Posters featuring photos of animals and their names have always been an important means to educate young students in Bangkok and rural areas about living things. All that is changing with the arrival of computer tablets.
Natthawut Chanda, a 7-year-old boy in Prathom 1/3 of Darakam School in Bangkok, now sees moving pictures of such animals. As he studied them during a visit to the school last week, the boy happily wrote down the animals’ names on his worksheet.
"I like learning from my tablet, particularly when studying science subjects because I can see pictures clearly," Natthawut said.
Natthawut and more than 80 students at this school were among the earliest in Thailand to receive the first batch of tablets, under the government's One Tablet Per Child scheme. While young students at the school found it fun to learn science through the tablets after the school kicked off their use on July 19, teachers themselves were elated by the students' enthusiasm.
"My students looked more active and excited when I used tablets to teach them compared to when I just used textbooks," said Supannee Ratchakaew, teacher of Prathom 1/3. "I've used tablets to teach them an hour a day. I've used them with science, English, Thai and mathematics subjects. Anytime I told them I would use tablets, they said 'hooray' to show their enjoyment," she added.
Since the tablets arrived two weeks ago, while Natthawut was enjoying his science class, classmate Thanawan Saelim was excited in the English class, as she observed Western people's greetings through her tablet.
Supannee said she had used tablets for leadins, learning and group activities and exercise practice after she took a few days training with her students on how to use their tablets.
"I consider tablets as an instructional media that helps arouse my students to learn actively. To boost students' learning by tablets I have to look into the contents and activities provided in tablets that I want to teach them two or three times before I plan my teaching. So, I know how to teach them with the contents and when to use the activities in the tablets. This helps me to make tablet use in class effective and it's not so difficult for me to control classes," she said.
She urged other Prathom 1 teachers who'll be using tablets in class to plan lessons that include tablet use before teaching, and to create clear tablet use rules agreed to by their pupils on proper use of the tablets.
At this school, the teachers make sure that tablets are not exploited for fun. Against fears that children would be encouraged to play games, Naruephop Khanthabthai, director of the school, said their teachers agreed to allow students to take tablets home with them only after their parents had been trained by the school. Parents were expected to give their children advice on suitable use of tablets to prevent unwanted problems. Also the parents could make use of tablets themselves.
"We will train parents how to use tablets from August 19 - on how to access online media and what time they should and should not let their children use the tablets - before allowing them to take them back home to review their lessons," he said.
More than a week has passed since the first batch of tablets was given to first graders at schools in some provinces. At this point, from Bangkok, schools in 19 provinces as far as Krabi and Kamphaengphet - which are 814km and 358km from the capital city - have received 300,000 tablets. At some schools, where the number of students is huge, it cannot yet be "one tablet per child" as expected. The government plans to deliver tablets to all Prathom 1 students across the country within this semester.
Some provincial teachers, living far from new technology, are under duress to use the tablets as a new teaching instrument, while their students are eager to learn from tablets in classes.
One of the first provincial schools is Ban Nong Kung School in Khon Kaen province, where teachers are not yet trained on tablet use by the Office of the Basic Education Commission. To respond to their students' demand for tablets in class, teachers learned from the tablets' manual on their own and began tablet use in class for more than a week while they are waiting for training.
Chariya Jitaree, 50, is one of the teachers in Kamphaeng Phet. Despite her age, she enthusiastically prepares herself to get ready for using tablets in class. It should not be a burden for her as she likes getting to know and use new technologies, she said, while the school is finishing tablet registration before delivering the device to students.
Supannee told other Prathom 1 teachers in Thailand who had to adjust their teaching styles with tablet use, that they should not fear it or feel stressed. They should learn to understand how to use the tablets, study the contents and activities installed in tablets clearly, and create lesson plans with tablets before teaching. "Tablets are very good instructional media that help us teach more easily."
Naruephop at Darakam School said school directors should first change their teachers' attitudes towards new technology, especially older teachers who were not familiar with technology.
"Teachers should be open minded. Please keep in mind that it does not exceed your ability," he added.