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It is broken, so let’s fix it Print E-mail


English language education in Thailand is not working, so we must do something about it. There is an old saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately for us, there are many areas of education in this country that are broken and do need fixing if we are to offer our children the opportunity to compete in the global economy. For too long, the education sector has adopted a wait and see approach.


This is especially critical when tackling the myriads of problems in its education system. If we were to look at examples from our Asian cousins, we could see the lessons they have learned and try adopting some of their ideas in our country.


I mentioned in a recent article, how Korea had adopted a different strategy when it came to the production of textbooks. Recently I learned how they also have a novel idea about the streaming of students for English classes.


I may be over generalising here; however, culturally most Asian countries are not too happy with the idea of streaming classes so that classes are of the same level of competency or achievement. This is definitely the case in question in Thailand, where it is possible to stay in the same class with your classmates for sixteen years, moving from Prathom to Mathayom and then on to university.


The idea of streaming is not popular as it labels people from an early age into successes and failures. A rather drastic assumption on the part of some; nevertheless, I am constantly reminded how traumatic it was for some students in England who were made to sit the 11 plus examination at school which would determine the outcome of their secondary school education and probably, their future.


What is called for here is a bit of common sense. In Korea, only the English classes are streamed. You could say this is a way to experiment to see if something like this could work in Thailand.


To get around the problem of only English being streamed and the rest of the curriculum being taught in its normal mode, English classes are at the start of the day and at the end. This way, none of the other subjects have to change and there is less turbulence for both teachers and students alike.


Once placement tests have been given to students, they will be allotted their classes and dependant on their performance, will be able to move up or down dependant on their performance. Those that have extra English classes can still do so and hopefully the extra work they do will be reflected in their examination results and they will progress through the classes.


Those who are not so proficient at English can still progress by completing the assigned work and passing the examinations that are set. Of course, there will be some students who are not so good at English and these would be identified and action taken by parents and teachers to help those concerned.


There will obviously be problems in implementing a project such as this. For example, where do we start? Prathom 1, Prathom 3 or Mathayom 1? Personally, I’m not too sure. I think that Prathom 1 is too early, for example, many students in my region of Isaan have not acquired the language skills in Thai at this stage and would find it difficult to transfer the learning strategies from their first language to their second language.


The benefits are huge. At present, teachers complain of big classes compounded by the mixed ability of their students. If the students were of the same ability it would help the teachers while they wait for the government to act on reducing classroom sizes.


Students being taught at the relevant level, being motivated by achieving success and progressing through the system is a good lesson for when they have left the education system that protects them from the cruel outside world. There are rewards for achievement and if Thailand is to compete in the global economy, our Thai students need the tools to compete on a level playing field with everyone else. English is just one of those tools.


Thai Kids learning English  













Prathom students in Isaan looking forward to a bright future.
(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 11th March 2008)

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