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Bangkok Faces: Serene Jiratanan, Principal, Montessori Academy Bangkok

Your Name:  Serene Jiratanan
Job Title:  Managing Director & Principal of Montessori Academy Bangkok International School

What is your nationality and background?

I was born in Singapore and grew up in Thailand.  After graduating from ISB, I studied Economics at Cornell University and completed my MBA at MIT Sloan.  I worked in banking, consulting and at a Fortune 100 company for almost 10 years before I found my real passion in education.  I then went back to do a Masters in Education and two Montessori teacher certifications.

What is your profession?

I am the head of school and am responsible for the strategic direction and investments, curriculum, recruitment, staff professional development and parent relationship.

What are the key skills and responsibilities of this role?

To start and run a school, I tapped into all my experiences as a manager, team player, financial planner, experience living in many countries, my knowledge of the Montessori pedagogy, and importantly my first hand experience as a parent.

How did you get involved in your profession?

I was looking for a quality Montessori program for my daughter and wanted her to embrace both the local culture and language (Thai and Chinese) as well as English.  As we couldn’t locate a suitable program, we ended up starting a school.  I subsequently got my AMI Montessori teacher certifications which really helped me to provide direction and support for the program.

How does your role enhance the wellbeing or experience of children?

Montessori is education for life. The skills that children need for success in life is far beyond academics.  They need to know how to care of themselves, their environment, how to participate in social life and be peaceful, to learn to follow their curiosity and develop their full potential so that they achieve a sense of purpose, fulfillment and happiness in life.

I really enjoy sharing knowledge about childhood education and the Montessori philosophy with parents.  When they understand the theory and the developmental needs of children, they can better support the development of their children in a positive way.

The advantage that children receive from our program is the nurturing and academically sound Montessori environment along with the ability to communicate in English, Mandarin and Thai.  We know that all the effort put into this program will pay off because we are helping to develop more effective and responsible citizens in an increasingly global society.

What challenges do you face in this role?

Montessori offers a beautiful balance between freedom (personal choice) and rich, purposeful work.  However, Montessori is not well known in Bangkok.  Many people think that Montessori is academically weak, but that is not the case in a quality Montessori program.  In the first and second grade, our students work with numbers in the millions.  They have fun doing math, grammar, learning about the universe, compiling their own research and a variety of other interesting and challenging activities.

We also offer a very unique program as we are one of the few Montessori schools in the world that offer three languages.  Incorporating the Chinese and Thai languages was a challenge.  At the same time it has been exhilarating to watch our children blossom and able to communicate fluently in all three languages.

 What do you hope to achieve within your industry?

We hope to set the gold standard in Montessori education and to make this method of education widely available locally.  We are currently developing our Elementary program and are completing a new building to house it.

We would like educators and parents to become more aware of the benefits of using the Montessori method at home.  There are a lot of resources available to support this endeavor.

Who or what inspires you?

Young children inspire me.  They are full of love, energy, kindness and potential.  It is amazing to watch a child’s passion get lighted and take off through a variety of self-initiated projects.  Their abundant love reminds me of the goodness in human nature.  One day I watched a six-year old child teach a three-year old child how to use the metal inset and it was very heart warming to know that this happened spontaneously and out of the compassion of one person for another.  This is what Maria Montessori envisions the human society can become – one in which everyone can coexist peacefully.

Only a Bangkok local would know…

An amazing floating market near Bangkok is the Amphawa Floating Market, which is only an hour away.  While smaller than Damnoen Saduak, it is full of traditional shops and eateries and is a real feast for the senses and is much less touristy.  Prices are very reasonable and you can see fireflies in the evening.

For more information on Montessori Academy Bangkok, please click here.

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