Archan Sangkom Thongmee, a high school art teacher from Loei, rural northern Thailand, is showing how to teach art to build students' confidence and creativity. He is also spearheading a drive to make this sort of art teaching a regular part of Thailand's curriculum.
The New Idea
Sangkom has developed new methods for teaching young rural Thai students how to conceive and then create powerful and artistic paintings and drawings. He has specifically designed his approach for rural children, an overwhelming population in Loei and, in fact, in the country. Such children have been brought up in an environment that does not stimulate creativity and that commonly leaves youngsters uncertain and reluctant when faced with the unfamiliar.
Sangkom believes that an education in art will give his students skills that will be useful to them in many other areas. They will develop better concentration, intellectual discipline, creativity, and self-assurance, which will help them mature and develop the ability to express their ideas and capabilities more confidently.
Sangkom has developed an approach that allows most rural children to reach a realm where they can feel free and exercise their imaginations. Sangkom encourages his students to respect and take this atmosphere seriously. There is a gallery that displays children's art, the work of current students and many current and former national and international prizewinners Sangkom helped nurture. The children examine the art and learn to appreciate and criticize it. Teachers are available to discuss the art or a student's own work. Sangkom's approach helps each youngster as his or her work progresses from stage to stage. He teaches them the principles of art as well as various styles and techniques (such as color and shading). He builds in incentives by putting their works on display or entering them in contests. For young people not even in school, he has special programs that apply art to potentially valuable economic uses such as furniture design, a type of work especially welcome to families and community.
The results are extraordinary. Over the last decade, Sangkom's students have won over two thousand international art competitions. He uses the proceeds to build up a scholarship fund that helps his students continue in school and go on to university. This performance also gives Sangkom's approach great credibility.
He is using that credibility both to spread what he has learned about using art to bring out children's various capacities and also to change the country's attitude towards the importance of art in the schools. He is also capitalizing on his success to build a national league of like-minded art teachers.
Although Sangkom continues to develop his educational approach, his chief objective is to make sure that what he has already developed reaches the many young people across Thailand who could benefit.
The association of art teachers that he is building provides a network of colleagues who can help him sharpen his approach, and the allies who will push for more demonstrations in the country's several regions. The more effective the models of quality art education, the faster the approach will spread.
Hundreds of visitors already flock to the school where Sangkom teaches to observe his methods of teaching and learn about the new artistic activities he has created for the students. Sangkom wants to set up workshops where art teachers and experts and others involved in art or teaching can share their own methods and ideas and discuss the problems they have in order to seek new, improved techniques of teaching and learning. In addition to the immediate benefits that art teachers will bring away with them to their classrooms, Sangkom will study the conclusions of the workshops and the needs of the teachers. He'll also invite experienced artists and teachers to the gallery to help create new teaching media that will fill gaps in the current array of teaching resources.
Sangkom plans to strengthen this process further by building at his school a gallery which will be a focus for the development of Thailand's national art curriculum. The gallery will show children's art, including annual exhibits of works of Thai and foreign children. It will also provide a place for permanent display of his students' art. Additionally, the gallery will host and organize teaching seminars on the problems of developing course curricula, teaching art classes and working on students' projects, and creating new teaching activities and media to be used in the schools. Local people will also use the center for recreational art.
Although he would prefer to work more in his native Northeast, Sangkom has recently begun to teach Thailand's revered royal family one day a week. The standing this investment gives him and his work makes him bear the long commute gracefully.
Archan Sangkom Thongmee was born in Ubol Rajathani Province in 1953. He grew up in Loei Province, and received two scholarships to go to university. Sangkom received bachelor's and master's degrees in art education from Chulalongkorn University, and in 1989 was awarded an honorary master's degree in liberal arts from Ramkhamhaeng University.
He has taught art in Loei Province for 11 years, gradually developing his approach. Among the many honors he has received, he was named Distinguished Person of the Year by Chulalongkorn University and Best Art Teacher by Thairath Newspapers and the Thai Cement Company.