Many developing nations experience a major shift in their demography. Often entire families set out to seek opportunities in the growing and expansive cities, leaving the peacefulness of rural living for the promise of a brighter future. Thailand was no exception, with the small government-run schools in the small towns and villages throughout the country witnessed classroom numbers falling to a level which threatened the schools’ very existence. The Education Ministry of Thailand realized they had a big problem to solve, requiring an understanding of the threats facing small schools then creating innovative solutions to maintain viable rural government schools.
Class sizes in the traditional year grades of their rural elementary schools fell to a handful of children in each classroom with the one teacher. This was not a very efficient model for these schools. When school enrolments plunge to levels where traditional classroom groupings cannot be maintained, an obvious solution was considered by the Secretary General of Basic Education Commission (OBEC), Khun Ying Dr Kasama Vorawan. The answer may indeed lie in the fundamental way in which children are taught, so they set out to study different pedagogies and school structures which could result in a new approach to rural schools to bring a fresh breath of life to this declining sector.
In 2004, the Montessori method of education was considered since its approach to teaching and learning included a multi-age classroom model. With the support and guidance from Dr Kannekar Butt, who served as the honorary Montessori field coordinator, and with the co-operation from the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), a pilot program to introduce Montessori education in schools was born. The project on the Development of the Child’s Potential using the Montessori Method was trialed in the Nakorn Pathom Education Service Area One.
The pilot project was a remarkable success, revealing how students were not only learning in multi-age classrooms but also achieved strong academic and social skills. Observers noted an increase in student’s self-reliance, self-esteem, self-discipline and an incredible level of concentration and interest in their learning. The project’s success was owed to the support provided by experts in Montessori education, such as AMI teacher trainer Shannon Helfrich, and honorary education consultants such as Sumon Amornvivat and Dr Chaipot Rakngam.
The Nakorn Pathon pilot project sparked a rise in interest in Montessori education, with 16 additional schools in the province opening Montessori classrooms. From the provincial level to the national level required a strategic approach to bring teams of trained Montessori education prepared to transform the rural school settings into thriving learning communities with a proven education model serving multi-age classroom groups.
To oversee such an expansion there were several structures put into place.
First, The Montessori Association of Thailand (MAT) was founded in 2006 to “promote the continuity of potential development of Thai children of all ages”. Dr Kannekar Butt was the founding president of the association and continues in that role to this day.
The next structure to be put into place was the teacher training program, which commenced in 2006 in collaboration between the OBEC and AMI. The course was held in Sampran, Nakorn Pathom at the National Institute for the Development of Teachers, Faculty Staff and Education personnel (NIDTEP), which is a part of the Office of Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education.
Formalising the structure further was needed in order to assure the maintenance of quality practices in its implementation. A Framework of Cooperation was created and approved by the Permanent Secretary of Education, Dr Jaruyporn Thoranin, and a signing ceremony was arranged in August 2008. Signing on behalf of the National Institute for Development of Teachers, Faculty Staff and Educational Personnel (NIDTEP) was the Director Dr. Kongsak Chareonruk and on behalf the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) was the Executive Director Mrs. Lynne Lawrence.
The agreement objectives were focused on expanding the accessibility of Montessori education for Thai children and to provide a high standard of Montessori teacher training and Montessori professional development. Since then, and with the great support from Dr. Chinaphat Bumirat, Secretary General of OBEC, more than 1100 government teachers, school directors and supervisors participated in AMI training courses.
Over the past two decades since Montessori education was discussed as a possible answer to a national education dilemma, a steady growth in expanding and embedding Montessori education has occurred in both the public and private sectors. Challenges and obstacles continued to make this work difficult, but steadfast support from within Thailand and afar has kept our dream alive. For example, a long-standing friendship and partnership with a group of Australian volunteers has supported the continuing professional development of Thai educators. The group is known as the Australian Thai Montessori Support group (ATMS) and their cooperation has extended to the current chapter of our journey, the hosting of the 29th International Congress in Thailand.
Almost 20 years of gradual growth of the Montessori network community in Thailand has occurred both in the public and private sectors, where we have experienced many obstacles and limitations which challenge the faithfulness in our work. Yet, the network community shows its strength and keeps expanding to become even more committed, dedicated, and united.
Any glorious achievement will always have the many stories of individual perseverance and devotion. These stories are too numerous to include in this short article, but we are grateful to all who have worked so hard for the children in Thailand and who contributed to a truly unique and remarkable embrace of Montessori education on a national scale. This article represents sincere gratitude to all of you.
1. Interview with Dr. Kannekar Butt and Dr. Somrak Kitdej.
2. Research Paper on “Children development by using Montessori Method”, Educational Service Area One Office, Nakhon Pathom.
3. Website: www.montessoriassothailand.org
4. Photo credits: Montessori Association Thailand (MAT)