Teaching 

Changing perceptions. The crucial first semester at Thai Universities

With the current summer semester almost over it’s time for another educational related post. But don’t you worry (don’t you worry child, see heaven’s got a plan for you) – I will not dissect Thai education once more but rather try to write about some of my experiences and then maybe come up with a conclusion or learn from your experiences and see if there are similarities or learnings to be taken away.

Do you remember how you felt when you graduated from high-school and were about to enter university (or the hard world of ‘real’ labor)? Afraid? Excited? A mix of both. Probably, right? Of course. I would say almost everybody feels like that at this point of time. Add a bit of pride and uncertainty to the mix and you got the feelings of a high-school grad pretty much covered.

Having taught in college / high-school level before I have seen this mix of feelings up close and one of the best things about it was seeing students maturing and becoming more serious in their approach of their future. They all vouched on taking studying more serious, preparing for entrance exams harder and turn down on procrastinating. Of course that’s always easier said than done but at least the resolutions, ‘new-part-of-life-resolutions, have been in place.

And then…Uni happens.

Now being on the other side of the fence I see those motivated, excited, confused, anxious and energetic students entering higher education. Ready to rock. Ready to roll. Ready to change the(ir) world. Until they realize how Uni actually works.

This, on average, doesn’t take longer than half a semester for them to find out. Humans are a very adaptable species – students even more so. Within no time they figure out what is ‘important’ to do at Uni and how to stay under the radar and make things ‘easy’.

When easy is enough.

For most students easy is enough. And who could blame them? If I told you, you don’t need to work hard or reach any kind of expectations but would still get your salary, wouldn’t you do it? See. Exactly.

So when the first semester hits students and they are all ready to roll and work their butts off it takes a few weeks until they realize that this isn’t actually necessary in order to have a good life at Uni. What you need to do is to participate in SOTUS (if you are not from Thailand: That’s the student organization that does freshmen activities and mistreats freshmen for fun) activities, don’t over perform or be too outspoken and just come in time to get your name checked.

This is sad!

I am all for having students building relationships and so on. No problem with that (even though I don’t necessarily approve how the ‘freshmen introduction‘ here in Thailand is being celebrated). But transforming students from motivated, young minds, to people who simply want to be left alone and try not to stand out too much is kind of worrisome. Doing this within one semester even more and that it’s being done by ourselves, institutions in higher eduction, is the topping on this sour cherry.

What to do?

I’m certainly nobody who knows answers to all the questions raised by this issue and it’s also not my place to tell the education ministry or distinguished lesson and semester planners at Universities what to do, but sharing some ideas is hopefully allowed.

Motivate

As easy as that. I think I wrote it before but I gladly say it again. Our aim, especially with first year students, should be to motivate them. Show them their possibilities, make them understand that nothing is impossible, nothing is set in stone, everything can change, they can change everything. We shouldn’t tell them what is not possible and how to run through Uni life with minimal efforts – they will figure that out by themselves eventually – we should show them what could wait for them, what they can achieve and do, if they want to.

I’m also not a big fan of forcing students towards something hence the emphasis on ‘showing’ and not making them do whatever we consider ‘right’. Forcing students towards something will never be successful and only lead to short-term success but eventually fail. Therefore let me say it again: Motivate, don’t force. 

When students see, with their own eyes, what they could be able to do, they will find motivation by themselves to be on time, to do their assignments, to perform well and to spend their free time studying. I never really understood why so many teachers struggle with that concept. Now seeing how freshmen lose their interest before the ‘real’ Uni life even started however helped me to grasp the problem at least somehow.

Therefore I say get rid of the monotonous freshmen classes that teach only make freshies study stuff by heart (death to study by heart exams anyways!) and rather spend time sparking a fire, igniting curiosity and fueling the urge for change.

Don’t let those motivated, energetic and open minded high-school students become zombie-like bodies who just try to sit through their time at Uni before they hit another SOTUS activity and practice another choreography.

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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