Bangkok: Ministry to promote Mandarin as alternative

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Sep 27 16:07:59 UTC 2005

LANGUAGE CLASSES: Ministry to promote Mandarin as alternative
Published on September 27, 2005

Critics dismiss plan as market oriented gimmick. The Education Ministry is
planning to promote Mandarin as an alternative language for school
students, and it says children may choose to begin learning the language
as early as grade 1. It is one of Education Minister Chaturon Chaisangs
latest policies, and aims to give Thailand a competitive edge in a world
economy where China is exerting increasing power.

However, the policy has drawn concern from some critics who are worried
that Mandarin classes will become just another market-oriented product.

Usanee Watanapan, head of the ministrys translation institute, explained
last week that Chaturons policy aimed to enhance Mandarin-teaching classes
in the education system as a whole. Usanee will supervise preparation of
the strategy.

Its not mandatory, but schools that are ready for it will be encouraged to
begin Mandarin classes because it is becoming an increasingly important
language, she said.

According to the draft strategy, Mandarin teaching will be standardised in
the same way as English, so that all schools in the country follow the
same standard. The strategy does not cover language schools.

A central curriculum will be developed to identify what needs to be taught
and the objectives at each level. This will allow a continuity for
Mandarin learners because there are currently different standards when it
comes to Mandarin classes in Thailand, Usanee said.

The curriculum, which is one of the strategys three main components, will
be based on research and categorised into three parts: a 12-year
curriculum for students who begin learning Mandarin when they enter
primary schools; a six-year curriculum for those who begin Mandarin
classes at secondary schools; and special courses for vocational students
who may need specific vocabularies.

We have received support from China, Usanee said. Chinese experts are
going to work with our experts to develop textbooks based on our

She said that more information would also be given to the public on the
HSK proficiency test  the Mandarin version of the Test of English as a
Foreign Language. Test scores can be used to apply to Chinese universities
and companies.

China is an economic power and Mandarin is becoming increasingly
important. If we try to avoid it, we will lose, Usanee said.

At present, at least 300 Thai schools offer Mandarin classes to their
students. About half of them are state schools.

The number of such schools should increase in the future, Usanee said.

However, the ministry has not yet set specific goals for how many more
schools should join the Mandarin-teaching effort.

With the value of trade and investment between China and Thailand expected
to reach US$20 billion (Bt824 billion) this year, Mandarin is being seen
as a powerful economic tool.

Mandarin-speaking graduates from my faculty get good jobs, said Associate
Professor Pornpan Juntaronanont, a deputy dean at Ramkhamhaeng Universitys
faculty of humanities and head of the facultys Mandarin division.

She said she could not agree more with the ministrys plan to promote the
teaching of Mandarin because it was now closely associated with economic

Also, Mandarin links you to the rich culture of China, and when you know
one more language, your view broadens, she said.

Usanee went on to explain two other main components in the Mandarin
promotion strategy: the development of teachers and cooperation among
relevant organisations.

She said China would send native Mandarin experts, while Thai teachers
would receive scholarships to study in China.

The Education Ministry will also push a plan to pair up schools in
Thailand and China as sister schools, so that the Chinese schools are able
to assist their Thai counterparts in the development of Mandarin classes.

Songsri Sirikhetkorn, an official for the Oriental Knowledge and Language
School, which offers both Mandarin and Japanese, welcomed the ministrys
move. She said she had no concerns about any impact on her schools

On the contrary, I think more students will come to us for tutorial
classes, she said. Aside from Mandarin classes, her language school also
teaches Mandarin calligraphy, Chinese painting, and how to play the
Chinese dulcimer.

A lecturer at Chulalongkorn Universitys faculty of education, Sompong
Jitradab, was concerned that Mandarin classes are becoming fashionable,
and that many people will jump at the opportunity they offer for reaping

Urisara Kowitdamrong

The Nation

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