Educating the Educators: The I.U.-Thailand Project

 

Course catalog for the College of Education, Bangkok, Thailand. (Indiana University Archives, C347, Box 2.)

Beginning in 1954 and lasting until 1962, Indiana University partnered with education officials in Thailand to bolster the country’s methods of education for new teachers. Working under a contract through the United States government, I.U. provided technical and financial assistance to Thai universities. The project’s overall goal was to “build an institution capable of providing educational experiences which would provide leadership sorely needed in Thailand’s effort to modernize its educational system” by preparing teachers to work in Thai schools, create instructional materials, and perform consultant and research work on problems in education.

The need for teachers with quality pedagogical training stemmed from the rapid expansion of the Thai education system. When Thailand passed its compulsory education law in 1921, the number of children enrolled stood at 241,508 students. By 1954, the year I.U. began offering assistance, the number had significantly risen to almost 2,900,000. While the large number of students was hailed for providing an education to a large number of Thai children, the rapidity meant “expansion was done at the expense of quality… preparation of teachers to teach in those schools.”

Dr. Robert Shaffer speaking at a conference in Thailand. (Indiana University Archives, Accn. No. 2018/116, Box 1.)

Among the I.U. faculty who went to Thailand was Dr. Robert Shaffer, who was Dean of Students from 1955 to 1969. From October 1961 to January 1962, Shaffer served as a consultant to administrators at Chulalongkorn University, providing assistance in the development of personnel services. Prior to Shaffer’s visit, all students at Chulalongkorn University took the same classes, resulting in a rigid curriculum. Shaffer worked to establish a placement bureau, an alumni association, and a counseling office. In a February 2, 1962 article in the Indiana Daily Student, Shaffer noted “we hope that the system of faculty counseling, especially in regard to entering students, will introduce more flexibility into the present program at Chulalongkorn University.” Shaffer’s efforts to create student counseling offices were hailed by officials in Thailand. In a letter to university president Herman B Wells, an official at the American embassy in Bangkok wrote, “Dr. Shaffer’s program has been one of the most successful that any American Specialist has had in this country.”

Cover of souvenir book from Chulalongkorn University. (Indiana University Archives, Accn. No. 2018/116, Box 1.)

By the time the program ended in 1962, the collaboration between I.U. and Thailand resulted in 2,638 students graduating with a Bachelor’s of Education. Bhuntin Attagar, a Director General in the Ministry of Education, wrote, “it is my belief that the Indiana University Contract has done much more in promoting international understanding and cooperation than has ever been done before in the history of Thai education.”

There are a number of records in the Archives related to IU’s work in Thailand. For more information on IU’s partnership with Prasan Mitr College of Education and the Thai Ministry of Education, see the “IU Thailand Project records, 1953-1975.” Want a closer look? Contact the Archives to schedule an appointment!

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