English Books for a School in Thailand

Background photo: Roi Et City Hall, view from Phalan Chai pond. Read more about Roi Et here.

In the summer of 2011, I received a contact form message from another site I ran at the time, Minnov8. The woman who wrote it (Lynn Brown) teaches at a school in Thailand in a program featuring English as a second language. They desperately needed books in English for their tiny library and they had no funds for the books or for shipping.

I've never been to Thailand but my wife has several times. She has been hired to put on home furnishings trend workshops for Thailand's Department of Export Promotion three different times, I've met many of her contacts from that country (and their kids) and they are incredibly delightful people. My bride has also told me so many stories about the country, its people, and how she loves them so much she'd move there. As such, I was atypically receptive to Lynn's request to help gather books for her students.

Map of Thailand showing Roi Et
(click map for a larger view)

The Thailand school Strisuksa (Stree-suk-sah) is located in a province called Roi Et. It is relatively far from Bangkok—which means they are internet-challenged as you'll read about below—but they have a student group who visited Minnesota in October of 2011 and would be at their "sister school", Cambridge-Isanti High School, in Cambridge, MN. Each student would be allowed 2 pieces of checked luggage, and their teachers hoped to make the most of that luggage allowance by returning with English books for their library.

So I put out a call for help.

I got the word out to multiple organizations about them possibly donating English books suitable for 7th through 12th graders learning English. We ended up with quite a response and collected more than 250 books, but that didn't seem like enough of an impact.

During our several discussions, I pointed Lynn to Project Gutenberg, an online compilation of classic books (many with accompanying audio books), and wondered out loud if gaining access to these digital books would be helpful. Lynn was intrigued and she, and another English teacher in the school, compiled a wish-list for me.

Ms. Brown and her colleague in the English department chose 108 Project Gutenberg books! Discovering that these books are available in a variety of formats—and offers over 49,000 free ebooks in ePub, Kindle, HTML and simple text formats—I decided to download all of them in these formats as well as two potentially useful for a country in Asia (i.e., Plucker and QiOO Mobile).

Some titles even had audio books so organizing the titles, and all of their filetypes, compelled me to make this mini-website for ease of use and downloading.

How would I deliver that mini-website to a school with crappy internet access?

I considered burning the entire thing to CD (they didn't have DVD readers) for them to take back to Thailand and make available throughout the school.

Then I checked to see how big the folder was that contained the mini-website and all the files.

Gulp. The mini-website weighed in at a whopping 10GBs so I had to find another way.

An (AJAX) dropdown for each book reveals its formats (click for larger view)

Website "front end" for ebooks (click for larger view)

I wasn't certain if they could even find a DVD reader and if they could, I'd have to break it up across a bunch of CDs or DVDs (which, of course, would likely break the links in the mini website front-end if it wasn't copied precisely).

Even though they were a bit spendy back in 2011, I bought a couple of 16GB thumb drives so they would have two copies.

Ms. Brown and her colleagues were quite enthused about receiving this and she then exclaimed, "Oh my gosh...we can put this on the "school" server (vs. just the English department server) and make it available to all students!"

Wish I could have done more for them. At the time, I also wished there was a way to get tablets in to the hands of students (or even cheap Kindles) and to figure out if there could be a reliable way for them to download ebooks.

Life has probably changed a bit in Thailand, and especially internet access, but I can no longer reach Lynn Brown so don't know what happened next. Hope I brought a little value to some young, Thai students.

Click to learn more about Roi Et & Strisuksa School, written by Lynn Brown

The town population is roughly 36,000, with a total of 1.2 million or more in the province. The town of Roi Et has 4 major secondary schools, of which we are the second largest with an enrollment of 4,300. Although originally opened in 1917 as a girl’s school, it is now co-educational, however girls continue to outnumber boys. The largest school in town is the boys school, also co-educational. Both schools maintain such high enrollment figures because students come from all over the province and board in town. Many people feel the quality of education is much better at these two larger schools.

Lynn Brown

I started teaching at Strisuksa in the first year of the program. At that time, the library consisted of one book case in the teacher’s office / lounge and held about 100 books. The second year we were able to obtain a bit more space and added a second book case, purchased some books and called it a library corner. Next came a small classroom furnished with more bookcases and the real effort to obtain books. We purchased many, and then became aware of the Books for Asia Foundation. A large number of our non-fiction books have come from that source. A second resource was Thailand Book Drive. This foundation was begun in the USA by a young man who knew of the need for English books in rural Thailand. We’ve obtained over 2,000 books from this foundation, and have shared 100’s of surplus books (mainly duplicates) with other schools in the province. ((We feel that others can benefit from the books too, and if we have too many or ones that our students aren’t reading, maybe someone at another school will. We’ve helped at least 4 other secondary schools in this manner.))

Students in Thailand study in lower (7-9th grades) and upper (10 – 12th) secondary levels for 3 years each. At the conclusion of the lower secondary, they have the option of continuing at their current school or transferring to another. The English Program is offered to students at both the lower and upper levels. The Ministry of Education Thailand has set a limit of 70 students per level in lower secondary for the English Program. We split this to two classrooms of 35 each. The upper secondary is limited to one class of 35 students. We have consistently been receiving applications for many more students than we can accept in the upper level. In the upper level students can choose from a major in Math, Science, or language. In addition to English, they may also choose to study Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, French, or Korean.

The English Program must follow the same core curriculum as all Thai classes. Students receive instruction in Thai and English each day from separate teachers. There are now 12 native English speaking teachers on staff to meet the needs of the classes. The only subjects not being taught in English are Art and Music. We have two English teachers who really encourage the students to read – giving both class and outside reading assignments.