Friday, March 15th, 2013
Opinion & Analysis
It’s fairly well a given that many schools in Thailand have a business-like approach to introducing new courses and recruiting new students, and yet, that is nothing to be surprised about, although in a sense the commercialization of second language learning, especially English has gone beyond reason to the level of greed, but there is nothing wrong with paying reasonable rates for qualified instruction in any subject.
It’s hard to argue that the economics of education/English education means that poorer students lose out on the opportunity to learn, but still doesn’t take into account for the fact that those who want to learn now have all the tools they need.
Now, with nearly infinite online resources widely and easily available IF THEY will take the time to focus their energy and turn off the mind numbing and often violent computer games, social networking sites and endless chatting with friends (99% of students naturally doing so in Thai text) to actually practice using English or any ‘in demand’ language, of which English is easily foremost, outside of a structural classroom and learn voluntarily in groups, pairs, with parents, siblings or relatives, or on a computer or internet capable device in their own free time, (which until the age of 17 Thai students seemingly have immeasurable amounts of, as witnessed by the vast amount of time they spend in endless social contact with their friends in non-essential activities)… language acquisition would be much more readily achieved.
Just hang around any large Thai school long enough to see almost every available moment that most students under 17 have is spent in social interaction, e-pursuits on phones and chattering- especially chattering, non- stop it seems almost.
I know we were all ‘the age’, when that’s almost all that mattered: “hanging out with friends ad infinitum“…. and the quintessential art of seeking out a ”Ti- rak” , (boyfriend or girlfriend, or “Gik” for those only looking to hmmm…, you know).
However, facts are facts; schools and henceforth students both have jobs to do and life is so much more competitive than it has ever been.
The insular/xenophobic nature, complacency and false sense of superiority of some aspects of Thai society and how that gets perpetuated and inculcated in youth culture is its own worst enemy at times, and this represents a formidable challenge.
Addiction to online games, computer games, and other online activities is another area of deviously challenging scope as students lose the desire to interact with others outside of their immediate peers in ‘serious/slow motion, real life’, minus the sensory overload of 3-D technicolor, high speed, visually stimulating streaming videos and games…
Ask students who say they spend a lot of their available free time on computer games and social networking if their parents have monitored or controlled the amount of time or quality of time spent on computers. The answer will likely be no, as if parents think a computer, regardless of the activities their young people engage in, is harmless. The vast array of content to the detriment of young people is likewise nearly infinitely nauseous.
It’s as if a majority of parents have no awareness at all of the issues or dangers regarding violent computer games and excessive online addiction behaviors. Just staying on a computer at all for too long or late at night is disastrous to young learners and teens in terms of their concentration and capacity to absorb more and participate in school.
To not make this article a lengthy thesis on the subject, let’s boil down 3 or 4 major points for succinctness.
1. Many, if not almost all of the schools, institutes and language/tuition centers are Thai partnerships or Thai owned, and by law need to be a Thai joint venture. So, is this a case of business minded Thais exploiting students’ educational needs for greed and transforming it into profits? There are many foreign owners involved as well, so at least it’s an internationally diverse and relatively fair business playing field- but caveat emptor. Paying 500-3,000 baht an hour, a day or even a week to learn English is a high price for many, yet there are easily available lower cost solutions- going online is nearly free, and offers incredible quality and variety for every interest and level.
Problem solved if you bother to search. Heard of Google and YouTube…?
Many are living in the dark and not realizing these are easily the best resources on the planet for language learning- free!
2. The Thai government is already way too mis-involved (sic) in the education field and represents the largest stumbling block to advancing progressive education on an internationally competitive level. You’ve heard of the Ministry of Education? Yes, that ministry in charge of educating your children is the biggest, corrupt boondoggle (next to the latest multi-billion dollar Thai rice pledging scheme) in the country.
Talk to your military officials if need be about completely eliminating this hopeless, wasteful and corrupt Thai bureaucracy and instead privatizing it completely or by creating an equally massively wasteful Ministry of Bangkok Traffic Jam Suppression and Mitigation- it would be money better spent.
Or perhaps a Department of Mitigating Violent and Arson-Crazed Mobs and Political Protest Control would be a good way to save money in the future- not to mention lives…? Or just give the money the MoE ‘spends’ to the families to let them pay for education as they go- the education success rate would likely triple!
Finally, if Thai students actually want to learn English and speak English, most of them have the opportunity to do so, yet what are their parents doing to promote learning international communication? Little it seems.
Yes, sending them to good tuition centers and schools is great for those who can afford to do so, but let’s face it, with the lowest TOEFL scores and one of the least progressive and most dysfunctional and unexciting educational systems in Asean compared to its hyper- developed business environment, there is no reason why Thai students who would like to, can’t learn English anymore… Repeat, NO reason.
Many people with few opportunities and low incomes do some amazing things in life: They discipline themselves, work hard and achieve more than their peers around them. A hard working and aggressively minded Polish man owns one of the most successful and fastest growing language schools in the country. He knew zero English until the age of 17. Guess how much he‘s worth today because of his will, intelligence and tenacity to succeed?
We’ll suggest an actual free solution courtesy of a local free magazine, Bangkok Trader (which I have no affiliation with and just ran across the advert today by chance- honest) Since this advertisement appears in a free Bangkok magazine and they are publishing it, I doubt there would be any problem, except perhaps by creating a better response. (I wonder if there is a chance of that..?) The Potter’s House Church offers free Eng. classes on Wed and Thursday from 6:30 -8:30 pm 3rd floor 181/1 Sukhumvit 71. Call 084-450-3011 or see http://prakhanongchurch.jimdo.com
Finally, students who suffered through free but boring English classes at government schools are sometimes very reluctant and shy to try to use English, or they have so much energy and are so bored of being stuck in the four walled prison they have to sit in all day, they have little capacity or interest in learning foreign languages since all things they need to say, hear and know are all in Thai, and they rarely see they will ever really need English at all until the dreaded exams start to pour in like the monsoon rains, according to their shallow, but highly sanuk-centered (fun, fun, fun) popular youth culture’s obsession with all things Thai (okay and Japanese- Korean trends and K-Pop) and the near majority of youth society’s illusions of being the best and most wonderful country of the Asean region, with China being the Big Daddy. Their knowledge of the ‘outside’ beyond Thailand’s borders is almost pathetic outside of sports and entertainment.
Horrible grammar, bad spelling, weak comprehension and pigeon -speak English will no longer make the grade. The truth is many Thais just don’t want to speak English- or they would!
There’s a huge world of knowledge and opportunities just waiting for those who will… and if Thai students won’t, you can be sure there are other Asian students who value the chance and will take it to their best. Pass the buck, taxpaying public to your students. It’s their responsibility ultimately. They’ve got a smart phone, computer access and the internet... well, duh- use it for something other than fun and games.
Finally, it is a credit to many hard working and less than well paid Thai teachers that they work extremely hard and long to do their best. At least most Thai students can read and write basic English,… At one time it was considered the highest priority but that is just not enough anymore.Communication is where so many students are seriously facing challenges, and text based learning is important, but it isn’t going to bear fruit in today’s world if they can’t learn basic communication by at least 3rd or 4th grade, as after that they often tend to lose interest. having been exposed to the basics again and again, only to fail at using and understanding clearly spoken English repeatedly due to the lack of outside practice in areas of their own interest. But English isn’t say, French or Japanese where you can say it’s not the major world language and isn’t so important. Even Thai employers require decent English for good jobs in Bangkok and many forieign tourist rich cities like Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket.
Cramming 40, 50 or more students in a classroom with a single non-Thai speaking foreign teacher of varying expertise is also no real solution,.. So come on. Take responsibility and demand your children do more than the mediocre minimum that has so long passed as the standard for education in English here.