Thailand: English and Mandarin language teaching to be overhauled

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Aug 11 13:33:27 UTC 2005


English language teaching to be overhauled


Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng has set a one-month deadline to
revamp English language teaching nationwide by switching from learning by
rote and grammar to English language for communication, after tests
revealed that Thais have the second-worst English language skills in
Southeast Asia. On Tuesday, the Higher Education Commission's English
proficiency development centre revealed Thais came eighth and fourth in
the nine and six Southeast Asian countries rated by TOEFL (Test of English
as Foreign Language) and TOEIC (Test of English for International
Communication), scoring on average only 201 on a cumulative scale of 300
and 524 of the full 990 score respectively.

This has promoted the drafting of a special English-language curriculum
for workers in six major industries. The minister said he told senior
Education Ministry executives on Tuesday about his three-month action plan
under which the ministry would overhaul the curriculum and improve the
quality of teaching and teachers nationwide.

He would start with English language teaching at all levels and promote
the teaching of Mandarin, which was now important for trade and
investment. English language teaching methods should be changed from
learning by rote and grammar to communication with a focus on speaking,
writing and comprehension, Mr Chaturon added.

''I've long been trying to push for such a change, but officials and
schools resisted. These test results clearly show that Thais have poor
English language skills terms of scoring, almost the worst in
Southeast Asia.

''TOEFL tests recently changed to gauge communications, speaking and
writing skills instead of focusing on listening and multiple choices.
That's why Thai students who learn English by rote have failed to adjust
to the change,'' he said.

Restructuring the curriculum, teaching methods and improving teacher
quality was a major agenda item in the wake of the many policy
implementation problems that had arisen since the curriculum for basic
education was introduced four years ago.

To achieve the goal, the ministry would listen to academics and people's
opinions. Khunying Kasama Varavarn na Ayudhaya, permanent secretary for
education, would oversee creation of a strategic plan and a database on
teaching methods for schools and teachers to use.

''The curriculum has too much content and causes burdens and worries to
teachers. Students are unhappy about studying and incapable of analytical
thinking and applying their knowledge. The new curriculum must not upset
students or teachers, but introduce easy-to-understand teaching methods.
''Whatever is too difficult for children must be corrected while whatever
is used for teaching must be evaluated and updated,'' Mr Chaturon said.

He also wanted the ministry to scrap its vague policy for every school to
design its own curriculum based on the central curriculum but including a
local component, and instead help schools with the design based on local
intellect. The policy had confused schools, he said.

To enhance teaching of Mandarin, the ministry would seek cooperation from
the private sector and universities, to help institutions set up teaching
systems which met international standards. Vocational and non-formal
education would also be overhauled, pre-primary and higher education
improved and community participation boosted in education management.

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