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Thailand visitors

Punya Kaewkeeyoon (far right), a senior adviser from the Ministry of Education in Thailand, drops by a Marshall Elementary School kindergarten class Sept. 20 with colleagues. The visitors were in Flagstaff to learn about curriculum, governance and other aspects of the American education system. (Hillary Davis/Arizona Daily Sun)

Flagstaff schools provided lessons of their own for educators from Thailand.

Northern Arizona University and Flagstaff Unified School District hosted a delegation of officials from the Thai Ministry of Education last week, taking them on tours of the university and its College of Education, Marshall Elementary and Flagstaff High.

The five Thai visitors were high-ranking officers in the national education ministry and especially interested in the more state and locally-steered curricular decisions and school governance in the United States.

Despite being 14 hours behind home -- 1 p.m. in Flagstaff is 3 a.m. in Bangkok -- they took a brisk walking tour last Tuesday afternoon of Marshall and Flagstaff High, which neighbor each other, and peered in on classrooms and admired proverbs painted on the walls and laminated classroom posters with curiosity.

With principals as their guides, the delegation observed kindergarten, music, multi-age and English-language learner classrooms at Marshall, a conference among first-grade teachers, and science, culinary and dance classes at the high school.

Their stop in the high school library allowed them to peruse textbooks, which they learned are generally adopted and reused in five- to 10-year cycles and purchased through state appropriations and locally collected taxes. Thailand has a more centralized national education system, with funding coming largely from the national government.

Thai and U.S. education do have similarities: free guaranteed education for 12 years, generally coinciding with the kindergarten-12th grade structure. The first nine years -- here, elementary and junior high school -- of Thai education are mandatory, and upper secondary, or high school admission is by entrance exam. High school students can enter academic, vocational or comprehensive schools. (American high schools like Flagstaff High typically combine academics and what is more commonly called career and technical education Stateside.)

The Thais learned about NAU through the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and made NAU their only college of education visit. The NAU leg of the tour included sitting on an educational technology course. They also visited education officials in Sacramento, Calif. and took in area tourist attractions.

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Hosting international colleagues isn't unheard of for NAU's education college. Dean Gypsy Denzine, who joined the group at Flagstaff High School, said the college has also recently met with education professionals from Kenya, Korea and Germany. Similarly, American education experts will travel internationally to observe effective methods in countries like Finland and Singapore.

The visitors who come to Flagstaff can establish productive professional friendships.

"Often, these delegations lead to partnerships and opportunities for our students," Denzine said.

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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