Dr. Vince Matsko, member of IMSA's Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, spent three weeks this summer in Thailand visiting various schools and conducting workshops.
Why Thailand? Dr. David Workman, retired IMSA physics teacher, has been bringing IMSA's educational philosophy to the science faculty of Thailand's Mahidol Wittayanusorn School for the last four years. "I ran into Dr. Workman in the parking lot one day, and remarked that if there was a need for his mathematical counterpart, I'd be interested. I never imagined that would lead to going to Thailand the next summer."
That chance remark led Matsko to Bangkok, where he was to work with the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST). The IPST reports to the Ministry of Education in Thailand, and is responsible for curriculum development, in-service teacher training, and creating programs for talented students in mathematics and science -- among many other responsibilities.
The IPST was instrumental in founding the Mahidol Wittayanusorn School -- a school very much like IMSA -- and the twelve provincial Princess Chulabhorn schools. These schools are distributed all over Thailand, and are intended to support the most talented mathematics and science students in the country. "I am very impressed at how the Thai government supports gifted education at the national level," said Matsko. "They are keenly aware of the economic impact of educating their most capable students." The IPST also has special programs where promising Thai students are sent abroad to study, then brought back to teach at high school or university in Thailand.
Despite the significant resources set aside for gifted education, teaching methods are still fairly traditional. Most classrooms, even in the Chulabhorn schools, involve direct instruction followed by time to work on exercises from the textbook. Key leaders in educational reform are looking to involve more inquiry-based instruction in the classroom.
The obstacles to reform are what is expected -- large class sizes (upwards of 50 or 60 students in traditional schools), low pay for teachers, the need to prepare students for the national college entrance examination, the lack of teachers trained in inquiry-based techniques, and the inertia of traditional teaching. But the IPST is working aggressively toward change. They routinely bring in outside experts to discuss curricular reform. "We got off to a great start, but there is a lot of work to do," said Matsko. The IPST has already invited Matsko to return next summer to conduct more workshops, as well as accompany IPST staff to ICME 12, an international conference on mathematics education to be held in Seoul, Korea in July 2012.
"This trip was an amazing and stimulating professional experience, and I look forward to returning next summer," said Matsko. "The IPST staff are wonderful to work with. Thai hospitality really can't be described -- you have to experience it."
For more information, visit Matsko's website at www.vincematsko.com and click on the Thailand link.