As an educator who has the opportunity to give students a number of learning experiences, I strongly believe that the most important evidence of success in education management has to come from the students – how they reflect what they have learnt and felt.
Looking into Thai education at the moment, I found that there is very little attention paid to the voices of the students despite the broad array of reflections that they give. Those of us who call ourselves ‘adults’ do not care enough about their opinions, while still believing in that old adage, ‘Children are the future of the nation.’
That is why today’s conversation with King’s College International School Bangkok (King’s Bangkok) is interesting because we would discuss with them over their event named ‘King’s Bangkok Education Forum 2022,’ a forum that invites leaders from various fields of work to come together to pass on their experiences to their audience of students along the theme ‘Career. Life. Social Values.’ The event includes Professor Sakorn Suksriwong DBA, Chairman of the Executive Committee of this international school, together with Mr. Ben-Vittawat Panpanich, an Executive Vice President of the school, and two of the Year 11 students ‘Marty’ Yosphat Srithanasakulchai and ‘Japper’ Chanudom Impat. They sat in a circle, side by side, to share what they had learned.
The two students joining us were, in fact, not just attendees of this first ever Education Forum for students at this young age, but also helped to organize the event and were highly involved from start to finish. Thus, the Education Forum is an event hosted by students, for students, that intends to create opportunities for other students in society which is novel approach. From the conception of the event and the selection of the speakers to the publicising of the event and the reception of reflections and feedback from the event, students were involved at every stage of the process.
We would like to invite you to consider and explore with us, ‘What kind of seeds did King’s Bangkok plant in the hearts of their pupils at this event?’
A primary definition of success in life for many people would inevitably be professional success.
Over 30 years in Prof. Sakorn’s career, be it in teaching or business, his career can without doubt be considered one of success. Although in the heart of this teacher, there was one hole that needed to be filled.
“In Thailand, we have quite a few talents and experienced thought leaders, who are highly successful in academic, educational and professional fields. Some of them work in multinational organizations, many of them already have calendars filled with speaking engagements, but the only groups of people who have the opportunity to listen to those successful people speak are those at university or already working. The senior school student audiences do not have the opportunity to hear from these successful professionals, so this is something that I have always wanted to push for.” – Prof. Sakorn who opened our conversation helped us see the big picture and the original idea behind the Education Forum.
“While I was teaching at Chulalongkorn University, I had the opportunity to initiate a Mentoring Program that connects successful and talented executives with tertiary learners to exchange ideas for the first time, and this mentoring program received the Innovation of the Year award from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AASCB), USA. That got me thinking ‘why can’t high school students have the same opportunities?’”
When the time was right, Prof. Sakorn and King’s Bangkok’s team did not hesitate and gathered student representatives like Marty and friends to form a special student committee to organize a joint Education Forum where all revenue from ticket sales without deducting expenses would be given to high school students in need as a scholarship, under the condition that King’s Bangkok’s students were fully involved in the process from start to finish.
“An event like this would not be too difficult for the school staff to organize themselves,” said Prof. Sakorn with a slight smile. “Our school pays attention to the three core values, namely; good manners, kindness, and wisdom. The main purpose of this event is to provide high school students with firsthand learning experience from the top-notch leaders about their future careers, work and life, as well as giving our students the opportunity to work and learn about organizing events at the same time.”
“Moreover, this is also a great opportunity to learn the value of compassion. We want to teach our children to be kind to themselves and to others in society as well.”
“Frankly, this kind of thing cannot be learned by rote, right?” Prof. Sakorn asks. “Children must absorb that feeling with their hearts and reflect by themselves. That is the reason why this Education Forum was created as an experiment to let them experience kindness with their own hearts.”
“Another essential point is the content that the speakers shared. Whether it is about Ikigai; living with values according to Japanese philosophy; creating value for life through understanding cultures, taking a leadership role in world-class organizations; or discussions on learning, working and living a valuable life. The talks have helped pave the way for children having a strong foundation before moving forward in their working life”
Marty was the first to be invited to the team. Then, he was tasked with finding friends who shared the same ideology, managing to assemble a team of 22 people. One of the team members is Japper, another participant in this conversation who acted as an MC taking to the stage and dealing with the four experienced speakers.
The world of Year 11 students is about to change through the process of working as an adult for the first time in their life.
“At first, I thought that the opportunity to listen to world-class educated people from Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Yale and other really successful people on the global stage was very rare for me and my friends. So, I thought that I would like to try and take part, then I invited my friends to come with me not knowing what sort of responsibility I would have or how much I would learn.” Marty recalled his first impression having learned about the school’s project.
“At the first meeting, they sit very blindly.” Mr. Ben, a graduate of the University of Cambridge and one of King’s Bangkok’s executives who is in charge of coordinating with the student committee, told the story jokingly. “The staff tried to explain to the children how the event would benefit them, but it wasn’t until I described how the event would benefit others. From that moment, I could see the sparkles in their eyes.”
“We tried to plan well, with support from Prof.Sakorn and the marketing team, so I felt confident,” Marty recalls the feeling when he and his friends saw the benefits of organizing the event. “But Japper was super excited.”
“Of course!” Japper jumps in with vigour at this point. “I was going to be an MC on stage. Who wouldn’t be excited? It is a great opportunity for me and all the students who have joined the team to become role models for the younger generation as well. The event is very powerful.”
Participating in the event means setting fundraising goals, creating strategies for selling tickets, promoting the event, and running queues on the event day itself.
For adults like us, it may sound very normal. Now, let’s take a time machine and go back to the first time we had to manage a big event involving a large number of people, such as; sporting events, or a prom. Then imagine how big this experience would be for high school kids?
“It was hard in the beginning to find the team.” Marty began. “We started by designing logos and art works together with the school’s marketing team. Though, finding time to work together is not so easy because we only have free time during lunch and after school. Thus, we often meet during breaks and have lunch together.”
“I like lunch meetings. When we sat in a circle, eating delicious food, and talking about work. For me, it’s much better than online meetings because there’s good food.” Japper cheerfully continued after his friend.
“Selling tickets was challenging. We posted online content. Even the invited speakers helped us promote. Additionally, our parents also helped us with this. Although we set the funding goal for supporting scholarships for 7 students because the number was pretty, we are all very happy that we exceeded our goal.”
Of course, the difficulty did not end at the planning stage. When it came to the day itself, both the people in public-facing positions like Japper, and behind the scenes, Marty, had to solve many problems head-on.
“Today my main task is taking care of the speakers,” Marty explains. “But while taking care of honoured speakers who will be sharing their valuable stories with us, I also have to take care of my team at the same time. I have to make sure each person performs his or her own duty and carry the event off successfully.”
Although this task is not an easy one; a taxing undertaking from start to finish; they both said that it was a great taste of life.
This event covers a broad range of subjects, with speakers coming to give a sense of their lives. They discussed ideas directly valuable to student audiences, from the issue of finding the meaning of life through the Ikigai principle and understanding life through cultural diversity to providing first-hand experience from successful role models and including how they prepared for university to how to find yourself and how to find the right career for you. More than the content, students like them get to practise exerting force to open the first door to adult life with the process behind the event itself.
“This event gives us a taste of adult life,” Japper commented. “As one of our speakers said on stage, the barrier between his ideal and real life came crashing down when he was attending university abroad for the first time. That was the first time he felt the need to face reality. It was very emotional. Luckily, his honesty also helps us to be less afraid of real life as well.”
“When looking superficially, we may see that a duck floats comfortably in the water, although under the water, that duck has to kick its feet vigorously to stay afloat.” Marty talked about what one of the speakers said “To me, it was as if every speaker presenting today was that duck, because underneath the surface of everyone’s success, there always is a story of determination, hard work, and unyielding focus.”
“Another interesting thing is that we got to work closely with our marketing team as well,” adds Japper. “At first, I wondered how adults could work so much, though I understand now.”
“Where else can we find opportunities to do real work like this if it’s not given to me by the school?” Marty nods in agreement. “I think many of our team members have grown through this process. Initially, they were already good, but they improved even more.”
“Even though you keep complaining that you ran the whole event until your legs almost broke?” Japper teases causing the whole group to laugh heartily.
While Marty and Japper only spoke to us for a short time it was clear to see that their experience had altered their outlook on life and that they had both grown as people and moved towards being functioning adult members of society.
Growth comes through a process of learning by doing, surrounded by supportive educators who watched as their students blossomed.
Additionally, Prof.Sakorn finishes with a reflection on the big picture of how this event for small groups of people can play a role in the education system and for the overall benefit of this country.
“If we step back and look at the big picture, our group of children are the lucky ones. They have the potential to achieve so much, thus, we have to sow the seeds of creating value for society, so that they have the opportunity to think about this as they grow older. The speakers who come to present at this forum are living proof that when we give something to others, we will receive that back in return.”
Because education is not just about enhancing intellectual power, providing students with a sense of fulfilment allowing them to realize their role in society is equally important.
“We are trying to create a new generation with leaders of change using a new learning process to create people who see the right goal and hold on to the right values. That is what Thai education should offer to the learners, not just academic excellence.”
“Education Philosophy in England, the model of which King’s Bangkok follows, tells us that in addition to academic excellence, there are two other ingredients that are essential to shaping young people into well-rounded individuals: diligence and a blended curriculum, including music, art, sports, and more. While complementary activities help build social and personal preferences, comprehensive attention will support children to grow up to be happy adults, and learn to overcome obstacles.” The executive lecturer concluded.
But the energetic Japper couldn’t help but add,
“I think many children don’t even know how important social values are. Though, after listening to the experiences of all speakers on stage, I understand that success is not just the matter of being respected, it is also about giving something back to others.”
This conclusion from Japper showed us that learning methods that do not focus on memorisation, but instead on hands-on work help to make someone’s heart to really grow in a fantastic direction
Moreover, giving children the opportunity to speak, act, and make changes, as teachers and staff at King’s Bangkok have done and shared their results with us through this interview. This would be a good example for adults and even teachers around the country to be open, to listen more, and to give opportunities for their own learners to take action, stand up, and learn from their mistakes.
It matters not what the results will be, the hands-on learning that takes place throughout the process is also an important foundation for preparing students moving towards their dream university and life with goals and early success that is not just about “receiving” but also “giving.”