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Thai Team of Educators Both Learns and Teaches

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The educators from Thailand may have come to Fernangeles Elementary School to learn about American methods on Friday, but that did not keep them from teaching a lesson or two.

One visitor, Hongsunee Uarattanaraksa, had a group of fifth-graders calling out sawatdee, which means hello, and la kon, which means goodbye, after only a few minutes.

Another visitor, Nibondh Sasidhorn, pointed out that the word “standard” was misspelled on the school’s vision statement, which was displayed on a wall in the parents center.

Still, the main reason the 20 Thai educators--many of them administrators--were at the elementary school in the morning and at Cal State Northridge in the afternoon was to find ways of improving their own educational system.

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With CSUN administrators as their hosts, the visiting educators explored ways to decentralize instruction in Thai public schools, create a community college system and encourage more creative lessons from their teachers.

Their weeklong trip will include a visit to Ventura College on Monday. Not ones to be dulled by all work and no play, the visitors also included Disneyland and Las Vegas on their itinerary.

“They should have an enriched experience and knowledge about what is going on in elementary education in the United States,” said Sasidhorn, president of the board of regents for the Rajbhat Institute, a higher learning organization in Thailand. “It’s not all business. It’s good to experience some recreation.”

Recent local involvement in Thai reforms came mainly after a request for help from Thai officials, said Elliot Mininberg, director of the Center for Partnerships for Educational Reform at CSUN’s School of Education.

Mininberg, who visited Thailand earlier this year, said public schools there generally are smaller and more rural and do not have as much equipment or as many materials as their American counterparts and that the facilities are rudimentary by U.S. standards.

“The public schools are not well-off in any sense,” said Mininberg, who also is chairman of the school’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. “These folks are absolutely sincere. They really care.”

Sasidhorn said he and others were aware of shortcomings such as high dropout rates within the American education system, but that they were looking to learn from what is good.

The elementary school visit consisted largely of Principal Elisabeth Douglass explaining how she and her staff address the needs of about 1,150 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

“We do have high standards, even though we have it misspelled,” Douglass said with a smile.

She talked about such subjects as teaching requirements, parental involvement, computers, materials and funding. She explained how youngsters are taught to become “conflict managers” on the playgrounds.

Douglass perhaps drew the most surprised reaction--oohs, aahs and wide eyes--when she said the school operates on an annual budget of about $3.5 million. Although Mininberg could not provide a comparison figure, he estimated that amount was far more than what an average school would have in Thailand.

Throughout the visit, the Thai educators took notes, snapped photographs and asked many questions, mainly through an interpreter. They became most animated during brief visits to classrooms and quickly mingled with the young students, gathering for group pictures and asking about the children’s work.

Leisha Phan, 8, a fourth-grader, was drawing a colorful graph.

“Show me. Show me,” an excited Uarattanaraksa said to the little girl.

Later, the visitor explained her enthusiasm.

“I’m really happy because I love children,” she said.


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