Paradigm Language Institute


Monday, April 7, 2014

Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng has attacked the pathetic English - language courses taught in schools nationwide. Poor teaching methods,he said, have turned out millions of students who are unable to speak the language.His points were valid, his criticisms well-meant, and he was on- topic he was addressing 200 English teachers. But he once again shied away from both the problem and the solution.The problem with the Thai education system is not that it turns out students who study English for 10 years but cannot speak it.
          The solution is not the lack of a central proficiency test. Both of these are symptoms of what is truly a national disease. The real problem is that the education system and Mr Chaturon's Ministry of Education are graduating students who are abysmally under-educated. And the solution is top-to-bottom reform-ministry, bureaucracy, schools and teachers.
         Mr Chaturon knows this. Since his welcome appointment as minister, he has acknowledged as much. His public appearance last week with the English teachers received much comment. But earlier in the week, he had even more important things to say.He engaged the Teachers Council of Thailand (TCT) over licensing. The TCT said licensing teaches assures quality. Mr Chaturon shocked them by arguing they are wrong; in fact, licensing only maintains low standards and protects the poorest quality teachers from review and accountability.
      Another surprise followed. Discussing the abysmal performance of Thai student during standard testing of reading comprehension, Mr Chaturon refused to blame teachers and headmasters. The failure of school children to understand what they read "is the failure of the education system as a whole", the minister said. Teachers are instructing children in imperfect curricula, drawn up to flawed standards, and taught in the18th century manner of rote, discarded decades ago almost everywhere in the world but in the lower grades of Thai education.
       Early computer software writers had a phrase for this GIGO. The acronym means "garbage out". Any system, including a child's education, will always produce bad results if fed bad material. Mr Chaturon, in his address to the English teachers, mentioned specific problems including too little conversation, too much grammar,emphasis on memorization and lack of opportunity to apply language classes in the real world.
         In general terms, he is right about English. But even if he manages to fix the small sub-set, the entire system of education will remain flawed, producing graduates in name, but unable to function well in the outside world. The Thai education system does not lack funds. It lacks the will to reform itself.
        Mr Chaturon is well liked, well admired and has plenty of political capital to sink into the task of being a good education minister. Reform was always going to be an uphill struggle. At every step and stage, from right inside the minister's office all the way down to the smallest rural classroom, opposition to reform is fierce. Everyone knows the problems, but many fear to take the responsibility of fixing them.
        Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the government should urge Mr Chaturon to begin meaningful reform. Political will and a strong leader will not ensure success of such reform. But without a respected minister the chance for political reform will fail, dooming future years of graduates to the poor performance of today.

Source: Bangkok Post Newspaper, Tuesday, October 1, 2013 P.8
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