Porntalerng Wisungre is a 56 year old school principal who manages a very small school for poor children in Mahasarakam province, the remote area of Northeastern Thailand.
“When I moved to Ban Na Fai Lao Hung School in 2012, there were only 32 students. The school was so dilapidated, buildings were in disrepair and too old. I once stepped on a stair and it broke.” Wisungre said.
“I almost gave up and thought of moving back to a bigger school like I was in before. The visit to the community, however, changed my mind. I sadly found out that all of my students’ families were very poor. They lived with their elders while their parents who were daily-wage workers went to work in big cities. From what I saw at that moment, I changed my mind and promised to myself that I would help them develop their quality of life even though I didn’t know how back then.”
In 2015, Winsungre was invited to join a school meeting held by Thai Ban Association, ActionAid Thailand’s partner in the Northeastern Thailand that has been working on education project since 2011. The project focuses on promoting and developing small schools across the country. It started after the announcement of the policy to close down and merge small schools in Thailand due to its low quality of education. However, if this policy is implemented, more than 200,000 poor children will be affected, especially in remote area. ActionAid Thailand has been standing for children and small schools to urge for the rights to access to quality of education since then.
“I was stunned that I was surrounded by the highly experienced school principals, facilitators and delighted to have learned all the knowledge there. I was very happy though to meet and know a lot of people who have the same idea of school development as mine. This is what I want from school networking.”
ActionAid Thailand has established small schools networks in four regions across the country. Each network has a committee to develop plans, participatory implementation, to strengthen their own network and coordinate with others to develop school members in their own context. In the Northeastern Thailand, ActionAid Thailand has promoted community involvement model in many levels such as developing the curriculum that integrates community context, promoting and enabling community members to be teacher volunteers or to monitor students’ development individually by parents. These models are the alternative and innovative way that differs from the government’s practice.
“It took sometimes to prove our new idea of education but it pays the price. Ban Na Fai Lao Hung School now is totally different from what it was before. With the support from the community, we have renovated all buildings to be safe for the students and to make sure that it helps stimulate their learning. We have our own curriculum with an integration of the community context in order to improve the quality of education for the students and also to provide them life skills. The school has become a community learning center, not only to the students but to everyone. Most importantly, all of my students are happy studying here. Even though our school is small, we have very big hearts.”