Education's dark days and white knights
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Education's dark days and white knights

The recent English proficiency ranking by EF Education First, the international educational company, revealed that Thailand ranked 62nd out of 70 countries where English is not the most spoken language, placing Thailand as the third worst country in Asia when it comes to English communication skills. The result is obviously unpleasant even though the figures do not come as a major surprise to many Thais.

Despite the ranking being somewhat predictable, the country's poor standard of education should not be considered acceptable.

A few days after the ranking was released, Deputy Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin announced the ministry's plan to cut the number of foreign English tutors by recruiting the first batch of 500 Thai teachers who teach English in state-run schools to attend a "train-the-trainer" programme, a six-week intensive course, organised by the British Council. All this is to reduce the cost of hiring foreigners.

According to the ministry's survey, there are 43,000 Thai English teachers countrywide, but only 6 of them have been found to have the ability to achieve native-like fluency in English.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the ministry's attempts to intensively train these teachers and I consider it beneficial to the country. To improve teacher quality is a must in order to improve children's education.

But what doesn't sound right to me is that the purpose of replacing native-speaker teachers with the six-week-trained Thai teachers is to cut down on expense.

Thai English teachers could probably transfer their knowledge to their students better than native speakers in certain areas, such as techniques for learning English as a non-native, or techniques on grammar where the syntax of the two languages are very different.

But when it comes to communication skills which comprise of speaking, listening, reading and writing, practice makes perfect. And doesn't it sound right to put students in a real English-speaking environment so that their learning process will be faster?

The deputy minister also added that the ministry plans to partner with GMM Grammy and Polyplus Entertainment to use their English-speaking artists and celebrities to promote the language among Thai youth.

Whether or not that would inspire some students, the root cause of poor education -- teaching quality -- is still left unresolved.

The deputy minister said that at the end of the day it is important for us Thais to be able to stand on our own two feet so that we do not have to rely on foreign teachers to improve our English all the time. But I think what's more important is that in order for us to be able to stand on our own two feet, the ability to understand English is essential. We can only increase our connectivity to the rest of the world by having some good and proficient teachers in the first place.

Disparity in education has always been a big issue in our country.

There is always a huge gap between schools in big cities and those in rural areas. If foreign teachers are to be totally withdrawn from schools, the education gaps will just become wider. Only students in schools who can afford to hire private foreign tutors will get a chance to study proper English, while the less fortunate will have no chance to do so.

Thailand has probably been heading in the wrong direction for the whole time when it comes to English teaching.

Even though English lessons are mandatory in all schools since primary school, and Thailand spends a big proportion of its budget on education (31.3% of total government expenditure, well above what other countries spend, according to EF), the results have certainly not turned out as expected.

Foreign teachers are definitely not the white knights that can rescue Thai people's learning skills. Employing just Thai teachers is also not a solution for the country's poor educational standards.

The answer in fact lies in a good mix of foreign and Thai teachers to help pull Thai students out of this educational slump.

One thing is for sure, the government must reconsider the direction we are heading in, in order to reach a brighter future for the education of all Thai students.

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Pattramon Sukprasert

Feature writer

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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