Thailand's schools are changing
the way they teach as part of an national education reform. The revised
National Education Law allows schools to "tailor contents of the national
curriculum to the social needs of each community" . Although learning
objectives for primary school students - such as the acquisition of
basic mathematics skills - are still mandated, the curriculum's content
can now be developed locally by village herbalists, silk weavers,
other practitioners of indigenous knowledge, teachers and the students
Learning in the forest
Learning From Forest Life in Ban Narai
The forest is the basis of Ban Narai's local curricula. The villages
surrounding Ban Narai School depend on the fertile soil to grow cash
crops such as rice, corn and sugarcane. There is a large rocky mountain
surrounded by a community forest, which the villagers value both for
its natural resources as well as for its spiritual significance. The
forest mountain is a source of food for the local people who eat mushrooms,
bamboo and several different kinds of insects from the forest. The
forest also protects their crops from soil erosion and flooding.
Curricula Developed from Local Wisdom
local curriculum with the herbalists from Ban Narai Local
The first step in developing the curricula was a brainstorming session
led by village elders and herbalists from three neighboring villages.
This Local Wisdom Group met with teachers, community leaders and five
student representatives from the 5th and 6th grades to share their
ideas on what children should be learning. The teachers used the groups
suggestions, listed below, to make the 5th and 6th grade lesson plans
for the next academic year.
In the first part, "Exploration of the Ecosystem," the children explore
the geography of the forest with village elders, learning about its
current condition, the various plants, animals, and the mutual benefit
of these organisms for the ecosystem. The children are taught medicinal
uses of plants, such as which herbs will treat infections and which
ones to boil and drink as a cure for ulcers.
- Exploration of the Ecosystem
- Consciousness Raising
The "Consciousness Raising" component teaches the children about the
importance of the forest and inspires them to fight to keep the local
forest alive and healthy. Some of the children have returned from
exploration trips with the herbalists to demand of their parents:
"Why are you destroying our forest…it is our natural supermarket?"
During "Reforestation" students organize community activities and
invite their parents and other interested community members to replant
trees and reestablish biodiversity in the local forest. The students
also learn about local ways of forest management.
Elders and Children Learn
from Each Other
Learning with village elders
Germination of forest fruit plants
Village elders are proud to share their experiences. "This is the
first time that we have been invited to participate in curriculum
development. We are honored to serve as teachers," states an elderly
man from the Local Wisdom Group in Ban Narai. "We learned about the
medicinal value of herbs from our mothers and fathers. At that time,
there was no hospital other than the forest, so learning about it
was extremely important," remarks another member of the Local Wisdom
Children have also become a source of innovative practices for reforestation.
On one of the forest exploration trips, a group of girls and boys
noticed that there were patches of soil where no trees or plants had
ever successfully grown. This arid ground is locally known as 'din
preo' or 'sour dirt'. Asking themselves why this is so, the children
decided to plant a strain of wild lychee in the 'sour dirt.' The plant
took nicely to the unusual conditions, and subsequently several villagers
have started planting this robust plant in other areas with arid soil.
Learning Through Local Skills in Ban Daeng
In Ban Daeng, another village in Northeastern Thailand, the local
curriculum emphasizes indigenous vocations rather than environmental
issues. Community experts are invited into the classroom to teach
practical skills such as hair styling, chicken raising, herbal medicine,
silk weaving and other skills. Although most of these skills have
been passed on informally for generations, the difference is that
now they are recognized as educational content.
All subjects are made more relevent by presenting them in a local
context. Students learn:
"The local curriculum offers children opportunities for hands-on learning.
We have built a miniature village behind the school, complete with
samples of many of the plants found in the local forest," explains
Ajaan Samai, a teacher who has been instrumental in the development
of the local curriculum at Ban Daeng School. We take trips to the
local forest to harvest wild mushrooms and the children practice their
skills daily. The children seem happier and less stressed as their
learning environment is not confined to the classroom. Many of the
students have excelled with the local curriculum, even those who are
usually not motivated in the classroom."
- Mathematics by calculating percentages related to wildlife diversity
in the local forest
- The Thai and English names of curative natural herbs
- Essay writing using the forest as a topic
- Science by mixing herbal shampoos and teas
- Technology by designing traditional Thai 'mutmee' silk patterns
on the computer
Challenges with Local Curricula
plants that eat insects
in the classroom
lead exploration near Paa Yaa mountain
One initial hurdle in Ban Narai was the lack of confidence among teachers
and the Local Wisom Group in their abilities to develop a course curriculum
themselves. Having always received the complete lesson plans from
the central education authorities in Bangkok, it was a momentous task
for the elders and rural teachers to begin designing a curriculum
Even now that the curriculum is developed, it is a constant challenge
to update and improve the curriculum as these rural villages lack
access to educational materials available in urban libraries and via
A challenge for Ban Daeng Primary School is that few students are
fortunate enough to continue their education past grade six. Many
children must take on farming or other occupations as a way to contribute
to their family's income, which prevents them from studying at the
Even if the primary students do have the luxury of continuing their
studies, the secondary school in Ban Daeng has not changed its curriculum
yet. This will limit the effect of the program.
What Does the Future Hold?
Ajaan Samai hopes to link the school's activities to development in
the village. "One thing I would like to see in the future is for the
students to begin tackling community issues by using what they have
learnt through the local curriculum. Many of the families in our community
lack a steady source of income and could begin to sell herbal shampoos,
organic fertilizers and homeopathic medicines as a way to profit from
our local knowledge."
When asked about the importance of developing and using local curricula,
the 5th grade students in Ban Narai had no trouble offering their
ideas. "So we can save money…we can gather herbs and plants from the
forest, rather than buying them at the market," commented one student.
"So we learn about animals' homes, and especially how not to destroy
their homes," added another child. Yet another student hoped that
their exposure to the value of local forests would motivate more young
people to participate in local activities to prevent deforestation.
Before, school was a government program that the children passively
attended. Now village elders, parents, teachers and students are discussing
challenges that face the community and taking stock of local knowledge
and community resources. They are making hard decisions and taking
responsibility for their schools. This shift in attitude is, in itself,
a major accomplishment and a clear indication that education reform
in these villages is on the right track.
on the lotus leaves above)