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

Bangkok Post - - @THAILAND -

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.

PHOTOS COUR­TESY OF PK PARK

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.

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