Coronavirus pandemic forced Thai teachers to acquire digital skills: Education minister

Thailand's education minister Nataphol Teepsuwan said less than 50 per cent of Thai teachers had basic digital skills like video conferencing before the pandemic. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MINISTRY OF EDUCATION, THAILAND

BANGKOK - The Covid-19 outbreak gave Thai education an unexpected leg-up by forcing even the most resistant teachers to learn how to deliver lessons through video conferencing, says Thailand's education minister Nataphol Teepsuwan.

In an interview with The Straits Times this week, he said less than 50 per cent of Thai teachers had basic digital skills like video conferencing before the pandemic. But some 98 per cent are now proficient.

"They learned from their fellow teachers, younger teachers. They learned among themselves. They learned from their children. They learned from whomever they could, without full assistance from the ministry of education," said Mr Nataphol. "It was a blessing in disguise."

Thailand's education ministry postponed the school reopening date from May 18 to July 1 to give itself time to prepare for a second wave of Covid-19 infections, he said.

During that period, it readied a distance learning system using both online as well as dedicated television channels.

The ministry initially told teachers to prepare to do this for the long haul, but later restarted classroom lessons as the coronavirus outbreak in Thailand eased. The Kingdom has not seen any community transmission in two months.

Budget funds that went unused for activities cut short by the pandemic, like scout camps, were redirected to purchasing the equipment needed for remote learning.

"To my surprise 98 per cent of teachers around Thailand now have some basic digital skills… They had acquired them over the 40 days. Amazing. But of course, they had thought that they would have to go online and teach for a long period of time," he said.

These digital skills came in handy last week when over 200 schools in Rayong province had to be shut down over a possible new outbreak.

An Egyptian military officer on a layover in U-Tapao airport was found to be infected only after he had left Thailand. During his transit, he had visited a Rayong shopping mall.

"We had postponed the school re-opening in preparation for cases like this," said Mr Nataphol. As remote teaching arrangements kicked in during this temporary shutdown, there was "no interruption" in learning, he said. Schools in Rayong re-opened on Monday (July 20).

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