Vorapipatana Kowit (1933-2000) was nationally recognized as the creator-champion of Thailand’s modern adult education. As a result of his advocacy and the increased prominence of adult education programs, adult education and non-formal education was institutionalized as an integral part of the educational system in Thailand.
Kowit’s most notable achievement was expansion and transformation of the small narrowly focused Division of Adult Education to a broad-based non-formal education service to meet the diverse learning needs of the entire population throughout their lifetime. In 1979, he institutionalized non-formal education in the national education system, transforming the small division into a Department of Non-Formal Education that led a highly successful literacy campaign in the 1980s. This won the Human Resources Development Award of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. As a practitioner, he demonstrated how adult/non-formal education can compensate for, enrich, and extend formal and non-formal education to ensure lifelong learning opportunities for all. The community reading centers and practical literacy skills that he pioneered have subsequently become common core practice in Thailand and other countries in the region.
As a scholar, he successfully challenged universities to transform their curricula and produce a new generation of adult educators and published work. In practical ways and through published work, he made Thailand an Asian adult education lead country and one to have consistently pursued the vision of lifelong learning for the past 40 years.
Kowit’s single greatest contribution was his introduction of the khit phen concept to education, literally translated as “being able to think and decide for him/herself.” This belief stemmed from his concern for the disadvantaged out-of-school population and his respect for their dignity and grassroots wisdom. As a result, he transformed all curricula to deal with issues and problems facing learners rather than academic-oriented content. Didactic teaching and learning processes with ready-made answers dictated by teachers became more participatory and empowered learners to weigh the most suitable course of actions based on circumstances and technical knowledge. The khit phen approach has subsequently influenced formal schooling and the work of other development agencies.
Kowit’s contributions were felt far beyond the field of adult/non-formal education. His khit phen philosophy was later adopted in the reform of the formal school curricula. A learner-centered approach, participatory learning and management styles, decentralized structure of development and administration, working through networks and partnerships: all of these, initiated in adult/non-formal education, subsequently penetrated formal schooling and development work of the country as a whole. Under his leadership Thailand became an active member of all the regional and global organizations, notably the now globally influential Asian and South Pacific Basic and Adult Education, of which Thailand, under Kowit’s leadership, became a lead nation.
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