Thursday, 27 March 2008

Education in Thailand

Education in Thailand is provided mainly by the Thai government through the Ministry of Education. A free basic education of twelve years is guaranteed by the constitution, and a minimum of nine years' school attendance is mandatory.

Formal education consists of at least twelve years of basic education, and higher education. Basic education is divided into six years of primary education (Prathom Suksa) and six years of secondary education (Mathayom Suksa), the latter being further divided into three years of lower- and upper-secondary levels. Kindergarten levels of pre-primary education, also part of the basic education level, spans 2-3 years depending on the locale, and is variably provided. Non-formal education is also supported by the state.

English Language Education in Thailand
The use of English in Thailand while far from being as developed as in the Netherlands, Germany, the Scandinavian countries or the Philippines, is nevertheless rapidly increasing through the influence of the media and the Internet and is far greater, for example, than in France, the United Kingdom’s nearest neighbour.

The government has long realised the importance of the English language as a major core subject in schools, and it has been a compulsory subject at varying levels for several decades. Since 2005 schools are being encouraged to establish bilingual departments where the core subjects are taught in English, and to offer intensive English language programmes. Notwithstanding the extensive use of, and exposure to English in everyday life in Thailand, the standard of correct English in the schools is now the lowest in Southeast Asia. In 1997 Thailand was still in the forefront, but by 2001 Laos and Vietnam had caught up, and by mid 2004 were clearly in the lead. (SAMEO Conference, Singapore, April 2006).

Following the announcement of the University of Cambridge to launch a new course and qualification for non-native speaker teachers, a survey was carried out in February 2006, with the collaboration of the University of Cambridge as part of a field trial, by the country’s largest group of independent schools of its 400 or so teachers of English. The project reported that in over 60 percent of the teachers, the knowledge of the language and teaching methodology was well below that of the syllabus level which they were being expected to teach. Some teachers with a Grade 6 level - or lower - in the language were actually attempting to teach Grades 10, 11, and even 12. Of the remaining top 40 per cent, only 3 percent had a reasonable level of fluency and only 20 per cent were teaching grades for which they were correctly qualified and competent. For the most part, the level of spoken and written English was often incomprehensible to the native speaker designers and administrators of the project. Within the group of over 40 schools representing nearly 80,000 students in primary and secondary education, random parallel test groups of primary school pupils often scored higher in some tests than many of the teachers in other schools of the same group. The schools resisted the initiative of the central governing body to provide intensive upgrading programmes for the teachers. In spite of the evidence, the schools doubted the results, and to save face, argued that their teachers had qualified through their various universities and colleges and either had nothing more to learn or could not afford the time. In the government schools the situation is no better and many primary teachers freely admit that they are forced to teach English although they have little or no knowledge of the language whatsoever. A debate began in several circles as to whether teaching English badly during the most influential years is in fact better than not teaching it at all at primary level. The situation is further exacerbated by the ever-changing curriculum, which is frequently misinterpreted into syllabuses by the teachers themselves at levels often far too advanced for the cognitive development of the students.

Thousands of native English speakers are employed in public and private schools throughout the country, their existence being encouraged by the need to develop students’ oral expression and knowledge of foreign culture; much of their time however, is taken up with remedial teaching: putting right any grammar, orthography, pronunciation and cultural background that has been wrongly taught and which leads to great misunderstanding - they see this as a greater priority. The official version of English, although not always practical in its dispensation, is British. Qualified native teachers with a background in linguistics will ensure that students are exposed to both major variations of the language and understand them and their differences, whichever version the students choose to speak.

Language classes, sponsored by the governments of English speaking countries such as those provided by the British Council, enjoy an excellent reputation for quality, both for general English, and for the preparation for international exams such as the American English TOEFL and the British English IELTS, which are prerequisites for the entry into many professions, particularly aircrew and tourism. There is also no shortage of cramming schools, usually franchise chains, in the capital and larger cities, but although they are staffed mainly by highly motivated, qualified native speakers, and have excellent resources, they are often branded by cynics as ‘the McDonalds of English language’.

There has been a dramatic increase since 2000 in the number of Thailand based TEFL/TESOL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language / Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher training institutions. Some dispense internationally recognised teaching certificates and diplomas which follow the courses of established universities, and some provide courses and certification franchised from other organisations and universities, still others dispense their own courses and certification. Whatever their claims, there is no single, internationally recognised accrediting body for the certificates. Currently, to teach English in established schools, public or private, the minimum academic qualification for native speakers to obtain the required government teacher licence is a bachelor degree - in any subject. However, the government is in the process of exercising greater control, particularly to combat the use of bogus certificates and degrees issued by diploma mills, and to prevent access to schools by persons with doubtful motives.