Notes from the Field

From Thailand: Pondok Students Learn In and Outside the Classroom

April 30, 2008

Nakmeen Waeming is a 14-year-old student who dreams of becoming a diplomat. “In the future I would like to be Thailand’s ambassador to Malaysia and work on border issues between the two countries.”

To achieve her goals, Nakmeen understands that having foreign language proficiency, in particular English, is an essential part of her future. Yet students from Thailand’s southernmost provinces face particular challenges. Along with the near-daily violence plaguing the region, private Islamic schools (pondoks) operate on a more restricted budget than their government-funded counterparts. This has resulted in a shortage of funding for teacher training, school supplies, and extracurricular activities. In addition, few people in the region speak English, so students have limited opportunities for practicing outside of the classroom.

To help students like Nakmeen, The Asia Foundation has been working with pondoks to improve the quality of their secular instruction. Currently, the Foundation has three major projects. The first is to introduce modern pedagogy that replaces lecturing and rote teaching with a student-centered approach. The second aims to build detailed lesson plans based on the government curriculum to ensure high-quality instruction in all project schools. The third focuses on providing students with extra-curricular opportunities that take learning outside the classroom, like social studies camps: “English camp was great. I didn’t just improve my vocabulary and accent, but I learned to speak in a natural way,” says Nakmeen. By helping improve the quality of secular education, Islamic secondary school students will be better prepared to enter Thailand’s competitive job market and gain access to higher education.

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