Volume 32 No. 1 | Autumn 2022 4 Society Matters ‘Smart classroom’ invests in village students’ future A Divine Word Missionary project in Thailand is helping school students in a local village to raise educational standards with the establishment of English and Computer courses. Fr Truong Le SVD, a member of the SVD Australia Province, has been taking care of Immaculate Conception Church and Jesus of Nazareth Church in the Buengkan Province in northeastern Thailand for more than a year now and began offering English classes soon after his arrival. “Particularly at Immaculate Conception Church in the villagea of Sangkhompatthana, I have been offering English courses to young people, both Buddhists and Catholics, and looking forward to expanding this by offering computer courses free of charge,” he said. “I find that educational investment impacts the livelihood of the students and their families significantly and most directly.” Fr Truong said the region is considered one of the most impoverished regions in Thailand due to the lack of rainfall and industry. “The makeup of Sangkhompatthana is low-income families whose staple food is dependent upon the annual rice crops. Very little can be sold for profit,” he said. “In recent years, these families have been able to supplement their income by harvesting rubber trees, which brings in about $130 USD per month. Others, without land to plant rubber trees, work for daily wages with whatever is available. The daily wage is slightly lower than in larger towns and cities at around $10-12 USD.” Fr Truong said educational standards in the villages are lower than those in larger towns and cities. “Students tend to have lower educational attainment due to the lack of encouragement and support from family, lack of resources, poorly-trained teachers, poverty, and other issues that affect the youth,” he said. “From the very beginning, I’ve been attuning to the need of the villages by opening up English courses for young people. Now, I’m opening up a computer course because I learned that they have never touched a computer before. “English is one of the requirements in standardised tests, and computer skills are essential for academic competence. So, these courses aim to help students improve in school and build capacity for academic achievements.” Fr Truong said he began teaching the young people outside in the pavilion amongst the rice paddies. “It’s a charming scene, but not conducive to learning, with distractions like passing motorcycles, cows, water buffaloes, and people,” he said. “So, I was able to clear out a storage room that serves as a temporary classroom. With more students interested in learning English and computer skills, the current classroom is inadequate to meet the needs.” Thanks to its benefactors and partners in mission, the SVD AUS Province was able to support the project to expand the classroom to accommodate 12 students. The funding helped with the purchase of tables and chairs, an air-conditioning unit, and six laptop computers. “The expansion and resources aims to provide students with a conducive environment to learn English and basic computer skills, improve students’ skill-sets and allow for capacity-building,” Fr Truong said.