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General Prem addresses the UN

Teacher Education: Innovative Alternatives for the Twenty–first Century

Opening Address
H.E. General Prem Tinsulanonda
Privy Councillor and Statesman at the International Conference on

Bangkok, July 11, 1995

Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be invited by the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, to preside over the opening ceremony of this international conference. To all the distinguished participants from overseas, I extend a very warm welcome to our country.
Distinguished Participants,

I am a firm believer in the value of education as a crucial factor for the development of individual and for national development. I am thus delighted and find it timely that we have here gathered today from all corners of the world, to share and exchange views on the important topic of teacher education in the context of the twenty-first century, to see what we can do together to prepare ourselves better for the improvement of teacher education.

The teaching profession plays the pivotal role in the molding of our children. Second only to our parents, our teachers have always been the ones we turn to for advice and encouragement, both in our pursuit of learning and personal problems. Some 15 - 20 years of our formative years are spent with people in the teaching profession at the various levels of education. Not only is the teaching profession important to the development of a child's intellect and individual personality, it is also, at the macro level, the indispensable link in our effort to improve our societies and national economies.

Distinguished Participants,

How best can we prepare our teaching force to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century with all its economic and social implications?

To me, the UNESCO "World Conference on Education for All", which Thailand was proud to host at Jomtien in 1990, may serve as a most appropriate point of reference. The Conference declared the last decade of the twentieth century to be the Decade for Basic Education for All with a view to inviting Member States to take actions to ensure the right to basic education for their peoples. The right to basic education, as defined by the World Conference, covers the most impressionable stage of life span, from early childhood to primary education, and, in certain countries, up to the lower secondary level.

It is fair to say that the collective decision taken then, at the World Conference, by Member States has greatly contributed to the acceleration of the coverage of basic education at the global level.

In Thailand itself, I am happy to note that, as we are approaching the Mid-Decade for Basic Education for All this year, we have been able to achieve a highly gratifying result.

Nevertheless, our task is far from over. The issue of basic education would still remain with us, although the emphasis of educational concerns would be placed more on the improvement of education quality. In this respect, teacher education in the twenty-first century must therefore be geared towards producing teachers of a caliber that would enable them to deliver education of high quality to the young generation.

In addition to the improvement of the quality of education, attention should also be given to the production of teachers who would be sufficiently equipped with special skills and knowledge to teach disadvantaged groups of people, such as, children of ethnic minority groups or handicapped children, addressing their specific problems. I single out for special mention the training of special education teachers since there is still an acute shortage of special education teachers in Thailand, a dilemma which, I believe, is shared in many other places around the world.

Distinguished Participants,

Basic education aside, there are indeed other aspects of teacher education which are also fundamental for the improvement of the quality of life, Of perennial relevance, teacher education must seek to foster competent employment skills and technical know-how which suit the ever-changing demands of the labor market. We must make sure that those who have received schooling, be it at the primary, secondary or tertiary levels, and obtain employment necessary for their livelihood.

More importantly, a strong component in our educational policy must be a teacher education, which fosters positive human qualities. For the attainment of the desired quality of life, teacher education should aim at bringing out in every one of us the very best side of humanity to ensure that such qualities as integrity, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others are always with us, determining each and every one of our action. Only with this objective in mind can we hope to achieve progress in better society with better environment and international understanding.

In Thailand, we are indeed proud in this regard to find that His Majesty the King exemplifies the ideal quality where education and humanity meet.

I can well echo the view expressed by the President of Chulalongkorn University that this conference shows the unprecedented outpouring of public pride and personal affection that greets the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej's accession to the throne.

The intensity of respect felt by all Thai people for His Majesty stems in large part from his strong determination to use his education and social position to improve public welfare, his way of fashioning a concept of kingship that meets the needs of a rapidly changing society, at once traditional and creatively modern, and also his never simply issuing a directive but letting the impetus come from the local population. All his dedication and manner, I feel, have truly defined one facet of his greatness as a ruler, being a model for all modern teacher educators, in this last decade of the Twentieth century.

Distinguished Participants.

As rapid social, economic, and political changes continue to escalate throughout the world, goals, concepts and practices of education should be redefined and reorganized accordingly. In response to these changing characteristics of education, teachers as the most important change agents in education should be trained adequately to cope with their changing roles in society.

The challenging duty, therefore, is to improve teacher education that would lead to an educational reform while maintaining the balance combination of knowledge, attitude and teacher ethics. Teacher educators in an era of rapid change, I truly believe, should, therefore, follow His Majesty's pathway in meeting the needs arising from those far-reaching changes with a strong determination to apply the universal methodology and to set their own pattern that suits local situations.

Distinguished Participants.

I am confident that this conference will help forge new directions and strategies for teacher education to respond dynamically to the emergence of new educational challenges and cooperation among teacher educators, administrators as well as policy makers of the public and private sectors and the academic community in the region, resulting in greater benefits for all concerned.

In wishing you every success in your deliberations, I now have much pleasure in declaring the Conference open.

Prem Tinsulanonda Center for International Education, Chiang Mai, Kingdom of Thailand