Pandemic forced Thai teachers to acquire digital skills: Minister

Thai Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan said that during the pandemic, even the most resistant teachers were forced to learn how to deliver lessons through video conferencing. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MINISTRY OF EDUCATION, THAILAND

BANGKOK • The coronavirus pandemic has given Thai education an unexpected leg-up by forcing even the most resistant teachers to learn how to deliver lessons through video conferencing, according to Thailand's Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan.

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

"They learnt from their fellow teachers, younger teachers. They learnt among themselves. They learnt from their children. They learnt from whomever they could, without full assistance from the Ministry of Education," said Mr Nataphol, adding that the pandemic "was a blessing in disguise".

Thailand's Education Ministry postponed the reopening of schools 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 the country eased. It 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 buying 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 the province's 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 reopening in preparation for cases like this," said Mr Nataphol.

And because remote teaching arrangements kicked in during this temporary shutdown, there was "no interruption" in learning, he said. Schools in Rayong reopened last Monday.

Tan Hui Yee

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2020, with the headline Pandemic forced Thai teachers to acquire digital skills: Minister. Subscribe