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The World’s window on Thailand
School, but not as you know it
Mechai Viravaidya’s unconventional boarding school in Buri Ram is drawing interest from across Thailand for its unique approach to student development
Published: 20/03/2017 at 04:30 AM
Newspaper section: Life
‘School is a diamond,” uttered Mechai Viravaidya. “But all we have ever done is use it as a glass.”
A school, in his view, is a vessel that moulds students into a uniform shape instead of building something more out of it.
To general Thai people, Mechai may be known as “Mr Condom” for his work in promoting the use of the contraceptive back in the 70s. Some may call him Kobori, the leading man of the 1970 melodrama Sunset In Chaophraya, which he starred in. He also founded the Population and Community Development Association in 1974 to counter the country’s then alarming population growth. In the 80s, he had his role in combating the prevalence of HIV and Aids. A handful of positions within the Thai government topped the whole journey.
Since 2008, he has been taking one of the most challenging roles in reshaping Thai education by establishing Mechai Bamboo School in Buri Ram province.
He intended the place to be an alternative form of educational institution where students and staff focus not on numeral and literacy skills, but rather on life and occupational skills, which he feels is more dynamic and relevant to our current society.
“There are almost 40,000 schools in Thailand, and millions in the world. People just don’t use school to its full potential, not its land, buildings or staff,” said Mechai, 76.
In the hope of setting an example as to what a school can be, Mechai opts for unconventional means for his boarding school which currently has about 150 secondary school students from 26 provinces across Thailand.
Each day, traditional classes that follow the Thai core educational curriculum run from 8am-2pm. For the rest of the day, students spread out across the school’s 100 rai space to participate in different extracurricular activities that include hydroponic gardening, taking care of goats and chickens, making water jars, constructing solar flashlights, making biodiesel fuel, and more. These activities also serve as the school’s social enterprises. Their self-grown produce makes up school meals, and they also generate income for the school…..
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