Why is English so poor in Thailand?
Students are simply just not 'taught' here
Recently I read with considerable interest an article on The Nation website that stated that adults in Thailand are ranked 55th from a list of 60 countries on their English proficiency skills.
From what I have seen as an English teacher working in government secondary schools here in Thailand over the last 10 years I must say that I'm not surprised and actually relieved that someone else is aware of how bad the situation here really is. But it begs the question: with all the emphasis and effort on employing native English speakers to teach English language lessons throughout Thailand, why then is Thailand so far down the ladder?
It's interesting that at a time when we are inundated with messages about how Thailand is "Ready for ASEAN" every other ASEAN nation ranks above Thailand for English proficiency, even countries that Thai people look down their noses at, such as Myanmar and Laos
How can this be? Are these countries all achieving something superior to Thailand with their limited budgets? Are they attracting "better" English teachers by offering higher salaries and better ‘perks'? The answer, I believe, has more to do with how students learn in Thailand and not the teaching being offered by foreign teachers.
I am constantly amazed at how many year 12 students (Muttayom 6) find it almost impossible to speak even the simplest English sentences. These young people who have been ‘learning' English for approximately 10 years are unable to even answer the simple question, "Where are you going?"
Obviously I am making an enormous generalisation here but it seems that the older a student is in Thailand, the worse their English language proficiency is. A stroll around any Thai government school will reveal why this is.
A flawed system
Thai students are not ‘taught' by their Thai teachers. As an outsider it's easy to come to this country and criticise aspects of Thai life that don't ‘measure up' to what we have back home. I don't wish to sound rude, arrogant or even racist, but it is a fact that the government-funded education system in Thailand is totally teacher-centred and revolves around students copying ‘information' from either a blackboard/whiteboard or from handouts.
Incredibly, the Thai teachers never question this, never wonder if this method is beneficial or effective and is used as a method of ‘teaching' in every subject. When the students are eventually tested they are asked what they can remember, not what they know.
In Thailand there does not seem to be any understanding of the enormous difference between these two. English is, of course, no different. For example, students can remember what the phrasal verb "take off" means but are totally incapable of using it when speaking or writing. I have a couple of stories to illustrate how ‘teaching' is done here.
My first school teaching position was in Phuket and there were children from primary and secondary levels being ‘taught' there. I was teaching the secondary students and I was interested to see how Thai teachers taught the younger ones in the primary level.
One of the primary teachers was a lovely, friendly lady called khun Dang and I went and observed one of her classes when I had some free time. She was in charge of a room full of 50 grade 2 pupils who were totally out of control until khun Dang began copying a large section of text from the textbook that every pupil happened to already have on their desks.
Going through the motions
As soon as khun Dang stood up, the boys and girls all began to copy whatever she wrote into their notebooks. When khun Dang had finished she sat down at her tiny desk at the front corner of the room and simply sat there looking totally bored and disinterested.
One by one the students would finish their copying and bring their notebooks up to khun Dang's desk where she would tick and sign their work with a red pen whilst not even looking at what the children had written. Then the students would go back to their desks and resume playing/fighting/dancing, etc.
With perfect timing the last student had their book ‘marked' just as the lesson finished and khun Dang stood up and walked out of the room. Suffice to say, I was absolutely gobsmacked.
Recently I was teaching at a secondary school in Nonthaburi and I arrived to my classes to find that all my grade 11 (Muttayom 5) students were busily copying words into their notebooks. I was not overly concerned about this because (a) this happens in almost every class that I teach and (b) no matter what I say or what I do it is impossible to stop Thai students doing work from other subjects in my lessons without them resenting me.
On this occasion, however, it was the same information being copied for all of my grade 11 classes and even my best students were doing it. I was able to ask them what they were copying and this is what I discovered: every student was told by their science teacher to copy every word from a six-page handout (which contained information about health and nutrition) into their notebooks. If they did this then they would receive 6 points towards their end-of-semester score.
You can't fool the students
I taught six grade 11 classes with an average of 45 students per class. That's 270 students and a total of 1,620 pages copied into their notebooks. I asked my students (the ones who understood my questions and were able to answer me) if (a) they honestly thought that their teacher would sit down and read 1,620 pages of hand-copied notes to make sure they had been copied correctly and (b) if they thought they had learnt anything from this exercise at all.
They were honest enough to tell me that they did not even read what they were copying, merely transcribing letters and words and that they hated the exercise and had no respect for their teacher. The teacher had copied the text from the internet, printed it off and given the resultant 6 pages to each of her students.
If I had the temerity to do that for one of my classes, I would have quite deservedly been sacked, no question. I wondered what the teacher's lesson plan must have looked like but that's neither here nor there.
Obviously these are only two isolated incidents and I do not wish to appear that I am critical of every Thai teacher in Thailand. My point with these two stories is that from my experience it is the Thai education system and the way that Thai children are taught which is the biggest reason why their English language skills (and no doubt the skills that we take for granted in their other subjects) are so appallingly low.
Thai children are not encouraged to question anything in class. Walk past a Thai lesson in progress and you will rarely if ever see a student with their hand raised (unless they want to go to the toilet, which is often).
Thai children are not curious about the world around them, they do not wonder about things. They are aware, for example, that there are such things as British English and American English - but they never ask why. They accept everything they are told and that's it.
By the time Thai students reach native English teachers in a classroom situation they have been programmed to sit on their hard, wooden chairs at their tiny wooden desks and to magically absorb whatever comes from their teacher.
When we present a model of English in the board the students are unable to process the information and use it in a way that we take for granted. They are only able to copy words without thinking and this, of course, is no way to master a foreign language.
Unless the authorities in Thailand seriously consider totally overhauling the way Thai children are educated in Thailand, encouraging inquisitive young minds and nurturing young talent the English proficiency in particular in Thailand will always be appallingly low and the country will be the laughing stock of ASEAN when it eventually joins it.
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I am a an M5 student in Thai education system.
First of all, I would like to express my opinion and my take on the subject of English in my own perspective. It is to be noted that I have always studied in certain renowned schools since Prathom, so there might be something I miss. And I would like to apologize for that in advance.
The main issue occurring in all places is the inability to utilize the language efficiently in all skills (reading, listening, writing, speaking)
Even the study I received can be said to have better standards than those in rural areas. Most students are unable to speak or express their sophisticated opinions in English, despite their hours of in-school study and extra lessons.
Why is that so? Because there is no reason we should be able to speak or write fluently since there is no evaluation of such skills in our entrance exam.
The understanding of this tragic fact seems to be established among almost all Thai teachers. Students have no ground knowledge and are not accustomed to the language. A lot of my friends still say that they don’t understand what a foreign teacher was saying most of the time.
Most foreign teachers are often disappointed in the education system by our inability to interact with them. But in a student point a view, I can see that most students don’t even care if they can speak English or use English properly as long as they get good grades from the exam.
I think that the most efficient way to change is to adjust evaluation process in schools, improve quality of teachers, and put a little more care into each student, as language has always been a hard thing to be taught. Language itself can be very hard to taught because Thai don’t use it daily. Encouraging us to love the language and provide us an exciting and unconventional ways to study would be really great.
By Warisa, Bangkok (27th April 2021)
is it true that some schools in Thailand don't offer English subject? and only exclusive school can have this subject?
By Acheron, Philippines (29th January 2021)
A good well-written article, based on objective observation; similar to my own experience watching Thai teachers giving English classes, and my 2 step-children age 10 and 16. Thai people - be they young or old - rarely have inquisitive minds, they are taught to follow and not question from early on.
By Martin Tschumi, Noen Maprang (3rd April 2020)
I'm at the final stage of a Diploma in Education which I had to enroll to be able to continue teaching in the Kingdom of Thailand.
After 12 years and 4 schools, I have come to the conclusion that the "quality of Thai student's' English skills" did not improve within the last 12 years.
But how is that even possible when more and more NES teachers with experience and degrees in education teach Thai students, even at smaller schools.
I'm glad to see Thai teachers on this page who even agree that there's something wrong with the whole system.
Here are some problems:
1. Too many agencies sign a contract with corrupt school directors who only want to fill their pockets. If the students learn, or not isn't really important to them. All agencies have great brochures with information that makes people believe that thus agency provides plenty of experienced NES teachers with many years of experience. The truth is that a lot of them are NNES guys and I don't even want to call them teachers now. They are only there to fill in because they don't find an experienced NES teacher who signs a 10-month contract with a monthly salary of 30 K, or even less.
I know from the past that these agencies have a hard time finding such people and they even look in tourist areas, approach people from English speaking countries and a week later they enter a Thai classroom for the first time. Some of them were planning to travel, but making some extra money and leaving after the first salary is quite common. I've met ex- students who told me that they had seven different foreign teachers in one term? A shocking example was a 19-year-old girl with her 18-year-old brother and both were my students at a well-known primary school in grade six. They "Waied" me and I soon found out that the English they were taught at primary school was completely gone. After six years of high school at the best high school in town, they couldn't even answer the easiest questions. When they were in grade six, both could communicate and understood when English was spoken. Six years of high school, taught by experienced NES teachers and all of their English was gone down the drain?
Students have to fail when they are not good enough to do their assignments.
Teachers need to learn more about child psychology.
It's time that somebody stops all the fishy agencies that pay so-called teachers, often only backpackers, a 10-month salary only, many of them don't even have a degree. If a teacher didn't go to university, it's a very bad start position.
The school directors are only interested in signing up with agencies because they make good money by doing so. The best teachers are those who've got a lot of teaching experience and hired directly.
A 12 months contract, visa and work permit paid for is a must and only shows how a school is treating foreign teachers.
A lot of foreigners are long enough in the system to understand what should and has to be changed to see much better results. The students from today are the future of tomorrow. We don't need some shortsighted people who don't understand the importance of a good education.
And when I hear that education in Thailand is free until grade 12, I only have to smile. Nothing is free and hidden fees have to be paid too often. To get a student into a school with a good name is already expensive.
And if a Thai teacher who worked 30 years in a smaller town wants to work at a school where he, or she;'s living the schools' usually asking for 400,000 baht. people have to buy their teaching position. Students til grade 12 are not allowed to ask their teacher a question because they could lose face by not knowing the answer? It's time to stop this insanity, nobody can lose face, we can only work together and create a good environment, learn from our mistakes and help each other.
The use of Multi -media in class these days also helps a lot. I could go on and on and on all night long, but it's time for bed.
I wish all teachers a great time, please write about your own experiences and there might be one day where we all are united and have some say in this big circus called education. Sawasdee khrap.
By Mike, Sisaket (20th December 2016)
The major problem of learning English for Thai people is the pronunciation . They can not change their throat settings and native speakers can not explain how to do that , After few attempts they lose any interests to speak and just copy words into their notebooks,
By Vadim, Thailand (20th December 2016)
I used to be a teacher in Thai schools -- both public and private. Thus, I am confused about comments that talk about "elite" schools in Thailand. The best university in Thailand, Chulangkorn, is rated 250th in the world. In other words, there is no such thing as a good school in Thailand. Indeed, there are only two types of schools in Thailand: Terrible and super-terrible. Out of the 160 self-proclaimed international schools in Thailand, maybe four or five are truly international and genuinely superb and elite, but that's it.
By Phipps, Boston, Massachusetts (19th December 2016)
Hello, I'm from Thailand and now I'm studying in American school. Today, I just read an article about Japan which was writing that "why they aren't good at English". So, after I finished to read the article , I was so surprising because they have had exactly the same problem with the proficiency in English, like Thailand. According to the above article, everything are written completely true about Thai education and the way how we learn English so far.
By Sahatsawat Butsatum, Germany (8th January 2016)
We are missing the point. We are seeing with world as a Westerner that is empowered and has a sense of self-destiny.
Thai's are not stupid. They could improve the education system. The education system is designed to reinforce the existing social-economic system. The children of the rich stay rich. To ensure this, rich Thai's send their kids to private schools, attend the named Thai universities or are sent abroad. Their future is not determined by their academic performance, rather it is determined the university they attended and by family relationships. Nearly all Thai's know this, but the Thai belief system implies that they cannot change their destiny and they should not confront anyone in power. As such, change occurs very slow, if at all. Parents, teachers and even the administrators find it believe is culturally advantageous to simply maintain the status quo.
By Pedersen, USA- Formerly Bangkok (22nd November 2015)
Hello....I am from Myanmar and I am now an internship students in Thailand.
My project is to improve undergraduate Science students in learning english but i find it is really different to motivate them. I try to find out the problem. People here just said that it is because their students are really shy to speak English. But, students in my country also shy to speak English but at least they try. Students here are so afraid to speak out in English. Then, I was also a student who have been in Teacher-centered system in my country. It is wondering if you could give me some possible solutions for that.
By Nang Mway Kham, Thailand (12th August 2015)
"Thai children are not encouraged to question anything in class. Walk past a Thai lesson in progress and you will rarely if ever see a student with their hand raised (unless they want to go to the toilet, which is often)"Quote:
I can't believe that you taught in Thailand for so many years, without knowing that Thai students are not allowed to ask their teachers any questions.
Neither Prathomsuksa ( primary), nor Matayom ( secondary) students are allowed to ask their teachers any questions, which is an unwritten law by the Ministry of Education.
The reason for it is incredible. It could be that the teacher doesn't know the answer. That's it. No more questioning.
It's again all about the "loss of face". Would a teacher not know the answer, he, or she'd immediately lose face.
It might sound weird for people who're not in this system, but it's also a big problem in a teacher/student relationship.
I've had students and discussed this "problem" with them, there's really nothing they could do. If the teacher tells them that a blackboard is white, they have to accept it.
Which of course also hinders the students' critical thinking skills in a way that the situation is so out of control.
The Thai teachers let them copy material that might contain words, meanings, sentence structures,theories, etc...but the teachers don't even understand their own lessons, because they printed it off the internet.
I have and had many students who're much better than their English teacher. It must be terrible to see all the mistakes and finally find out that the kid who's got absolutely zero English skills finally gets a higher grade at the end of the year.
With other words, it's the hell on earth for the clever students. I'm teaching English now for 11 years and still see and experience Thai teachers who're only good with a bamboo stick to hit them.
I held countless seminars for Thai English teachers, both, primary and secondary level, how to teach English mist effectively and came to the conclusion that most of them shouldn't be English teachers.
There're only a few who can have a simple conversation in English, which is a part of the explanation why the students' English is so poor. Then please add some "experienced NES teachers from Russia, sent by an agency, stir them well and you've got the situation at Thai schools how it is these days.
I feel very sorry for the students and truly hope that they wake up soon. But that might just be a dream in a face losing society.
My 16 year old son, who's currently attending a technical college to "study electronics" was always better than his teacher, considering the fact that they know that his daddy's teaching English he's got the credit that they ask him what certain words mean, or how to pronounce them.
By Mike, Sisaket (30th June 2015)
Like many here I have taught in various schools.
At the government school it was, as has been mentioned totally teacher centred.
In the private school I worked at it is results centred, not that this means it is any better as students are simply not allowed to fail.
I was told to raise all students up to a minimum of 50% on tests and that this had to get higher as the school year progresses to show that the students were getting better, even when they were not.
My co-ordinator even raised one students score from 7% to 80%!
One students said to me" We do not have to listen to you foreign teachers as we will get a pass anyway' (I have improved the English a lot!)
So long as the school keeps the parents happy and the money rolls in they do not care. I wonder if the scores were fudged to get them to position 55.
By Stephen Willis, Nakhon Ratchasima (8th June 2015)
When I first came to Thailand I taught at one of the "demonstration" schools and was impressed by the sound systems every classroom had - that was until I realised the sound system was there to help the teacher to dictate a lesson through a microphone, thereby drowning out the noise of the fans and the noisy children at the back.
Later I taught some Thai English teachers from around Thailand, apparently the cream of the profession in Thailand, whose English was, at best, pre-intermediate.
Combining a teaching methodology that emphasises dictation, with English teachers who can't speak English properly is a match made in hell. You might just be able to get away with it in a fact-based subject like science or history, but not a skills-based subject like language learning.
By Charlie, Bangkok (30th March 2015)
Ummm... I'm Thai, also English teacher and i admitted and agreed with you how English is so poor in Thailand. Well, as someone mentioned, many Thais do have the same opinion but no one listens to them.
Now I'm doing a thesis for Master degree, giving a try at 'Public opinion to problems in English learning in Thailand: a case study of Pattaya city'. But I'd have to say that I am truthfully inexperience. If anyone here could help me out (a thing or two), I'd be really grateful. you can contact me via email: tibcalev / hotmail. :) :)
By Alissa, Thailand (10th June 2014)
I'm am a brand new teacher in Thailand and I have recently been going through my job role with the heads of the English department.
I have been designated the role of teaching listening and speaking only. I have been told to create my own lesson plans and topics for the entire year in order to improve the students ability to hold conversation in real situations, seemingly regardless of what the Thai English teachers are teaching the same class in the same week.
So I will be teaching Mathayom 2 but not necessarily at Mathayom 2 level. So I asked whether when I grade the students, their scores are just seen as a separate entity to their school grade, or will it determine their final overall grade. But I just end up going in circles because no one seems to understand the relevance to my question........surely setting tests based on lower level skills can't determine a student's current overall grade right? Well, I am getting the idea that it can, and that the teachers round here don't see it as a problem.
I have also been advised by the resident Filipino teacher of 3 years that I should just make the lessons easy, and always give them at least a mark of 20, because If I fail them, it makes ME look bad!!! She told me that the last teacher, who was a 65 year old Scottish man, had failed too many students the previous year and the school had gotten rid of him!
She, and a few Thai teachers, also had a chuckle about the thought of me teaching grammar to Thai students........but this is something that the TEFL course has prepared me for. They kept saying "They won't understand you!!".
The plan of action here seems to be to dismantle the TEFL system and only use a couple of parts of it. They don't seem to have enough faith in it. Actually, it may be a case of fear. I think they fear the arrival of a more interactive educational system, because most of the Thai English teachers don't understand it and have never had any experience with it. They are comfortable in copying from their books and they are trying to cling to as much of their archaic system as possible to secure their jobs. But that's not going to help the country when ASEAN arrives!
In just 3 days in this English office (and not even teaching yet) I am realizing the drastic situation here in this school, and I what I would imagine to be the majority of Thailand. I think you're article here really hits the nail on the head. Well done.
I will try my hardest here, but I it won't be enough to really make a massive difference here. There are over 1000 students here and I am the only native speaker!
By Mark Francis, Thailand (6th May 2014)
To Jefferson Taylor,
Thanks for your positive comment and thanks also for your help with the logical fallacy. I'm continually learning even about my own language and I'll keep this in mind for the future!
By Tony Mitchell, Pathumthani (14th November 2013)
I have some experience teaching private Thai students English ( including my own wife) . One of the major problems is that the sounds set of Thai language is different from European group and it is quite boring and difficult for locals to immitate it. Besides , school pupils are not so much interested to study English .
By Vadim, Pattaya (12th November 2013)
It is true what you say about the flawed system. I would add that the problem relies on the number of students in class. Teaching English to 40-60 students once a week cannot bring any desirable results. Languages should be learned in smaller groups where children can interact with the teacher. I would say not more than 15 students!
Yes, copying! That is what Thai students do for 12 years, and it is not only in Government schools. The problem is the students are never questioned for comprehension of what they copied. So whatever they copied is not even read once by the majority of students.
By Victor, Pathum Thani (11th November 2013)
Whilst not an expert on education nor massively disagreeing that the Thai fondness for copying off the board and passing everyone is a problem, I think there has to be some understanding of the difference between Thai and English. The number of farangs fluent in Thai tells its own story
1 Thai is very regular and simple.
2 There are no verb tenses and nor does the verb change
3 There is a different alphabet
4 The ordering of most sentences is different
5 The use of classifiers in Thai not English eg lemon is green colour
6 The use of words that mean nothing in transliteration on a constant basis khrap na khrap
7 The use of the verb to answer yes eg do you have? have
8 The same letters sounding different in 2 different words, when Thai vowels have only 1 sound eg bear / hear or there / here
9 No tones but inflections and stress
10 No plurals
Now Im not saying its impossible, but its pretty tricky as anyone who has tried to go the other way can testify. Added to a system which doesnt really reward intelligence and work rate as it does elsewhere, and doesnt stream classes, you have to be pretty motivated to become fluent in a language
By Rob, Bangkok (10th November 2013)
Hi Tony! Thank you for your personal experience and observance. I have been teaching English for 12 years here in Thailand. I have taught four years in 3-Thai government schools at the Mathayom 1-6 levels (more than 6,000 teenagers). You are 100% right. But it is actually much worse than what you are reporting here. But I'm not going to add to your list here and I just want to point out that I really appreciate personally you telling your story. I would really like it if you can contact me at email@example.com
By Donald Patnaude, Thailand (10th November 2013)
Wow, an article critical of Thailand and the Thai educational system.
This must be a first on ajarn.com!
By Jack, In front of my computer (10th November 2013)
It was on Wikipedia so it must be true 555!
"The use of ain’t was widespread in the 18th century, typically as a contraction for am not. It is still perfectly normal in many dialects and informal speech in both Britain and North America. Today, however, it does not form part of standard English and should never be used in formal or written contexts". (Oxford Dictionaries)
It's a question of context, in the context of a discussion on educational standards the use of ain't is inappropriate. However, if we were talking about movies or music then I ain't gonna argue with you!
By Deld, Thailand (9th November 2013)
"And Stephanie, you think that the MOE needs to accept criticism and listen to foreign teachers like you because "the system ain't helping" - "AIN'T" - come on!!!
You ask if articles here are ever reach MOE officials - if they do, I'm sure they are all having a good laugh"
'Ain't' is perfectly acceptable in a sentence if it's used for emphasis. And don't worry, those at the MOE ain't going to be falling about over such English language nuances. You need to understand them first and foremost.
Ain't can be used in both speech and writing to catch attention and to give emphasis, as in "Ain't that a crying shame," or "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary gives an example from film critic Richard Schickel: "the wackiness of movies, once so deliciously amusing, ain't funny anymore
By philip, (9th November 2013)
"I think Thailand is sooooo fortunate to have so many foreign education “experts”, who can tell at a glance that the whole system needs to be remodeled!"
Del my man, believe it or not there are numerous Thais who also think that the whole education system needs to be remodeled. I've spoken to a good number. The problem is that no one's listening to them either.
By philip, (9th November 2013)
I think Thailand is sooooo fortunate to have so many foreign education "experts", who can tell at a glance that the whole system needs to be remodeled!
By Del, Thailand (9th November 2013)
I totally agree with the article by Toni. We have our own school and when students sign up for a course with us it takes at least one month to de - program them from what they have been taught in regards to study skills. I still have students bringing in text books and at break time they start copying page after page. When I ask why the standard response is "My teacher has told me to copy x amount of pages" When I ask why "I don't know teacher". Have you learnt anything "no teacher"
On my face book wall many students post pictures of children sleeping in class during in their less. This has always shocked me and I would personally be ashamed if this happened in my class. I would have no complaints if I had my contract terminated for allowing this to take place in any lessons I was teaching. I once spoke to a teacher about this and they told me this was part of the Thai culture I would never understand. I did not comment.
Thailand needs to rethink and totally re modal its education system not for its own credibility but for the benefits of its students present and future.
By Andy, Udon Thani (9th November 2013)
Okay Mr.Tony Mitchell,so you felt the urge to regurgitate the SOS that has been discussed to death many times here and on other forums. You have been teaching here for ten years, so i suppose you have earned the right to add your own tuppenceworth. However, you should at least make the effort to check your own facts first. Actually, you should already know (after ten years) that Thailand was one of the founder members of ASEAN, and the agreement was signed in Bangkok in 1967. Maybe you should ask your students about ASEAN before stating " the country will be the laughing stock of ASEAN when it eventually joins it"
And Stephanie, you think that the MOE needs to accept criticism and listen to foreign teachers like you because "the system ain't helping" - "AIN'T" - come on!!!
You ask if articles here are ever reach MOE officials - if they do, I'm sure they are all having a good laugh
By Del, Thailand (9th November 2013)
Hasn't this been done to death?! Although I agree with you on just about everything and I don't doubt your observations as you've stated them, I disagree that, 'Thailand will always be appallingly low and the country will be the laughing stock of ASEAN when it eventually joins it.' Although it ranks low on English, it is still an economic powerhouse in the region. This will attract ASEAN citizens who wish to work in Thailand, especially for Japanese and foreign owned companies or organizations. So what I am SURE of, is these employers sacking their Thai employees the second they have a chance and employing people from other ASEAN citizens who will look down on these Thais who are being pushed out of their jobs. They will NOT be laughing at them, but they will be acting arrogantly entitled and looking down THEIR noses at those 'incompetent, lazy Thais' as they have this bad reputation already. Thais will never see it coming. I promise it will be a rude awakening and I fully expect to see rioting the likes of which we have never seen in history.
By Lisa, (9th November 2013)
Thanks for the piece, Tony. I hope that in the midst of all of the 'fake' teaching around you, you yourself are able to 'really teach' the students when they're there in your classroom with you. It's easy to lose the focus and certainly the idealism it takes to 'really teach' in Thailand when it feels like you're the only one even trying.
I thought you and all readers might be interested in a short research paper just published by a Thai I met at a TESOL convention in Dallas last year. He explores the problems of English language learning in Thailand and places teacher quality squarely at the center. He reviews attempts to address the issue and surveys Thai teachers to analyze their own perceptions of the issues and challenges that exist.
I want to share this because it's not enough for us to talk about the problems. We need to be actively involved in helping to find solutions. That involves being as informed as possible about what is going on both in front of us in our own little corners of Thai ELT and what's happening on a larger scale. Articles like this can help:
Serious foreign EFL teachers in Thailand are in a unique position to observe Thai educational dysfunction. The question is, can we do anything in addition to observing? And wringing our hands, or simply dropping our jaws? At the very least, we can focus intensely on our OWN professional development and teaching ability in the midst of so much mediocrity...and avoid being dragged down to a place where we stop improving ourselves.
By Matthew Noble, Boston, MA (9th November 2013)
I agree with Tony's writing, but I don't think this explains exactly the reason Thailand does so much worse than other Asian countries when it comes to speaking English. My experience teaching in Taiwan, Korea, and China was that it is pretty much the same way in those countries insofar as students just memorizing everything rather than comprehending first and memorizing what is needed. It is changing, in Korea especially, but by and large that's just what they do in East Asia. I think what makes Thailand the worst one is the Thai teachers -- especially older Thai teachers-- unwillingness to change or improve on the old ideas and methodologies. Add to that a system that allows those with power, ie the oldest Thai teachers, in each school to dictate teaching and teaching methodologies rather than being forced to comply with outside pressure, and finally a strong tao-budhist culture that is based upon the tenet that having its citizen knowing and understanding less rather than more so as 'not to interfere with the path the river naturally takes' in government and politics, and you get the Thailand you see today.... Grumpy old Thai teachers, lazy-seeming students who can't speak English withstanding..
By Nathan Busch, Back in the US, thank God! (9th November 2013)
Refering to Jack comment about hiring NES. Some NES teachers do try to teach and some do not. Some go out of there way to help their students and some just do not care. The problem with the system is the system and also the school infrastructure. You try to help or give a new idea or style of teaching you are seen as radical, breaking tradition. Thai students are not at school to learn to think outside the box but to be confined by social bonderies. Ask a student on the first time of meeting them how do they feel? You will always get the same answer "I am fine". A teacher to student does not mean you need an academic licences but someone who can pass on their knowledge to help the others. Who taught you to tie your shoes? Did they have a degree? Who taught you to go fishing? Did they have a degree? Think! Some people just want to teach what others do not know and then step back and see the growth of their students life. Sorry Jack I was not picking on you but I felt I needed to vent alittle :-)
By Eddy B, Thailand (9th November 2013)
My gosh, this is so painfully accurate.. Will articles here in ajarn.com ever reach the MOE? They need to hear from us, foreign teachers. They need to accept criticism and they need to CHANGE their educational system. I hate that the students go to school and just be "sabai-sabai" about learning. I want them to learn. But the system ain't helping.
By Stephanie Val, Bangbuathong, Nonthaburi (9th November 2013)
It goes back to the system, culture and perception of the Thai people. The government schools never maintained the quality and credibility of their teachers that's why the continuity of English program never prospered. Thai schools choose teacher not by their professional qualifications but by the color of their skin. If you are a farang who could be able to interact with the students even if you are not academically qualified then you can be a teacher. Thai parents prefer unqualified Farang teachers than Asians.Many Thais don't want to study education profession and if there are Thai English speakers,never in their mind that they will teach their own kind because most of them study courses that are not related to education or English subject. Thai students on the other hand don't like English subject. How many of our students sleep in our English classes, how many of them turn to their Iphones when they feel bored and how many of them talk to their friends in Thai when they don't feel like learning your subject? Thai ears and tongues are the hardest to teach. They won't adapt to new sounds or mimic it. They tend to push on their own way not even trying new experiences.
By Master Anito, Sathorn, Bangkok (9th November 2013)
Yes Tony, you are quite correct. I have been teaching in Thailand for going on 10 years, and I have seen examples of everything you say on a regular basis. I could write a book about the antics of some Thai teachers: Teachers that appear at the beginning of a lesson, spend 5 minutes with the whole class in total silence, hands on desks, leaves the classroom, returns 5 minutes before the end of the lesson, hands on desks again, and finally takes the students to the lunch area. Teachers that don't turn up to lessons at all. Teachers that turn up for a lesson twenty minutes late and leave twenty minutes early. As I say, I could write a book.
I must say that some foreign teachers aren't exactly following the rules either: Teachers that come in late, go home early, conduct shorter lessons by as much as twenty minutes, don't mark books and generally talk with their office colleagues about nothing except parties, weekend getaways, holidays and looking for another job.
But, the one thing that affects the students education in Thailand, you don't seem to have mentioned; "Every student will pass". I am completely fed up with students' attitude towards learning, and it is all down to the education policy that allows students to achieve a minimum of 50% marks in all exams without answering a single question correctly. Students that understand they are not going to be rocket scientists, simply don't bother. I asked one of my grade 9 students one day why she never does her homework, and she told me that she doesn't need to do anything at school if she doesn't want to because she will pass all her exams anyway. Trying to give some students the incentive to learn is almost impossible in most cases, and until the education policy is changed to allow students to fail, they are not going to have any incentive. I had a conversation with a university doctor during a seminar about six years ago and asked her about the "Every student will pass" policy. She told me that it had not always been like that and in fact, the following year, the policy was going to be changed to allow failing students to be kept back for a repeat of the same grade. As far as I know, that policy has indeed been introduced, but guess what? The criteria is that the students should fail every subject! That, of course, will never happen! So, we are left with the same old problem that is not going to go away.
Joining the ASEAN community, as you say, will be a losing face exercise, something unthinkable to Thais. I can only see a change for the worse coming and just hope that somebody, somewhere, in the depths of the Thai government, has the common sense to speak out and instigate a few changes that will make Thailand a country that it has the potential to be, before it's too late.
By Concerned, Bangkok (9th November 2013)
Thanks for the interesting article. As a prospective ESL teacher, I'm always grateful for insight into what I might be facing in Thailand. One small thing: an English teacher should know how "begs the question" is correctly used. It refers to a logical fallacy; it is not a substitute for "this raises a question that must be answered".
By Jefferson Taylor, United States (9th November 2013)
Yes, Thailand, bad, Thai school system bad, Thai teachers bad, Thai students bad, very bad.
But Farang teacher good.
On the other hand, maybe we can say hiring all of these foreign English teachers isn't the answer either, as this practice is not producing positive results.
By Jack, In my chair (9th November 2013)