputation primarily as a resort destination. The municipality envisages Phuket emerging as a “smart city” with an expanding educated population.
The creativity and innovative centre, meanwhile, is established as a branch of the Bangkok-based TK park. The municipality roped in the TK park to capitalise on its expertise and innovative vision.
The idea is to push Thailand toward a learning society by cultivating a better attitude towards reading, creative thinking, and lifelong pursuit of knowledge among the young through a combination of books, activities, music and multimedia.
After the PK park branch in Phuket, three more learning centres will open in Si Sa Ket, Krabi and Narathiwat by next year. Currently, there are 34 centres in 24 provinces around the country.
Revamped from the old municipality library, the learning centre near Bangneaw Municipal School in central Phuket is designed to be a book-based learning facility for old and young alike.
The library, once characterised by a “grey” and sombre atmosphere, has been re-decorated and given a colour facelift.
It feels more like a living room where parents can recline on a sofa to read while their children run around in a playroom or read comics. A large-screen home theatre is also installed to heighten visual and audio pleasures.
Located further away from the learning centre in the Saphan Hin area is the innovative centre, formerly an old information and communication technology office.
The spruced-up centre is a computerbased learning facility, with information technology workshops combined with recreational activities designed for young students and families.
The workshops teach kindergarten youngsters to make e-cards while the older visitors try their hand at the internet.
The older students also learn, many for the first time, how to fly drones, make short films, assemble robots and play board games.
Phuket City mayor Somjai Suwansupana said visitors to the learning and innovative centres come mainly from low- and middleincome families.
“[Outsiders] tend to see Phuket as a rich city. But a huge social disparity exists here,” said Ms Somjai, who has served as mayor since 2004.
The mayor pointed out the disparity has grown more conspicuous since international schools opened in the province in the past decade.
However, she refuses to let the disparity issue hold back progress. In fact, the mayor said this has compelled the municipality
Children shouldn’t be confined only to the classroom, but acquire knowledge outside the classroom as well. SOMJAI SUWANSUPANA PHUKET CITY MAYOR
to raise the bar of educational quality at local schools.
Extra-curricular courses have been provided for students at six schools under the Phuket Municipality Office since 2000.
“Children shouldn’t be confined only to the classroom, but acquire knowledge outside the classroom as well,” said Ms Somjai.
Back at the learning centre, some eager students from a local primary school have dropped in after school, settling in with their favourite comics in one corner of an air-conditioned room brightened up with colourful tables and chairs.
One of many recreational rooms at the learning centre, it boasts inviting decor with a generous range of both hard-cover books and e-books.
As the centre has clearly-designated rooms for reading and playing, it offers space for youngsters to speak and laugh out loud.
“I enjoy it here. We can read comic books, play and chat without being told to keep our voice down,” said Chutiman Werukam, a Prathom 5 (Grade 5) student from Ban Sam Kong Municipal School.
The municipality also offers after-class lessons for local students to deepen their knowledge about technology and the history of the community they live in. The municipal administrators are looking to provide students with an alternative to tutorial schools which many attend after school, and which have a heavily academic focus.
The alternative lessons are held at Plukpanya Municipal School and Bangneaw Municipal School.
At Plukpanya school, extra-curriculum in popular subjects such as film-making and robot building are offered to students as young as Mathayom 1 (Grade 7).
According to Ganjana Prabpanya, who leads the school’s after-class programme, the lessons are designed based on the students’ personal interests such as language and short-film script writing. The fee is 1,500 baht per school term and the money is used to hire experts to teach in the programme.
At Bangneaw school, an after-school lesson comes alive with the teaching of Phuket’s history including the traditional lifestyle and food of the Chinese settlers in Ban Bang Niew community.
The “living culture” impressed upon students through various aspects of local knowledge, including food and fashion is an essential tool for getting the young interested in their roots, said Wisa Jarunchawanapet, the school director.
A striking example of food with a historical story behind it, which is displayed in the school library, is a-nung yin or dried salted egg yolk. The delicacy has over the years been reduced to a speck in the local culinary scene and might have gone unnoticed by many youngsters were it not for the display.
In the old days, egg whites were used to coat fishing nets to make them durable, leaving many leftover egg yolks to be preserved and subsequently eaten as part of a family meal or sold in the market.
The a-nung yin is now on menu at small specialty restaurants, often run by the elderly.
The displays shown at the school library as part of the after-class programme are the product of extensive research put together by the school, local community and parents, said Ms Wisa.
The Phuket mayor, meanwhile, says she backs the after-class programme, saying learning should know no bounds.
The research process and creation of the living library at the school further enhances the learning process for the students, she said.
“One size doesn’t fit all. Children must look inward to find what they are passionate about doing. And the learning centres are the place to help them do just that,” said Ms Somjai.
A collection of photos, part of an exhibition at the living library at Bangneaw Municipal School, features pictures of bygone days and elderly people in the neighbourhood.
Students take centre stage as they are given the space at the innovative centre to assemble robots in Phuket where they are encouraged to learn outside the classroom.
FAR LEFT, LEFT AND BELOW
Bangneaw Municipal School students walk visitors through the exhibition as a puppet performance is also showcased by the youngsters keen on preserving the old tradition. The Lifelong Learning Centre has been upgraded from an old municipal library.