Thai Policy: “English Speaking Year 2012″
The Thai government has a mandatory new year’s resolution for the kingdom’s students: learning English. Officials declared 2012 “English Speaking Year” and every Monday “English Day.”
Thais want to be on par for the ASEAN Community in 2015 when ten Southeast Asian countries plan to merge politically and economically based on similar concepts of the European Union.
Thailand comes in at number nine out of the ten nations for English fluency, based on TOEFL exam scores.
The future ASEAN Community will allow citizens of countries whose primary language is English, such as Singapore and the Philippines, to cross legally into Thailand. With English being the global language, Thais will have a substantial disadvantage in the job market.
Two main issues face Thailand’s lag in mastering the language; class size and affective teachers, according to one Thai university administrator. Class sizes can be up to 50 students, and teachers often spend the majority of the period shutting students up. How can hushing students be conducive to learning a language? Well, it’s not, as exam scores demonstrate.
In addition to outlandish class sizes, many of the English instructors are timid about their English speaking abilities and will occasionally speak to their students in Thai. Often language learning requires working in groups where the most fluent student can do all the writing and speaking for the rest of the members.
However the issues run deeper than people and numbers. “Losing face” is a large part of Thai culture and unless a student is confident in their pronunciation they often will not speak. Even if a school employs a native English speaker, the students might feel intimidated by speaking in class to a foreigner who speaks perfect English.
Another issue facing Thai students in English class is the ancient government curriculum all Thai schools are required to follow.
The antiquated, outlandish curriculum includes teaching Kindergarten-level children the “moral quotient to knowledge,” which varies each week between moral ideals such as “initiative,” “diligence,” “loving-kindness,” and “hard-working.”
If schools do not follow this curriculum they could get into serious trouble. Schools prove they are following government standards by completing meticulous progress books. These books are filled out by teachers and prove more of a frustrating, time-sucking hassle than valuable assessments of the student’s work.
The time would be better spent preparing lesson plans and experimenting with various teaching methods.
Another policy that PM Yingluck championed during her 2011 campaign was “One Tablet per Child”, a plan that would give tablet PCs to all 800,000 Prathom 1 students across the country. 1.6 billion THB has been set aside for this project. Prathom 1 is equivalent to grade 1, or 6 and 7-year-olds.
Education Minister Worawat Auapinyakul piloted this policy last November, handing out 600 tablets to Prathom 1 and Prathom 4 students. As in all Thai politics, there was heavy disagreement amongst officials as to whether or not this is a good idea. The idea is that tablets would be assist students in learning English through interactive games and programs.
Some say the tablets would help students, since similar policies have been implemented in Korea and Japan, as long as teachers and parents guided the children through the learning software. Others say there are much bigger problems facing the education system and the 1.6 billion THB should be used to improve the curriculum and level the disparity between remote and urban schools.
The 5 schools chosen to have the tablets were located in Bangkok, assuming favoritism. In some remote schools there is only one teacher for the entire school.
Learning how to use computers is crucial for students to keep up with the fast pace of changing technology. However, it may be more effective use of teachers and students time, as well as government money, if schools incorporated a computer class and tablet class into the curriculum once or twice a week.
The issue is not students having access to technology, but making sure they use it for educational purposes. Of course, parents hold a large stake in this as well. With technology come new rules and precedents teachers and parents must set through example.
Year of English speaking, commence!