Have you ever experienced the joys of growing up in a close-knit, small community? Back in the day, you would run and play with your friends during the day, and kind elders would treat you to snacks or cook meals for you after playtime. It was like being part of a big family where everyone was connected and treated with love. These heartwarming traditions still thrive in the small communities of Um Mao and Soak Maew in Nakhon Phanom province, where families come together to support and nurture their children.
COVID-19 has subsided, but new and larger problems have emerged.
It has been almost a year since schools across the country resumed in-person teaching after being closed for up to two years due to the need to contain the spread of COVID-19. During that time, children had to learn online using smartphones, with little close supervision. Many children remained addicted to their screens after finishing their schoolwork, playing games or using social media apps. Despite the fact that schools have now reopened and students have returned to the classrooms, their thoughts are still often on their phones, making them less prepared to learn.
"After COVID got better and schools reopened, I noticed a significant change in students' enthusiasm for learning," said Teacher Aomam, who teaches at Baan Sok Maew School. "Before COVID, they were eager and actively engaged in activities. However, after the pandemic, their attention was solely on their phones. Despite the school's ban on bringing phones, they could not wait to get home to use them," This problem has affected many children, and some parents have even reached out to teachers, pleading for help in finding a way to reduce their children's excessive phone usage.
Bringing children back to school with the support of the community.
When faced with these daunting challenges, the dynamic trio of Teacher Aomam Vilasinee Tawangtan and Teacher Nice Chanyaporn Toomon from Baan Sok Maew School, along with Teacher Pimpam Pimchanok Unchai from Um Mao Wittayakhan School, banded together like the Powerpuff Girls, their minds buzzing with ideas to guide the children away from screens and back into the classrooms. Together, they devised a one-day learning recovery activity, discovering that the key to its success lay not in complexity but rather knowledge of their community.
"The three of us thought about creating a meaningful activity that would rekindle the children's enthusiasm for learning. We worked together to design an experience that not only nourishes classroom teaching but also motivates students to explore the wonders around them. We incorporated the unique elements of our community into the learning process, making it practical for the children to apply," shared Teacher Aomam.
"Our community has many talents, but there hasn't been a platform for them to shine. So, we invited several of them to be special guest speakers for the activity. Everyone cooperated wholeheartedly," added Teacher Pimpam.
Four activities to restore learning in one day.
The learning recovery initiatives organised by the teachers have four vibrant components: Fun Music, Enjoyable Language, Engaging Sports, and Cultural Craft.
Fun Music involves inviting young local musicians as volunteer instructors to teach the children how to play traditional musical instruments. This activity also includes rhythmic games in which the kids can participate while sitting on musical chairs, surrounded by the sounds of traditional instruments, mixed with the laughter of the children.
Enjoyable Language: Learning Together blends the Thai language, Thai Kha, and Pu Tai, the indigenous language of the community, with the art of drawing ghost masks and white jasmine flowers, symbols of the community. Volunteer instructors gradually teach the children how to draw using alternating Thai and indigenous languages.
Engaging Sports lets the children sweat and move their bodies while using equipment like plastic canvas games and volleyballs. Children also learn how to play sports and work as a team, fostering teamwork and friendship.
Cultural Craft is an activity where children learn the art of dyeing fabric using tie-dye and bark dyeing methods, which are famous and highly regarded in their community. After completing the fabric dyeing, each child takes home their handcrafted cloth.
After a day of witnessing all the activities, we discovered that these are not just fun and enjoyable activities for children, but well-designed activities that align with Competency-based Education* in two aspects: teamwork and sustainable engagement with nature and science in the community.
When asked about the most challenging aspect of this learning recovery activity, Teacher Aomam said the primary obstacle sits with the children themselves, closely followed by the cooperation of their parents. "Our most important task is to communicate with the children, encouraging them to embrace this opportunity and put down their phones. We must open their hearts to new experiences while also engaging with the parents, as children spend more time with them than with us. It is essential that parents set limits on phone usage at home and determine appropriate screen time," she explained.
*The Competency-based Education is a curriculum that focuses on enhancing learners' abilities to apply a wide range of knowledge in real-life situations. It is designed to develop strategies and seek long-term, adaptable solutions to problems.
A full-time teacher and a part-time volunteer leader.
We are all aware that being a teacher is a busy job, including teaching, paperwork, and other school-related responsibilities. However, the three volunteer leaders dedicated their free time to develop this learning recovery project in the community and submit it to UNICEF's "I Am UNICEF" volunteer leaders program. What makes them willingly take on additional responsibilities?
"Being a teacher and a volunteer leader share striking similarities. In our classrooms, we engage with children every day, guiding their learning journey. As volunteer leaders, we introduce new things they have never learned before. While others may find this work challenging, it is what sparks inspiration in these young minds. The key lies in harnessing the existing strengths of our community to elevate and enrich their learning experience. Thank you, UNICEF team, for supporting such beneficial activities for all children," beamed Teacher Aomam.
In reality, Teacher Aomam, Teacher Nice, and Teacher Pimpam are just ordinary teachers in the community. However, when the three of them come together, they can push for positive changes in the school. Their example inspires us all to pause, reflect on our surroundings, and ask ourselves what more we can do for our home, our school, our community, our province, and our country. Every great transformation begins with the determination of a single person. We hope they will inspire others to create change in communities across Thailand.
About the Volunteer Leaders Program
The Volunteer Leaders Program is dedicated to nurturing the potential of passionate volunteers committed to driving positive change for all. UNICEF plays a pivotal role in equipping these volunteers to develop projects that address critical issues and uplift their communities. We firmly believe in the transformative power of volunteers, as they play a vital role in creating positive changes and enhancing the lives of children and youth across Thailand. The Volunteer Leaders Program accepts applications once a year from November to December. Stay updated on the application process by following us on Facebook: UNICEF Thailand