Dean's Welcome

“RETHINKING STRATEGY IN DESIGN EDUCATIONAL PARADIGM” How to play the game as one who sees the future By Thammasat Design School

    Asst. Prof. Asan Suwanarit, Dean of Thammasat Design School, sparked a discussion about learning in the like new era. He also shared key strategies that TDS used to overhaul education with the goal of becoming ‘Asia’s leading institution of higher learning in design and the built environment’. The Covid pandemic has been a catalyst accelerating change in the Thai (or rather, global) education scene. But if you asked those in education circles – or the average person educated in the Thai system – about the topic, you’d likely get a helpless smile in reply. That “traditional education no longer meets the needs of the new era” has been a refrain since the days of education disruption, but after all is said and done we are still stuck with the same old system.
      Education disruption is like an elective course – even if you fail or get a bad grade, you are allowed to keep going. A pandemic crisis, on the other hand, is a required course that you cannot afford to fail. THE STANDARD recently had an opportunity to talk to Thammasat Design School Dean Asst. Prof. Asan Suwanarit once again and this time we got into different dimensions of the issue, the highlight being TDS’s comprehensive strategy overhaul.
        Late last year, as TDS embarked on its 22nd year as an educational institution it committed to “Learn Fast, Fail Fast”. Since then, however, the Covid pandemic has caused educational institutions as well as education systems all over the world to throw out old game plans and start over as the world undergoes accelerating changes.
          As a result, “Learn Fast, Fail Fast” is no longer a strategy that TDS can be complacent about. Prof. Asan said, emphatically: “This is a dinosaur extinction event that has the most serious impact on many sectors. The world has changed a great deal over the past two years and there’s no way the world will stay the way it is five years from now. A rethink is needed, and the same goes for educational systems. If you lay down a curriculum today, to be used five years from now, it will be outdated when that time comes.”
            “The education system has to change, but into what? If you look at the philosophical foundation of education, it is essentially to produce people for the world of the future. The question is, what will the world of the future look like?”
              For 22 years, Thammasat Design School has been driving forward, revamping curriculums and modes of learning and teaching to keep abreast with global changes and with its students. It has done this in keeping with its vision to “Learn Fast, Fail Fast” but also with its role as an educational institution committed to bettering society and the economy and producing people with social leadership potential.
                But as needs change and the number of uncontrollable variables increases, TDS has clarified its framework to stay aligned with its commitment to provide the younger generations with a comprehensive body of knowledge and strategy and equip them with special skills. No matter what direction the world takes or at what rate it is accelerating, TDS graduates will be ready for it.

                  3 Global Trends Driving Learning in a New Era

                  Prof. Asan shared that TDS has consistently been able to envision the future with the help of Foresight and Scenario Planning tools, and this has enabled it to quickly adapt. And thanks to those early adjustments, the school has been able to continue advancing this approach. “Once we made it our goal to produce people for the future world, how to do that and what the future world will look like became dovetailed with the question of how to ensure that our world of higher education moves forward with the future,” he explained.
                    “This has given rise to three main driving forces for the future world of education. The first is Well-being & Quality of Life. Before the Covid-19 crisis, the conversation revolved a lot around the environment, but never in the sense of what impact our environment has on us human beings. But when PM2.5 happened, it came home to us that well-being is important and directly impacts humans. I believe that from now on the impacts we see will reshape the way we think, down to the smallest level – from the environment of a room and a building, all the way to a city. TDS needs to consider how urban development in the future can be aligned with well-being.
                      “The next driving force is Circular Value & Sustainability. People all over the world are aware of the issue of sustainability. They are talking about low-carbon society. Sustainability in terms of the environment and community will take on more importance and will dovetail with more complex thinking about materials and Circular Economics. And the last piece of the puzzle is Digital & Integration. We emphasize the application of technology in daily life through the design process. Not only will this benefit users but it will enhance organizations’ and businesses’ competitive advantage in the new era as well.”
                        “With regard to our role as a higher education institution, in addition to these three driving forces we must not forget the heart of higher education, which is to produce people and new knowledge. Knowledge generation has two keys to it, one is academics and the other is research. Research is already one of TDS’s strong points. For the third year running, we are the top-ranked school in the country in terms of faculty publication in international research databases, which is a reflection of our specialized expertise in the related disciplines. As for manpower production, we emphasize the building of skills and ways of thinking that meet the needs of the future world.”
                          Dean Asan went on to explain that in order to fulfill its objectives as a higher education institution - to produce people and knowledge – TDS has put an emphasis on organizational restructuring. For the first time ever, the school has restructured its professional unit organization by academic disciplines, resulting in the grouping of knowledge into three areas:
                          1. Built Environment The curriculum comprises basic principles of architecture and development as related to the built environment – architecture, interior architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture, architecture for real estate development, and urban community design.
                          2. Design Strategy Addressing how designers think, this can be applied to create innovation and organizational management strategies. Our Design, Business and Technology Management (DTBM) program is the only combined bachelor’s/master’s program of its kind in Asia. Through Thammasat Design Center (TDC), we offer life-long learning programs in Service Design, Business Design and others, where behavior design is applied to design practice.
                          3. Professional Service & Resource Service The emphasis is on incubating and integrating more real-world practices to provide students with a training field before they enter the working world. We encourage students and alumni to launch design startups under the school’s auspices as a way to equip them for the working world.

                          Harnessing Innovative Strategy of Excellence to Become ‘Asia’s Leading Educational Institution in Design and Built Environment’

                          Facing such complex problems, Thammasat Design School recognized that it needed to lay down a clear framework. It looked to the three global trends mentioned earlier in defining its future direction and used academic disciplines as core axes for organizational restructuring, all the while making sure that everything remained aligned with its key strategies for becoming Asia’s leading educational institution in design and the built environment.
                            “We laid down strategy in four areas. The first is Excellent Community, because it takes people – faculty and students – to advance our goal. The second is Excellent Partnership. Currently we are collaborating with the world’s leading universities, chief among which is Harvard University, with whom we are working on learning and teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic and on future direction of education. In partnership with KU Leuven, we have for the past three years joined forces with WHO to host Thammasat-WHO Summer School on the topic of environmental design and the Covid-19 pandemic. Students who enroll in the program can collect credits for a range of activities. With Hong Kong Poly U Design we have a design strategy partnership, that is, design thinking as applied to innovation creation.”
                              “Our Excellent Facility strategy fits well with TDS’s goal to provide modern and environmentally friendly facilities to help promote exchanges of knowledge and ideas. In cooperation with our private sector partner ALT we have upgraded our data center by restructuring the technology system. Design Material Bank is another area we are advancing to help designers understand the materials available to them. We also have experts on design-related materials on hand for this undertaking. The key thinking framework for this is the idea of Circular Value. We are also building a co-research lab on our new office space on the 7th floor to facilitate knowledge exchanges between research units and serve as an innovators’ showcase as well.”
                                “Our final strategy, Excellent Organization puts greater emphasis on service-driven design. When people think of a university, they may picture a bureaucracy. What we need to do is change the mindset of the people in our organization to that of efficient service.”

                                “This is not merely a problem of the education system. This is the problem of a country with inequality gaps and a lack of clear direction in national development.”

                                    Can TDS’s strategy be applied to the broader Thai education system?
                                      “Strategy-setting for our school needs to be aligned with the university’s strategy, which in turn should be aligned with the Ministry of Education’s, or the government’s human resources development strategy for national development. But in reality we have yet to see that connection. This, significantly, isn’t merely a problem of the education system. This is the problem of a country with inequality gaps and a lack of clear direction in national development.”
                                        “Education needs to adapt to stay abreast with the future world, otherwise it will become something that no one wants. Even more importantly, we need to be able to tell what the future needs of higher education will be. Because context changes rapidly; it will be volatile, complex, uncertain and ambiguous – a VUCA World. And we need to find a way to drive toward that goal.
                                          Higher Education Needs to Better Accommodate Life-long Learning.
                                            Pointing to Thailand’s declining birth trend, Prof. Asan predicted that 17 years from now fewer students will be entering higher education and a shrinking workforce will follow.
                                              “Higher education needs to better accommodate life-long learning,” he said. “How do we ensure that our increasingly aging society will be able to adapt? We can’t limit ourselves to educating the younger generations. People who are in the job market now are important. This is where we need to adapt. If I had decision-making power, I’d make the conversation revolve more around the workforce, with an emphasis on reskilling and upskilling.”
                                                “A global mindset is not a new thing. Second and third languages are necessary basic skills, but even more important is the ability to understand increasingly complex diversities. If you are unable to understand the languages that serve as mediums of education, it will limit your understanding of increasingly complex cultural diversities. Diversity is no longer limited to the racial kind. Diversities in the global society will become even more complex, encompassing gender and age. And in the working world, organizations of the future will likely become more multicultural and multiage.”

                                                  “Higher education shouldn’t aim to serve professional goals any longer. The bigger question we need to ask is, what will the world need in the future?”

                                                    Personalizing Adaptation/Change/Learning: Student Trends in the New Era
                                                      Students’ needs are clearly changing in the new era, and because of this Thailand can no longer afford to lag behind, according to Asan. “Students will seek more personalization,” he said. “They will choose what they want to learn and will take a broader approach to learning as opposed to a more specialized one as in the past. This is likely because they were born in the digital age, into a world that had become very small. They are able to find out what will impact or provide context for what they are learning.”
                                                        “This also poses a challenge. We have long said that architecture is multidisciplinary or even transdisciplinary because we use knowledge from one discipline to address a problem from a different angle – using technology to solve a social problem, for example. Today Thammasat is giving all its schools and faculties more freedom. Fundamental courses are tweaked to allow students from other schools to take them. At TDS, we have to open up courses that students can integrate into other disciplines, such as Design Thinking or Well-being”
                                                          Future Work Trends and Education Direction-Setting
                                                            Not only are student needs changing but future work trends will no longer determine education direction. For Asan, it is time to shift the thinking away from the old notion of education as investment in workforce building.
                                                              “If we look back on the history of education, we’ll see that it arose out of the need to produce specialized experts for the production system. But I don’t believe the future world will ever be like that again. Future work positions will change unrecognizably. Over the past 10 years we have seen new work positions, new work approaches, new businesses. And given the much faster speed of change, today’s high education should no longer use work goals as a determinant. The bigger question that needs to be asked is, what will the future world needs and how do we produce the type of people that will meet its needs?”
                                                                “Instructors also need to adapt, perhaps starting with accepting that what succeeded in the past isn’t guaranteed to succeed in the future. What we believed in the past may no longer be valid in the future. The teaching method has to change from the old way, where teachers played the role of knowledge providers, to one where teachers help build student capabilities to solve problems and guide problem-solving like a coach, teaching the thinking process and challenging students to look from different angles.”
                                                                  “Looking back at the principles of learning and teaching, we may need to offer more project-based, hands-on learning based on real-world situations. We do have an edge because learning at TDS is already project-based. But the challenge lies in how to ensure that our instructors pay attention to the increasingly complex global situation. We try to encourage our faculty to broaden their worldviews and collaborate with foreign partners, outside entities or the community, so that they become more aware of what’s going on in the real world and able to integrate real-world situations into new knowledge creation.”

                                                                    “Education in Thailand has become something where everybody does what everybody else is doing but nobody knows what the goal is.”

                                                                    What role does education serve the country?
                                                                      “If you ask me, the education system in Thailand needs a complete change of thinking and it needs to do that now. Otherwise the country will get nowhere. We need to stop using the job market to determine education direction. Many countries in Europe, the Scandinavian countries in particular, place great importance on education. Government welfare provides free education because they see people as a resource for driving national progress. The government must support education and promote freedom of thought in higher education. We need to admit that Thailand has not prioritized this, with the result that Thai education has become something where everybody does what everybody else is doing but nobody knows what the goal is.”
                                                                        “It’s time that all parties go back, regroup and have a complete rethink about what role education actually serves the country. We can no longer look at it simply as basic education and higher education, especially in the post-Covid-19 world. Education must elevate people’s knowledge, accommodate life-long learning, and it must do that now”

                                                                        Assistant Professor Asan Suwanarit Dean of Faculty of Architecture and Planning, Thammasat University