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Knowledge pool

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Recent reports in the Bangkok Post illustrate that Thai teachers are in urgent need of help when it comes to their own areas of expertise. 

From left, Ketkarn Phikrongam, Pannida Malasing and Napaporn Phothipol, new teachers from Udon Thani Rajabhat University, look forward to joining the knowledge pool. STEVE GRAHAM

Look at the numbers

Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat asked recently in the Bangkok Post (June 8) how it is possible to raise the quality of our students when even the teachers fail. This was in response to the results of recent tests undertaken by senior high school teachers.

While the results for junior high school teachers were better, they were still nothing to write home about. This was the first time that teachers had been tested this way, using funds from the Thai "Kem Kaeng" ("Investing from Strength to Strength") budget. There is 1.4 billion baht available.

Let managers manage

In addition, we are also informed (June 7) that 40,000 school directors and deputy directors were considered fair at administration and leadership but that their performance was worse when it came to English and information and communications technology (ICT) despite having master's degrees.

The government will spend 560 million baht from the economic stimulation fund this year to improve the quality of school executives and teachers. Apparently, there is not a budget for English and ICT skills. But should that be a concern?

Not all master's degree courses are conducted in English. While it is desirable to be fluent in English and to possess good ICT skills, the job of directors and their deputies is to manage and administer. This is their primary function; it should not be viewed as an additional task. I know many school directors who do not possess the best English and ICT skills. However, they have around them a dedicated team that does.

Tests are not the answer

The Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) has spent 678 million baht on tests for teachers, but is this really going to improve education standards? After all, tests tell us what we don't know and I believe, like others, that this money could be better spent.

The US education system is inundated with tests and testing of students. You only have to look at publications by well-known linguist, educational researcher and activist Steven Krashen to understand that there is a belief that there is too much testing and not enough time spent learning.

Krashen believes that a lack of English skills can be traced back to variables that include poverty. Poorer families do not have access to books. If you want to expand people's English vocabulary, make more books available. Spend money on libraries and encourage students to read what they want to read. To quote Krashen, "You can't lead a horse to water if there isn't any water in the first place."

You would, however, expect teachers to have a sound knowledge of their chosen subject and to have the ability to teach it. In my opinion, this is the main outcome of the tests conducted so far. The findings confirm anecdotal evidence from university students, and this problem needs to be addressed immediately if we are to produce university graduates of the required standard.

With all the stimulus money available, it would be wise to conduct hands-on training rather than lectures in order to address the shortfall in teachers' knowledge. What I find particularly disturbing is that under the old teacher-centred learning scheme, students were supposed to listen to the expert teacher. Now we are being told that most teachers were never the experts we thought they were.


Steve Graham is an English-language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeast Thailand. You may discuss matters related to this article, by sending your comments to 'In My Opinion' at education@bangkokpost.co.th

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