A Thai educator has described constant teacher development as a crucial factor behind Singapore's remarkable educational success.
"In Singapore, teachers receive training and opportunities to gain additional knowledge, for example from academic forums, on a regular basis," said Asst Prof Athapol Anunthavorasakul from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education.
"Singaporean teachers get educational and training support not just during their years as students at teacher-producing institutes".
Athapol said Singapore had clearly placed strong emphasis on teacher development, with its National Institute of Education (NIE) actively acting as a key link between schools and all relevant agencies.
NIE has worked closely with the Ministry of Education in formulating policies, conducting research and exploring methods to improve teaching and learning.
Athapol received his insight into Singapore's education, which ranks among the world's best, after attending an international conference on "Redesigning Pedagogy…leader values and citizenship in 21st Century education." NIE organised the event, which attracted more than 2,000 observers from around the world.
After returning to Thailand, the Thai academic shared the information with participants at a recent seminar hosted by PICO (Thailand).
He pointed out that teachers in Thailand were mostly on their own in trying to juggle between teaching and administrative work. Singaporean teachers, he said, were free from administrative burdens and managed to gain a clear focus on how to develop both their skills and their students' potential.
"Singapore monitors its teachers' performances and promotes their development," he said.
He also bemoaned the fact that when new policies or guidelines are launched, most Thai teachers are left to find a way to carry them out themselves.
"For example, when a new curriculum is launched, teachers have to implement it. Teacher-training institutions are not engaged to help in this part," Athapol said.
He said Thailand's educational sector has suffered the impact of a 'missing link'.
In Athapol's eyes, Thailand should learn a lesson from Singapore and engage more teacher-training institutions to facilitate the constant development of teachers.
"The development of Thai teachers should include close collaboration between teacher-training institutions and schools".
He said today, fresh graduates from these teacher-training institutions are expected to do everything on their own after completing not many of hours teaching during their internship. Without guidance, some young teachers would lose their faith in their career rapidly after encountering bad experiences.
"It's therefore necessary that teachers receive constant support and training. They need to be inspired and trained too," Athapol said.
Athapol agreed with the initiative by universities and the Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) to develop a coaching network. For example, the Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education had agreed to take care of and guide more than 30 Obec-run schools in their teaching/learning.
"The quality of teachers will translate into the quality of students."
Athapol placed a strong emphasis on collaboration and participation by institutes in teacher development, describing it as a key factor to improve Thailand's educational services.
He insisted that teachers should not be left alone in trying to respond to various policies announced by the Education Ministry, particularly when the country has a new education minister.
"When you introduce policies, you should make every effort to ensure that teachers get the right understanding of the policies and their expectations so that the implementations proceed accordingly," he said.
Athapol said the government should encourage and support teacher-training institutions to step in and help.
"Form a network for constant teacher development. It's a key for educational reform," the academic said.
According to Athapol, research is also a fundamental basis of Singapore's outstanding educational success. NIE has conducted a number of studies and their findings are being applied to shape policies, design curriculum and plan preparations for Singapore's educational services.
In Thailand, Athapol said, many research studies have also been conducted - but their findings are little used.
"Singapore has taken an evidence-based approach. Thailand, meanwhile, tends to introduce new ideas every now and then without solid back-up information," Athapol said.
According to the biggest-ever global grading of education quality, Singapore emerged as having the best brains in the world, while Thailand was rated number 47. Compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the survey was based on the performance of 15-year-olds on maths and science tests, the ranking covered 76 countries.