English literacy just the tip of the iceberg

English literacy just the tip of the iceberg

Students participate in an outdoor activity at Ban Charoensuk School in Surin. Students in rural communities face a myriad of educational challenges. NOPPARAT KINGKAEW
Students participate in an outdoor activity at Ban Charoensuk School in Surin. Students in rural communities face a myriad of educational challenges. NOPPARAT KINGKAEW

An ambitious initiative being planned by the Thai Ministry of Education to place thousands of young foreign teachers in rural schools across Thailand has the potential to dramatically improve English-language abilities. However, quality control is likely to prove problematic, as is culture shock. In addition, students in rural communities face myriad educational challenges far beyond foreign language proficiency, which restrict equality of opportunity.

During a mid-March meeting which discussed this initiative, the ministry expressed its intentions to work with Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) organisations and international schools to recruit the young teachers, most of whom would be gap year students or recent graduates. If successful, the project would begin implementation during the 2019 academic year.

There is clearly a dire need for better English skills nationally. English is the most important international "gateway language", opening up opportunities to students from depressed socio-economic backgrounds. Yet, national standards in English remain shockingly low. Annual reports from the Swiss-based education company English First and Thailand's national assessment, the O-Net, provide compelling evidence that English-language ability has stagnated while the ability of students in neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam, is improving dramatically.

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