On the Learn­ing Curve

Ed­u­ca­tion mat­ters, Phan­naroj Chal­i­ta­porn of Rain­tree In­ter­na­tional School tells Pri­jayanat Kalam­pa­sut, but it shouldn’t pi­geon­hole you. Turn­ing out well-rounded life­long learn­ers should be the goal

Thailand Tatler - - FACES CLOSE-UP -

As much as we like to believe that we can plan our fu­tures to the nth de­gree, life is full of un­cer­tain­ties. While qual­i­fi­ca­tions in busi­ness is a great ac­com­plish­ment, it doesn’t mean the rest of your life will be con­fined to, say, the fi­nance sec­tor. Phan­naroj Chal­i­ta­porn, CEO and co-founder of Rain­tree In­ter­na­tional School, is proof of that.

Phan­naroj, or Mai, pur­sued a dou­ble de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing at Tham­masat Uni­ver­sity, which en­abled her to fin­ish her stud­ies in Not­ting­ham. A mas­ter’s de­gree in fi­nance at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity fol­lowed. “I then came back to Asia and spent a year work­ing in in­vest­ment bank­ing in Hong Kong be­fore an­other year in Lon­don,” she says. De­ter­mined to be­come flu­ent in Man­darin, she then spent three and a half years in Bei­jing learn­ing the lan­guage while work­ing in a bank, be­fore a sec­ond stint in Hong Kong.

It wasn’t un­til Mai turned 30, re­turned to Thai­land and mar­ried fel­low fi­nancier Casey Au, that she be­gan to ques­tion the di­rec­tion in which her ca­reer was head­ing. The re­al­i­sa­tion that one day she might want to start a fam­ily of her own got her think­ing about the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. “I was help­ing my sis­ter pick out a preschool for her chil­dren and it dawned on me that when I have kids of my own, the op­tions for schools here that fit the cri­te­ria I have are quite lim­ited. I believe that fos­ter­ing in­de­pen­dent cre­ativ­ity in chil­dren from a young age is so im­por­tant to their de­vel­op­ment and in Thai­land we don’t do this very well,” she ex­plains.

And af­ter much con­sid­er­a­tion, this is what led the co­or­di­na­tor for the Cam­bridge Alumni So­ci­ety in Thai­land, her sis­ter Vo­rachan Chi­rathi­vat and Korn Chatika­vanich to start Rain­tree In­ter­na­tional School, which has a pro­gres­sive English-Chi­nese early child­hood pro­gramme at its core. “Our em­pha­sis is on pro­mot­ing cre­ativ­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in a nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment for chil­dren be­tween 18 months and five years of age. Cur­rently we have 32 chil­dren en­rolled,” she says. “We teach mostly in English but in­clude Man­darin in the cur­ricu­lum. We also think it’s im­por­tant for our ex­pa­tri­ate chil­dren to be aware of the en­vi­ron­ment in which they are grow­ing up, so Thai is also taught.”

Es­tab­lish­ing a school is a com­pli­cated process. In Mai’s case, it took around three years of re­search and bu­reau­cracy to get the school up and run­ning. In a way she and her sis­ter were its first stu­dents. “It took a while for us to fully un­der­stand what was re­quired and to learn how to go about it,” she says, ad­ding “We are still learn­ing as we go.”

Ded­i­cated to en­sur­ing a rounded form of child de­vel­op­ment at Rain­tree, the one thing Mai would like to see more of in Thai­land is schools fos­ter­ing greater mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism among the younger gen­er­a­tions. “There is so much con­flict in the world and clashes be­tween cul­tures and re­li­gions,” she says. “We need to teach chil­dren com­pas­sion for one an­other, re­gard­less of eth­nic­ity or re­li­gious back­ground. Tra­di­tional schools here have a ten­dency to over­look this.”

Mai is grate­ful for her un­der­stand­ing par­ents, Valeerat and Ji­ta­pan Chal­i­ta­porn. “They have al­ways sup­ported me in what­ever I’ve wanted to do,” she smiles. “And I don’t think you have to be lim­ited by your train­ing in a spe­cific field. I believe we are all life­long learn­ers. What­ever it is you want to do, you sim­ply have to pur­sue it with pas­sion.”

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