At the same time, the minister has also revealed that 10,000 Chinese speakers will be recruited as he sees China as an emerging global power. Thailand has slipped down the English proficiency rankings since a slight improvement in 2017. After the 1997 Asian Financial crisis, leading Thai firms embraced English although many attribute the lack of literacy in the key international language to Thailand’s strong and dominant traditional culture.

Thailand’s Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan has disclosed that a further 10,000 foreign English language teachers are to be invited to Thailand to help in his efforts to transform the country’s beleaguered education system and to attract inward investment. The announcement is a volte-face from the policy of the previous junta government which emphasised teaching Thai teachers the language and reducing the number of foreign teachers in the system.

The Minister of Education Nataphol Teepsuwan has announced plans to recruit 10,000 native English speakers from outside Thailand to teach English in Thai schools. The move is a reversal of previous government policy and comes as Thailand is losing ground in its ability to compete with other countries in Southeast Asia for jobs and inward investment. The kingdom currently has an unwieldy education system that needs to be overhauled. The Minister also revealed that 10,000 Chinese speaking teachers are also to be recruited.

The Thai Minister of Education has revealed that the government has approved funding for the recruitment of ten thousand native English language speakers in addition to seven thousand already working within the country’s severely challenged education system.

Mr Nataphol Teepsuwan was appointed to the cabinet in July last year and since his appointment has shown an interest in reaching out to countries outside Thailand for help in recalibrating the Thai education system particularly to attract inward investment.

Ailing Thai education system needs reform

Thailand’s education system derives in character from a huge public network of schools and institutions established throughout the kingdom overseen by a cumbersome and top-heavy state bureaucracy which includes not only the ministry of education but a range of other state agencies in addition to oversight from provincial administrations.

The system is facing a crisis with lower educational standards being achieved and rising problems including the key and intractable issue of teachers falling into debt.

In addition, there is also a divergence between the standards of education across establishments at all levels from well funded international schools in Bangkok to the poorest public schools in rural areas.

Despite this, Thailand’s system of education is quite elaborate and sophisticated in many respects but the system, including the vocational education sector is designed for a society in Thailand which is still looking inward with an emphasis on careers in the military, police or the civil service and old fashioned divisions in societal roles.

Well disciplined with great commitment

It is also a well-disciplined environment with a great commitment shown by families and students at all levels of a society which highly values education.

The minister made his statement this weekend while addressing a conference of international schools in Bangkok.

He said that he aims to deploy some of the concepts and tactics used in the expensive international school system to the public sector while also revealing plans to streamline the country’s huge network of schools.

He said he plans to reduce the number of schools to under half the current figure which currently stands at 15,000 different establishments.

Plans to recruit foreign English teachers being held back by the virus crisis admits minister

He told his audience that his plans to recruit more native-speaking English teachers have been held back this year by the virus shutdown and that restrictions on travel may still hamper his efforts going forward.

Mr Nataphol said that those who would be invited to teach English in Thailand should primarily have specific educational qualifications such as a teaching certificate.

He also held up Canada as an example. That country has, for some time, been sending English speaking teachers to Japan.

Shift for the policy of the junta government from 2016 which aimed to teach the teachers English

Mr Nataphol’s policy would represent a shift away from the former junta government which, when it first came into power, prioritised equipping Thai teachers with English speaking skills instead of recruiting more foreign teachers.

The minister did express a hope that more foreign teachers within Thai schools would also benefit Thai teachers in their efforts to pick up the world language.

Slight improvement in 2017 but now 17th in Asia

Thailand did show some improvement in its world index score for English proficiency in 2017 before dropping off dramatically from 2018. The country ranks 17th out of 25 countries in Asia.

Thailand’s competitive loss in this area is more due to the improvement in other countries but most agree that Thailand’s approach is broken.

The level of English speaking ability is stronger in Bangkok and Nonthaburi as well as key tourist hotspots and the north of the country. It is lower in the northeast of Thailand and the south with men having a slight edge over women.

Estimates vary but it is generally thought that depending on the region, the ability to communicate in English in Thailand varies from 10 to 15%.

The unique strength of tradition and the Thai language within the kingdom makes it difficult for the population to learn and adapt to a second language. 

Many experts agree that providing an economic incentive to learn English could be the key consideration for most Thais.

Reforms aimed at teaching the young

The Education Minister said he would like to focus his initial reform efforts on young Thai children as he felt that it was here that Thailand could reap the greatest benefit. 

The country has long been criticised for its rote, vocabulary and grammar approach to teaching English whereas modern English teaching methods particularly those which have had success in the private commercial sector, advocate teaching Thai students conversational English.

‘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 observed this weekend as he announced his initiative.

Experts say fear of making a mistake behind problem Thais are having with learning English

Language teaching experts have identified fear among Thai students and people attempting to learn a foreign language such as English of being embarrassed or making a mistake as a key inhibitor and reason behind why the kingdom is failing to improve.

Thailand’s economic development has been impinged by its falling standard in English speaking communication throughout the kingdom.

A Swiss company which maintains a leading world index in English proficiency listed Thailand as 74th out of 100 countries in its annual ratings for 2019.

This was down ten places from 64 the year before. 

English needed to attract economic investment

The minister, on Saturday, accepted that proficiency in English was critical to the country’s ability to attract inward investment and create advanced new employment opportunities in the kingdom.

Thailand is currently only ranked ahead of its neighbours Myanmar and Cambodia who are ranked 86th and 94th respectively when it comes to English.

The problem appears to be that the country is not progressing in teaching English on a wider level outside the classroom.

On the ground, real efforts were made to introduce English after the 1997 Financial Crisis

Following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Thai firms made a cultural adjustment to incorporate English into their business operations and this benefited inward investment into the kingdom by creating a more open environment. 

Although English is the first language in 53 countries and only spoken by 400 million people fluently, it has emerged as the world’s language. Currently, over 2 billion people are studying it.

Thailand falls behind Vietnam and Indonesia in the language of the internet, business and world tourism

Thailand has fallen behind countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia in English fluency. These are countries with a younger population demographic which are competing against it for investment in Southeast Asia. 

Singapore ranks as the leading country in Asia for English and fifth in the world.

The importance of English cannot be questioned. It is now undoubtedly, the global lingua franca with 52% of all websites using it and large global firms making it their official language. 

It is also acknowledged to be the primary language of tourism and world travel on which Thailand’s economy, up to the recent virus catastrophe, depended for 20% of its GDP.

English proficiency linked with Thailand’s competitiveness as Chinese teachers also to be invited

Indeed, the deterioration of English speaking capability is most notable in the south of Thailand and the northeastern Isaan region but throughout the country.

In the last three to fours years, it has also coincided with Thailand’s loss of competitiveness which is contributing to economic malaise in the kingdom.

Mr Nataphol also announced that the government was recruiting 10,000 Chinese speakers to teach Chinese in Thai schools.

‘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,’ Mr Nataphol told his audience in Bangkok.

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Further reading:

More Thai people caught in a poverty trap as World Bank calls for a focus on health and education for the young

Richest man in Thailand calls for less time spent at school and a Thai education revolution for a new era

Minister gears up Thai education sector to meet the demands of foreign investors, job creators into the future

New Education minister and his deputies face a digital test as Thailand needs more bright minds

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