Do Construction Projects Create Knowledge?

April 25, 2004

Came across this news story in The Nation (below) and for a fleeting moment thought that Thailand was finally getting serious about the problem of education. No such thing. The "big push" is nothing more than a construction project, as if that alone would somehow magically give the Thai people the critical thinking skills necessary to survive under globalization. What will likely happen is the erection of architecturally impressive buildings and offices with cool-sounding names, but which will have minimal impact on society at large. This approach, reminiscent of Malaysia under Mahathir, will probably benefit construction companies and create new salaried positions for the well connected. I hope I'm wrong, but I've seen it happen in Malaysia. I think all that money would be put to better use focusing on people rather than buildings. Of course, the project's proponents will argue that it is the people who will benefit, but without genuine education reform, this is a pretty roundabout way of creating a knowledge-based society.

The big push towards a knowledge-based society

Published on Apr 25, 2004

The ambitious task of turning Thailand into a knowledge-rich society will not be a piece of cake for any administration, but Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra seems ready to give it a try.

The plan to achieve the task was recently outlined by the Office of Knowledge Management and Development (OKMD), which is administered by the PM's Office, following Cabinet approval in January this year, according to the plan released by the OKMD.

The strategy is to increase Thailand's international competitiveness by making citizens more innovative and creative.

The OKMD will carry out a five-pronged plan to increase the country's knowledge base in the next five years with a combined budget of Bt10 billion.

The plans outline the setting-up of a new national museum, a national design centre, a general library or national learning centre, a gifted-child and talent-development centre, and a centre for the life sciences, the OKMD said.

The new museum complex, with a projected cost of Bt3.7 billion, will likely be built on the current site of the Ministry of Defence opposite Sanam Luang when the ministry's offices are moved

"We intend to create a truly 21st-century museum complex, not just another place for collections of artefacts. Instead we will use a story-telling and thematic approach to education," senior project official Suphawadee Harnmethee said.

The project consists of four museums, aimed at inspiring people to be more innovative and creative. Each museum will have its own theme.

At the centre will be a museum of the official version of the history and anthropology of the Thai people and the government's approved version of the origin of the Thai Kingdom.

"The other three museums will reflect other themes. One will focus on Asian civilisation, re-creating the developmental stages of peoples and cultures in Asia. Another will illuminate the values and achievements of the Thai people," she claimed.

"There will also be a science and technology museum presenting technological breakthroughs and indigenous wisdom and knowledge," she said, adding that these facilities would stimulate curiosity and motivate creativity.

Apart from the National Discovery Museum complex, a Bt4-billion budget is earmarked for a state-of-the-art learning centre. According to a proposal prepared by Sirikorn Maneerin, the former deputy education minister, this project will combine all informal education programmes in the country to inculcate a life-long learning habit.

Located at Uthane-thawai Vocational School near Chulalongkorn University, the learning centre will be equipped with a mediatheque, an IT centre, an art gallery, a performing-arts theatre, an amphitheatre, a gym, and a training lab.

Meanwhile PM's policy adviser Pansak Vinyaratn has been put in charge of the Thailand Design Centre project.

The centre, which is to be situated at Amarin Plaza in central Bangkok, will open up new opportunities for the public to access up-to-date knowledge as a source of inspiration towards the value-added field of design.

The centre will work with the commercial and industrial sectors, small and medium-sized enterprises, skilled craftsmen and the one tambon, one product scheme, he said.

The centre will promote Thai design and develop awareness of the importance of design to make Thai products and services more competitive and profitable, Pansak said.

A reference database for designers and a materials library as well as design cafes and exhibition facilities are planned.

According to former science and technology minister Suwit Khunkiti, the life-sciences centre will tap business opportunities in healthcare, medicine and biotechnology.

Theeranuch Pusaksrikit

Pathomkanok Padkuntod


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