English as a Second Language in Thailand Education
The importance of English as a world language, the advance of technology and education reform envisaged by the new Thai Constitution are key determinants for new developments for English language teaching and learning in Thailand in this decade. This paper will first focus on the role of English and the problems of English language teaching in Thailand. It will also touch on the part of education reform which is related to English language teaching.
Then, it will state what has been planned or already done to improve the English language teaching and learning situation in Thailand, now and in the future. The role of English in Thailand is quite important as it is in many other developing countries. New technology and the adoption of the internet have resulted in a major transition in terms of business, education, science, and technological progress, all of which demand high proficiency in English. With the economic downturn in Thailand a few years ago, a large number of Thai companies have embraced cooperation regionally and internationally.
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Mergers, associations, and takeovers are common and English is used as the means to communicate, negotiate and execute transactions by participants where one partner can be a native speaker of English or none of the partners are native speakers of English. However, Thailand has always been a country with one official language, Thai. We are proud that we have never been colonized. Another reason for having been a country with one language is the concept of national stability. There have been proposals to make Thailand a country with two languages, Thai and English, but this has never materialized due to the abovementioned reasons.
English can, therefore, be at most the first foreign language that students must study in schools. Hence, Thais’ level of English proficiency is low in comparison with many countries in Asia (e. g. Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore). According to the speech given by the Minister of the Ministry of University Affairs on March 6, 2000, the average TOEFL scores of Thais are the same as for Mongolians but higher than for North Koreans and Japanese. Researchers on the topics of needs and wants of English in workplaces have also suggested that the English curriculum in Thai universities cannot meet the demands for English used in the workplace.
The skills used most at this level are listening and speaking which are not the focus skills in the Thai tertiary education English curriculum. It can be said that up to now English language teaching in Thailand has not prepared Thais for the changing world. Thailand will lag behind in the competitive world of business, education, science and technology if the teaching and learning of English is not improved. Here are some comments concerning the importance of English and the problems of English language teaching in Thailand. Dr. Rom Hiranyapruek, director of Thai Software Park, stated that English is as important to the domain of information technology as other infrastructures. Thais have high proficiency in technology but because of our below average English competence, we cannot make much progress in terms of science and technology. Mrs. Arunsi Sastramitri, director of the Academic Training Section of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, stated that tourism is the main source of income in our country. However, Thai graduates who are in the tourism industry have a poor command of English.
This has contributed to misunderstanding and a negative attitude towards Thailand. 2 What has caused the difficulties in English language teaching and learning in Thailand especially in the primary and secondary schools? According to Biyaem, 1997, the teachers and learners face the following difficulties: For teachers, there are many obstacles such as : – heavy teaching loads. – too many students in a class (45 – 60) – insufficient English language skills and native speaker cultural knowledge. – inadequately equipped classrooms and educational technology. university entrance examinations which demand a tutorial teaching and learning style. As for the learners, they wish they could speak English fluently but most of them think that English is too challenging for them to be competent because of these difficulties: – interference from the mother tongue (Thai) particularly in pronunciation, syntax, and idiomatic usage. – lack of opportunity to use English in their daily lives. – unchallenging English lessons. – being passive learners. – being too shy to speak English with classmates. – lack of responsibility for their own learning.
However, it is not only the level of English competence that inhibits Thailand from being able to keep pace with the rapid changes that are taking place everywhere around us, Thai education, as a whole, does not enable Thais to cope with this fast changing world. Thailand’s new constitution, adopted in 1997 has, therefore, established the National Education Act which creates the most radical education reform in Thai history. This education reform to be implemented between 1996 and 2007 involves four main areas: school, curriculum, teacher and administrative reform.
Its main concern is that learners have the ability to learn and develop. Learners are the most important component and lifelong learning must be encouraged. A twelve-year basic education will be provided free to all Thai students. In 2005, there will be an Office of Quality Assurance, whose task is to oversee the quality control of education at every level and in every aspect. Schools are to be given more autonomy. There will be greater involvement by families and local communities in school policy and administration.
An independent and learner–centered approach is a must, and analytical learning instead of rote learning will be incorporated. Teacher education will also be a focus. Teachers will have to undertake research and develop teaching abilities as well. With the importance of English as a world language and the changes that come with the National Education Act, plus the challenges of new technology, what follows will discuss the English language teaching and learning scenario in Thailand in this decade. 1. More international programs As of last year, there were 56 international schools around the country.
There were three foreign colleges and universities in Thailand. In private Thai universities, there were 77 undergraduate, 30 graduate and five Ph. D curricula using English as the language of instruction. In governmental higher education institutions, there were 143 undergraduate, 205 graduate and 77 doctoral international programs in English which have been established either independently by Thai institutes or have links with overseas institutes. It is expected that most new programs to be opened in universities in the future will be international programs.