Suksapattana Foundation - Formerly The Foundation for Research Education and Enterprise (F.R.E.E.)
One of the most significant donations made by EPWF was a start-up grant of Baht 5.3 million made in 1996 to F.R.E.E. (Foundation for Research Education and Enterprise), to which His Majesty the King later graciously bestowed the name Suksapattana Foundation.
Suksapattana entered a collaboration agreement with MIT under which Professor Seymour Papert and his team from the MIT Media Lab introduced constructionism to education to Thailand.
Why F.R.E.E.? Avoiding the 'middle income trap'
Help from the best: The M.I.T. connection
In spite of - or perhaps because of - high rates of economic growth during the previous decade, by the mid-1990s some thoughtful observers had begun to warn that Thailand could fall victim of what has since been named the 'middle income trap'. Growth based mainly on low value added agriculture and low wage manufacturing would eventually be unable to compete with even lower wage countries or with high value added, innovative manufacturing from advanced countries. The trap is even more dangerous in this digital and biochemical age where innovations and changes occur at a speed which cannot be handled by traditional teaching and training methods, especially those current in Thailand 20 years ago - and still in effect today.
As the experience of countries such as the Republic of Korea shows, avoiding the trap requires massive investments in infrastructure and especially in education. It is to education that we must look to support the scientific and technological breakthroughs that will lead to new innovative products that will be able to find new markets, both domestically and internationally. Reforming Thai education, then, was the enormous task the Foundation for Research Education and Enterprise (F.R.E.E.) set for itself.
In 1996 EPWF made a donation of 5.3 million baht to help establish F.R.E.E., or the Foundation for Research Education and Enterprise, upon which His Majesty the King subsequently graciously bestowed the name Suksapattana Foundation.
F.R.E.E was initiated through Mr. Sivavong Changkasiri in his capacity as president of the M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Club of Thailand. The founding board was chaired by H.E. Dr. Chaovana na Silavanta and was composed mainly of alumni from M.I.T. with a view of asking that university for assistance in promoting the objectives of the new foundation.
With financial support from leading private sector companies, the Suksapattana Foundation then formed a collaborative agreement with M.I.T. under which Professor Seymour Papert and his Media Lab team introduced constructionist learning philosophy and techniques to Thailand through Project Lighthouse, or the 'Learning Project'
Project Lighthouse lit the way ...
Project Lighthouse started by focusing on four initial venues: two non-formal education projects in the North, a group of villages in Buriram province in the Northeast, and Vajiravudh College in Bangkok. These different venues were chosen on the basis that they were less regimental and provided greater possibilities for experimenting with Professor Papert's constructionist learning techniques.
To the surprise of nearly everyone - perhaps apart from the MIT team - these learners, mostly poorly-educated by Thai standards, not only learned quickly how to use computers, but then used them effectively to solve problems and to carry out projects of great importance to the learners. It was a revelation to those critics who were willing to modify their views. The key point was not the computers which were just the learning medium, but that Thais have learning ability to differentiate from the prevalent rote teaching in the Thai education system.
The Thailand counterparts for the M.I.T. team were led by Mr. Paron Israsena na Ayudhya, Founding Director and later Chairman of Suksapattana Foundation, and Mr. Bangkok Chowkwanyun, Director and General Manager of EPWF and past Founding Board Member of Suksapattana Foundation, both MIT alumni.
Subsequently, many other operating projects were initiated by the Suksapattana Foundation in primary and secondary education, university, industry and village development. A Great credit for this achievement must be given to Mr. Paron Israsena na Ayudhya who used his enormous energy and powers of persuasion, along with his extensive corporate and government networks, to test the limits of what can be done to promote constructionist learning in Thailand by defining programs and raising supporting funds.
Constructionism in action in Thailand: Constructionist Chemical Engineering Practice School (C-ChEPS)
In 12 years of operation from 2000 to 2012, the engineering solutions developed in the C-ChEPS program have produced cost savings for the sponsoring companies estimated in the hundreds of millions of baht.
The Eastern Seaboard of Thailand has a high concentration of petrochemical industries driven by the availability of natural gas from the Gulf of Thailand. In general, operators in the operating plant do not have extensive knowledge of petro chemistry because the crafts education system is geared to mechanical and electrical skills rather than the then burgeoning needs of the petrochemical industry.
Earlier in 1997, Suksapattana Foundation was instrumental in transplanting the Chemical Engineering Practice School, or ChEPS (with one C), a successful master's degree program at MIT, to King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT).
This program had a constructionist flavor targeted at the needs of the petrochemical engineers and included a one term stint at a co-operating company where the students worked with the company's engineers on a real plant solution for implementation by the company.
To supplement this program, Suksapattana Foundation, in collaboration with a group of petrochemical companies, established a constructionist training program aimed at the less technically qualified supervisory level staff and plant operators. This program became C-ChEPS (with two Cs) or Constructionism - ChEPS to recognize the fully constructionist nature of the program
In C-ChEPS a group of about 10 operators from various companies join the full time program for a one year period. The venue is an industrial site - purposely located away from a traditional university. A professor from KMUTT visits the site once a week. Two Master Degree graduates from KMUTT's ChEPS program assist the learning process on a full time basis over the one year course.
Mr. Bangkok Chowkwanyun, EPWF Director and General Manager and a founding director of Suksapattana Foundation, played the leading role in conceptualizing and setting up C-ChEPS.
Each learner selects a problem from his own plant. After some basic grounding in petro chemistry, the learners proceed to design a solution for their selected problem, learning more specialized petro chemistry in a 'need-to-know' or 'just-in-time' manner to solve their particular problem.
When they return to the plant they continue to be learners as well as becoming facilitators for others in the plant. These trained operators extend the technical knowledge from the companies' engineering office to the production line. Instead of only 'taking orders' in the traditional top-down organization, they become pro-active participants along the lines of MIT Professor Peter Senge's Learning Organization, where the people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.'