Story by Kathleen Pokrud
With the Covid-19 pandemic, education is one major area that has been seriously affected. Elite+ magazine recently sat down with Dr Kevin Colleary, a Harvard post-graduate in the field of education and spouse of HE Francisco de Assis Morais e Cunha Vaz Patto, Ambassador of Portugal to the Kingdom of Thailand, to hear his insights on this matter as an educator as well as his other interests in helping society.
Beginning his career as a high school teacher in New York, Dr Kevin then turned his attention to curriculum development and publishing. In 2000, he earned a Doctorate in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education after which he moved on to teaching at the university level. As a lecturer at Fordham University in New York since 2003, he has taught graduate level courses in social studies curriculum, philosophy and history of education as well as teaching methodology for STEM and social studies.
Concurrently with his heavy workload in classroom teaching, Dr Kevin applies his extensive knowledge to authoring academic papers and articles on education and social studies. He is a member of the McGraw-Hill Education senior authorship team that writes elementary level social studies programs as well as creates and provides professional development and seminars for classroom teachers and curriculum leaders throughout the United States and around the world. Dr Kevin has also co-created an online course on elementary social studies teaching methods.
With Covid-19 affecting many countries, I asked Dr Kevin about his views on online learning. He candidly explained, “I have been teaching online courses since 2014. I feel enormous respect for all the teachers and parents who are involved in this massive effort to help our children learn despite the closure of schools. Our physical classrooms were turned into online classrooms almost overnight. What has been achieved is truly remarkable.”
“I feel honored to have been invited to speak at a number of Thai educational forums and humbly share my knowledge with Thai educators and the public. I have served as a committee member at the UNESCO Regional Expert Meeting on Inclusion and Equity in Education where we discussed issues related to equity in education in the Asia-Pacific region.
Other educational projects I feel particularly strong about are my involvement with the US Department of State’s Regional English Language Office here in Bangkok. As a US citizen, I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with my home country.”
Dr Kevin conceptualized, designed and wrote the “Great and Good Friends Thai Social Studies Activity Guide”, which is an instruction manual to help Thai social studies teachers teach about the long relationship between the US and Thailand. In 2018, for the celebration of the bicentennial of US-Thai diplomatic relations, he co-authored “Great and Good Friends Education Guide”, an English language instruction handbook that includes vocabulary and comprehension strategies for teachers of English.
Turning to his charity work, Dr Kevin happily admits that he enjoys all kinds of community service. He sits on the SHOM (Spouses of the Heads of Missions) committee and assists in various fund-raising projects with this diplomatic group.
Next, we discussed the rich Thai-Portuguese relationship dating back over 500 years. As the spouse of the Portuguese ambassador, Dr Kevin works to strengthen ties between the two countries and preserve this tradition. “We are quite proud of our embassy and residence set on the bank of the Chao Phraya river. The residence, which dates from 1860, is an historically important building both for the Thai and for the Portuguese. Francisco and I have worked very hard to maintain this beautiful structure. We have tried to open the house often for Thai people to visit and learn about our important friendship.”
On the other hand, Dr Kevin is passionate about promoting the modern side of Portugal. He kindly explains, “Portugal is a modern, liberal democracy with open and outward-looking citizens. We wish to present to the Thai people the modern face of Portugal through evolving cultural experiences in terms of art, dance, food and wine. The embassy constantly works on innovative ideas to promote cultural exchange between our two nations.”
Since their arrival to Bangkok in 2015, Dr Kevin has found his past five years very rewarding. Apart from Thailand, Ambassador Francisco is responsible for the Southeast Asian region including Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam. “Prior to moving to Thailand, I had never visited Southeast Asia, so there was some cultural adjustment needed. It has been a fascinating and educational experience for me to learn about the rich heritage and culture of the region.” He is also proud of the fact that his marriage to the Ambassador is one people freely discuss. “I am pleased to see Thailand moving in the direction of marriage equality for all. This is an important human rights issue for all people.”
As our interview drew to a close, Dr Kevin concluded his views on education around the world, “More people are being educated now than at any time in the history of the world, which is a very positive thing. I strongly consider lack of access to a quality education as a crime against humanity. Unfortunately, with the current Covid-19 situation, we are seeing more disparity in terms of the gap in educational opportunities between the rich and poor. As an educator, I sincerely hope as a human race, we will continue fighting to achieve the goal of inclusive and quality education for all.”