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Digital Learning in Thailand: A Case Study

Thailand has 8.7 million adolescents, who account for 13.3% of the total population. Research suggests that technologies such as computers, the Internet, and mobile phones have become an integral part of the lives of Thai youth. They are found to be using these digital technologies, especially Internet communication, significantly more than previous generations. A National Statistical Office survey (2011) found that one-fourth of adolescents use the Internet daily. According to the Institute of Management Development, Thailand ranks 38th when it comes to digital competitiveness across the globe. However, there is still much to be done in terms of uptake of technology in the country.

In an attempt to improve digitization across the country, the Thai government included the use of ‘digital tools’ as one of the components in a blueprint aimed at reforming the education system. Digital tools include the development of digital platforms for educational institutions and the compilation of big data.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Thai government focused on distance teaching and learning courses through televised broadcasts. However, the global health crisis exposed many problems related to the digital gap in the country — specifically access to technology (especially in rural areas) and the low technological skills of teachers to take on the burden of digital learning. Moreover, a 2020 survey by the National Statistical Office on the readiness of Thai students for online education revealed that 60.18% of the total 43,448 respondents were not ready for online education.

The pandemic may have exposed systemic gaps in the education system, but it has offered an opportunity for students to take ownership of their education. The last few years have also revealed the growing importance of the Internet in adolescents’ education.

Quilt.AI partnered with Quicksand — a design research and innovation consultancy based in India, working across emerging markets — to understand the online world of youths (13- 19-year-olds) — across Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam — and outline the best ways to reach them online.

This study commissioned by the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office followed a mixed methods research approach in the five countries. Quilt.AI was responsible for conducting a qualitative analysis of adolescents’ content ecosystems online. This means, exploring the nature of social media accounts, the hashtags followed, and the variety of content posted. Alongside studying social media discourse, we also sought to understand what adolescents search for related to online learning. The findings from the digital ethnography piece was then supplemented by a 1000 person survey, in-depth interviews, and co-design workshops in each country.

For this blogpost, we will be delving into the learnings and insights from the digital ethnography research in Thailand. Findings incorporating other data points can be found in the main report here. To understand the online ecosystem of Thai adolescents, we studied the popular social media platforms Facebook, Pantip, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, LINE, and Instagram. For all media, except Facebook, adolescents were identified through hashtag and keyword combinations (i.e. #teenageproblems on Pantip or class year in Instagram bios) and location-tagging of local schools. On Facebook, since most individual pages’ likes are private, we used data from the Facebook Audience Insights feature to identify the top liked pages for adolescents.

Some key learnings include:

Online learning takes a supportive community, which the Internet provides

Thai students are using online platforms to supplement their formal classroom learning. The Internet provides a supportive community that caters to their needs and engages with them through the following:

Students seek to incorporate creativity into their learning

Our analysis suggests that students want to make learning engaging and fun for themselves. They use several creative methods to do so:

Students use the Internet for non-academic activities which can be integrated into their learning

Our analysis revealed, Thai students not only use social media platforms to aid their formal learning, but also as a way to participate in global challenges and to consume popular content.

Another aspect of the study was to understand how adolescents are supplementing formal education online

The search analysis was complemented by a qualitative study of conversations related to education online. These were studied for sentiments, tonality, visual cues, and top emerging trends across various social media platforms.

These were some of the key findings:

Way forward: harnessing the power of online platforms

The education sector is going through several reforms. In the last two years, especially, as has been explored through the study, online platforms are becoming increasingly important for students in their education journey. While the problems of access and the digital divide are important considerations for designing online educational interventions, the role of the Internet as a critical learning resource cannot be underestimated. Online platforms present tremendous opportunities for students and should be integrated into formal education.

Based on our analysis, the following recommendations will help tap into the power and research of online platforms:

A post-pandemic world has made us reimagine a different future — one that integrates technology in the everyday. The education sector is no exception with schools worldover adopting new pedagogies and styles of learning. Online platforms can provide numerous opportunities for students to think critically and creatively engage with concepts outside the confines of their classrooms. It is important for educators and organizations to collaboratively work on integrating the online and offline and reimagining a new future for education.

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