The Education Ministry plans to recruit 10,000 native English-speaking teachers to improve Thai students' proficiency in the language as soon as the situation is safe to do so.
Speaking at a meeting held by the International Schools Association of Thailand on Friday, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan said he has asked the embassies of several English-speaking countries to find teachers who can teach English and other subjects in the language to Thai students, as part of government-to-government cooperation programmes.
"A large number of native English-speaking teachers are necessary as we are working on upgrading the education system. One of the countries we are talking to is Canada which sends many teachers to Japan," Mr Nataphol said.
He said there are 7,000 foreign teachers in Thai schools, but this is not enough, adding another 10,000 are required. He said the cabinet has earmarked funds for their recruitment.
"Ideally, this should have started already, but due to the pandemic it's been delayed. As soon as the situation is safe and secure enough, we will invite foreign teachers here," he said.
The aim is to improve students' proficiency in English, boost their confidence and equip them to seek further knowledge, Mr Nataphol said, adding Thai teachers will also be able to learn and benefit from native English speakers.
The minister said he has also come up with a plan to upgrade English-language lessons from kindergarten to high school levels. However, the initial stage of the project will focus on early childhood education and vocational education first.
"The best time to learn a new language is from soon after birth to the age of seven. It is easier for young children to learn a second language. For vocational students, it's also important to boost their English proficiency as Thailand has set a target to be an investment hub for foreign investors," Mr Nataphol said.
Mr Nataphol added foreign teachers must have some professional training to qualify for the job, adding that a language teaching certificate is preferred.
Apart from improving students' proficiency in the English language, Mr Nataphol said the ministry also has plans to recruit 10,000 native Chinese-speaking teachers to teach Chinese to Thai students.
"The cabinet has earmarked funds for this plan as well. Chinese is also one of the most important languages to learn. With China emerging as a global power, it is becoming increasingly more important for our future workforce to know the language," he said.
The minister said he has set a target to cut the number of state schools nationwide by half to 15,000 by merging small schools with few pupils and poor standards with higher-quality schools nearby. He said by doing so the ministry will be able to combine personnel and resources, upgrade teaching standards and narrow the quality gap.
He added the ministry will also revamp its curricula to equip students with skills for the 21st century by applying approaches used by international schools.