Khun Sun Rupsung, who has been a village teacher in Thailand's poor Northeast since he was a teenager, is demonstrating how to diversify the region's local economies while integrating and making effective use of the growing number of elementary school leavers.
The New Idea
Sun does not want to see rural Thailand disintegrate. In the face of all the new information, market, and expectation pressures that have come to bear in barely a generation, however, he feels that village communities must adapt very quickly to be able to survive. Using his own community and its neighbors as a testing ground, Sun is working out and demonstrating several ideas that, especially together, should help.First he's trying to diversify and increase the productivity of the local economy, which rests too narrowly on a few crops, notably rice. He is specifically focusing first on encouraging animal husbandry. Towards this end he has been organizing small holder's clubs to share learning and services. Now he is taking the next step by creating the first de-facto corporation of one village's small cattle-holders. This simple legal innovation gives these small farmers joint access to credit and market advantages previously beyond reach, without becoming enmeshed in the government problems often associated with co-operatives.Second, he is setting to work to provide continuing education and a role for the flood of elementary school graduates hanging around with little to engage them in the face of all the temptations of Bangkok. His three year program is open to all thirteen year olds. It includes a half day class every Sunday but focusses on integrating these young people with the local social and economy -- very much in contrast to the formal school curriculum dictated in Bangkok. They may collect family income data or help analyze market opportunities for their village. They work with family businesses. The program tries especially to have them help introduce newer elements in the economy. Through the week these youngsters help one another in learning groups.Sun hopes to spread his model from village to village using a network of teachers, another underemployed resource in most communities. The government which is just now trying to find ways of fitting education to local needs, could also become a channel that actively spreads his ideas.
Although one glimpse of Bangkok makes an urbanized Thailand seem inevitable, it is a good deal less clear what the consequences will be for the country's rural communities. They could grow richer and more attractive -- or they could, gutted of their talent and spirit, decline.
To remain attractive, their economies must become richer, even as the opening to the national market undercuts many local artesenal and service activities. To develop a richer economy requires intelligence, energy and leadership -- which can come only from precisely the country's successful and demonstrable components. Ironically, the country's successful extension of it's educational system into the village is just now further enhancing the risks of this flight of talent. 70% of Thai children in rural areas stop school by sixth grade. There are some 5 million 12-15 year olds now who have left school and who are unable to find a productive role in society.
Sun is actively developing and testing practical ways of helping local communities respond successfully to this sharp challenge. He hopes the communities around his home will not only be where these ideas are proven but that they will emerge as the long term successes that will be quiet but strong statements of what intelligent local leadership can do. As mentioned earlier, Sun hopes to spread his model from village to village using a network of teachers. He also hopes to make the government a channel actively spreading his ideas.
Born in 1947, Sun is a teacher in Ban Nonsaban (secondary) school in Angnoi, Konkean. He has been teaching there since 1967, and in 1989 received a national award as an outstanding teacher.
He has become increasingly involved in his communities' broader social and economic needs -- and those of the young people with whom he works as a teacher. To help him do this job well he has also recently completed night school.