Si Khiu, Nakhon Ratchasima – An effort to give rural children a head start in life is proving incredibly successful for many farming villagers in Thailand.
Judging by the way things are moving future Thai business magnates may not come from the capital Bangkok but from these sleepy towns that are imparting vital knowledge about enterprise to primary and secondary school kids.
One such learning center is at Ban Mai Samrong School, Si Khiu district of Nakorn Rachasima. It has 193 students from Por 1 (Grade 1) to Mor 3 (Secondary 3).
They are taught animal husbandry skills such as raising chickens for eggs and food production. In addition they are now taught how to trade the goods they produce as part of an integrated farm education program by the Ministry of Education and food giant CPF.
Teacher Chaochavan Chanla, 26, who helps boys and girls sell eggs, vegetables and fruits on the school yard says children from age 6 are taking greater interest in improving production quality when they find out it can be a means to provide good income.
“In the last 6 months, the school has sold eggs worth 120,000 baht and after all the expenses of paying for feed and so on, the net gain is about 50,000 baht.”
This is real, not monopoly money. “It opens their eyes about what can be achieved when they apply science and safety health measures to ensure their hens are happy, well-housed and fed.
“Healthy hens lay better eggs that fetch higher prices,” he adds. “If they are not properly raised, they tend to produce sickly eggs, which would blow their stakes.”
The egg program was first introduced about 30 years ago but the new scheme provides practical knowledge about the real marketplace and hones their business skills. It also teaches them to invest their capital.
“In this scheme, real money change hands,” says Chaochavan. “Now they meet real customers. They forge a bond and learn to establish trust by providing honest and prompt service.”
The kids now understand the law of supply and demand, not in theory but in action.
In Sikiu as in 70 other schools taking part in such vocational approaches, teachers note that children now have a realistic perception about life, career and their own potential as workers as well as owners of their trade.
Even Por 1 kids are now as familiar about accepting payment for goods and giving change to their buyers with confidence, and more, speed – the trick of successful traders.
In the US, Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, always takes pride that he started as a newspaper delivery boy, earning money at a young age, and using his savings to buy stocks, long before other classmates.
Here Buffett’s story is repeated daily in the Kingdom, with a more open minded approach that reduces over-protecting children from indulging in positive labor activities.
Here, one senses something is obviously transitioning amid the hustle and bustle of selling eggs, vegetables, mushrooms, fruits and cooked food. Children are seeing the reality and not the fantasy of commerce and how it really works and how it thrives.
There are, for example, no need for smartphones or electronic payment and online connections. The so called e-economy is hyped up nonsense for villagers who will never need Uber or Airbnb.
To be sure, the past several months have seen the constant chatter about “Thailand 4.0” and that it will take people to the next level of wealth and success.
In fact, the opposite is happening. People generally feel life is much worse and the economy is contracting.
In this rural town, however, the mood is upbeat and people are smiling.
Of course such talk about the need for computers has been around for years, even though most people are not connected for e-commerce but to Facebook for social chats and updates that bring in zero income.
At Ban Mai Samrong, people use cash in transaction because it is fast and practical. Imagine paying 50 baht online for eggs. Consider making a digital transaction on your phone for sticky rice and banana for 20 baht. Sometimes the rural folk must think the government does not know who they are when they make these long speeches on electronic money.
The fact is 90 per cent of the country does not rely on the digital economy and they never will.
And in sharp contrast to city living, there are no stressful faces here. No one is permanently staring at mobile phone screen.
The market part of the program teaches the kids to develop service skills and cultivate customer relations by being attentive to their needs. They learn to apply courtesy, something now lacking in modern shopping malls.
These are invaluable human touches that have been lost in many city schools where spoilt kids are just too pre-occupied with electronic gadgets that only deprive them of cultivating interpersonal abilities.
We noted how quickly Si Kiu students respond when a housewife finds they have run out of eggs.
“No problem, I shall reserve a tray for you this afternoon when you come by,”” one of the boys told the woman who is pleased she will have her eggs. Such prompt responses are not taught at MBA schools.
Initially the school started the egg program to combat malnutrition.
The school pen has 200 hens that lay eggs daily. Students consume eggs three times a week as part of their free school lunch to make up for protein shortfall that causes stunted growth and poor mental development.
The remaining eggs are sold to the community. The children learn that healthy fresh eggs fetch higher prices. The eggs most people obtain at supermarkets have been frozen and can be a month old, the teacher says.
This is the third year of the project and the children have learned a lot. They now realize it is very important to work diligently to care for the hens as a sick hen will produce sickly eggs that have a pale white color as opposed to good eggs that have a tanned appearance.
“The pen has to be stocked with food and water. Water is the most important. Hens can survive without food for a while but not water.
“In the first year, 50 chickens or a quarter died from fluctuations in temperature. Violent climate swings are the biggest killer of poultry.
“Another big killer is noise. Loud dins will destroy them so the pen is situated in a quiet place. This teaches kids that silence is important to health, even to people who often underrate its ill effects.
“Children also learn not to enter the pen if they are sick or have open wounds. Human infections can be lethal to hens.”
Starting the kids early about commerce allows them to develop an appreciation for enterprise and capital deployment, the need to save as well as accountability when it comes to money.
Another vital skill they acquire is in bookkeeping and knowing where income is obtained and where it is being spent.
Historically the vast areas of the Northeast was viewed as “Red areas” where capitalism was seen as a bad thing, Today, that ignorance is shattered and it would be very difficult for communism to infiltrate or take a foothold again when farmers are free, fed and govern their own future, relying not on state hand-outs, but the fruits of their labor.
Top: Thailand’s future captains of industry may be coming more from places like Si Khiu, Nakhon Ratchasima and not Bangkok as kids start acquiring business acumen at an early age.
First inset: Teacher Chaochaval Chanla poses with two children from Ban Mai Samrong School, Si Khiu district selling food made at the school.
Second inset: 12-year old boys help housewives with trays of eggs produced at their school.
Below: Primary school children from ages 6 to 12 are captains of their industries.
By Cimi Suchontan