If you are reading the blogs on this website, chances are high that you are a teacher, you have some vested interest in Thailand, and you are interested in improving the quality of English language in your classrooms and in your school.
Browsing through the blogs and articles that are here on Ajarn, though, you get a clear sense that sometimes it seems that no matter how much we try and how hard we work, there are forces conspiring against success.
One of these 'forces' are the government policies which frame our teaching context. A quick search of the Ajarn site shows that 'government policy' is a major concern to many of our writers and readers, and rightly so. When policy undermines our classroom practice, things can get frustrating.
What are these policies that are so important? Ministry level policies influence things like average class size, the number of hours dedicated to English study in the school day, the kind of training given to teachers, decisions about the use of foreign teachers, and the amount of language support available to students outside of the classroom.
These are issues that are likely to have implications for you and your students. Policy decisions, for example, might be to blame for Thailand's score of 15 of 20 Asian countries on the English language proficiency index.
In a featured talk at the ELT Thailand International Conference, Richard Watson Todd from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi pointed out how Thai education policies reflect the idiosyncratic predilections of the incumbent minister at any one time. With 21 different Ministers of Education in the last 18 years, there has been little chance of consistent policy decisions. As each new minister steps in, old policies are abandoned and new ones taken up, with little consideration for the voices of the people at the coalface like us.
Adding your voice
But how can the educators, administrators, parents and students who are downstream of the policies make themselves heard? Will the ministry listen to anything we have to say? In addition, do we all agree with one another on what should be the best policies to implement?
For example, do the native English speaking teachers who contribute to ELT in Thailand have ideas that align with the interests of parents? Can any one us – parents, administrators, teachers, students - take into consideration the incredibly complex demands which form the basis of policy decisions? These are all good questions, and to answer them, Richard has embarked on some really fun and interesting research, and perhaps you'd like to get involved.
I referred to Richard's study in a previous blog but it's time to revisit it in the name of research. The goal of the study is to find out what we (the downstream coal-face people, that is) have to say, and whether there are patterns that could inform a more consistent set of national policies.
Richard and his team at KMUTT have devised a simulation where you play the minister of education. Your goal is to spend 2000 million Baht on English language related policies to positively impact educational outcomes. Before you start you can familiarize yourself with the various criteria for evaluating educational success (like the English language proficiency index I cited above) so you know what's at stake and can make informed decisions, like any good Minister of Education should.
Each policy decision you make has some effect on these outcomes, but not all policies are equally effective. In addition, while some policies might be good for one of the educational indices, it might not be good for another.
For example, for only 800 million Baht, the number of hours allocated to English in the school schedule can be increased. That might improve English proficiency scores, but what will it do to the overall education quality index given that time has been removed from another classroom subject? To find out how these, and other decisions like them, affect educational quality, give it a try.
There's quite a lot to consider, so you'll need to give it some focused attention during a quiet moment – like now perhaps.
Benefits of playing
Playing the game is a good exercise in getting a sense of the big picture facing policy makers. For teachers, parents and students, the game highlights how decisions far removed from the school have real meaning for our classrooms. For the researchers, though, every time someone plays, more data is available to understand what we have to say.
The MinEd game can be played in Thai or English, so you could get your students, your students' parents, and the other teachers in your school to play it too! When the game is finished, there are some questions about you – privacy is guaranteed, and the answers help to classify the data effectively. There are already some interesting findings, and with enough respondents, Richard may have results that the Education Minister will want to pay attention to.
Steve has been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 30 years, and is currently a lecturer on the Master’s in TESOL program at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Bangkok.