Progressive early years education with the proof in the pudding
Progressive learning is something very new, even alien to most people, especially in Asian countries which focus very much on test results and rankings. But even though it is a fairly new concept for many, more and more schools in Thailand are being founded on the concept of learning through play, child-centered education or Phenomenon-based learning, like in Finland.
The big challenge for all these progressive schools is the parents’ expectation, and how to gain their trust that this is the path for their children.
Raintree International school is one of the most progressive early year schools in Thailand. It opened a little more than four years ago. The principal, Karen Jones, a teacher who describes herself as a passionate early year educator said that environment plays a huge part in training young teachers, when working with children, to really respect the environment that they are introducing to the children, and how that has an impact on them for their learning.
Karen has over thirty years of experience in early years education. But when she was first trained, it was more traditional.
She said it was very much just to focus on set-outcome for children, and the environment was important, but it wasn’t seen as a significant learning tool, which is different from nowadays when the working or living environment has huge impacts on people’s wellbeing, and also ability to learn
Karen said the most challenging thing for her, working as a headteacher at a progressive school, is how she can enable teachers to find the gift in every child. She said, if the teacher can recognize that, then the teacher will form strong bonds with the children, and be able to guide them gently to their next step.
But the most challenging thing in Thailand, however, is how to understand the different cultures and the different expectations of parents from country to country, be it Thailand, the U.K., New Zealand or Australia.
Teachers have to look at the uniqueness that this Thai culture brings, and then, to build that relationship and ensure that parents begin to trust them. “It’s the hardest thing for parents to bring their child into a school, and hand them over to us, and then trust us. So, I think that’s the biggest challenge,” Karen added.
The proof is in the pudding
More than four years after the school opened, Karen believes Raintree is going in the direction of growing a “Raintree community” but, being a progressive school, sometimes things differ from parents’ expectations, of something more tangible or scientific and numeric based results. Karen is, however, sure that a progressive school can definitely deliver what is necessary for the children to grow, and the parents will get to see that themselves.
“Sometimes the proof is in the pudding, when they (parents) are here and they see how much their children are learning and growing, that serves its purpose. For those that are not here, you come and you walk around, and you see all the children are highly motivated or involved, and able to communicate, socialize, able to talk about what they’re learning, then it speaks for itself in that sense.”
Karen said progressive learning will enable children to use their critical thinking and be able to learn all the skills on how to be a learner. Good early year education enables children to make choices, and become responsible for their choices. They learn that their decision is important for them.
Karen said the feedback she gets from the teachers is what tells her whether what she is doing is actually going in the right direction. Many of them were working in a more traditional environment, much more “closed,” and they need to learn something different at Raintree, and Karen said, these teachers would never want to go back to the traditional way of teaching again.
The teachers that come with traditional background said they see that it actually limited them as a teacher. Having that particular set outcome makes them miss some of the other amazing things that children were thinking and learning, and now they are able to take the children further than they ever thought possible.
by Tulip Naksompop Blauw