The British Council and the Ministry of Education have teamed up to improve the skills of 17,000 primary and secondary English teachers in Thailand through the Regional English Training Centres (RETC) project – and results so far are overwhelmingly positive.
The new method will focus on communication rather than the outdated “grammar-vocabulary” memorisation system now in wide use.
Approximately 75 per cent of English teachers in Thailand are ranked at the A2 elementary level in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), representing an IELTS score of 3.5 to 4. The approach combines language accuracy and memorisation rather than taking a communicative approach.
The RETC Boot Camp project was first introduced in 2015 to improve overall English teaching proficiency. After two and a half years, 15,300 English teachers have improved their confidence in teaching English and were using it in their classrooms.
Additionally, more than 30 potential teachers have been intensively trained to become Thai master trainers (TMTs), working with the British Council’s trainers to extend mentoring, and the transfer of knowledge to teachers and school directors. They are also creating academic networking opportunities with regional supervisors, to improve follow-up sessions.
As the next step, an assessment and evaluation system is to be considered to assist in shift towards the communicative approach.
Approximately 17,000 out of 40,000 of Thailand’s English teachers have been trained and mentored in the communicative approach at 15 RETCs since the start of the project, said Andrew Glass OBE, Director of British Council Thailand.
As well, more than 30 teachers have been intensively trained to become Thai master trainers (TMTs). They can be counted as agents of change, working with British Council trainers to mentor and transfer knowledge to teachers and school directors. They will create academic networking opportunities with regional supervisors to improve their follow-up sessions.
The outcome of the project has exceeded expectations in capacity building and facilitating change in the primary and secondary English teaching field, said Glass.
After completing the project, the research found that more than 90 per cent of participating English teachers have more confidence in teaching English in the communicative approach and more confidence in using English in their classrooms.
Moreover, 72 per cent of English teachers had improved their lesson planning and were able to give clearer instructions, while 94 per cent improved their lesson management. In addition, 93 per cent of English teachers had improved their English subject knowledge. All in all, the success of RETC is a result of the collaboration between a number of parties, including policymakers, educational service areas, Rajabhat University, regional supervisors, and core teachers to help solidify the project, Glass concluded.
Sutthiwat Sutthiprapa, a Thai master trainer and full-time English teacher at Khor Wittayakom in Nakhon Phanom Province, said he can apply everything he learned from the RETC project in his English classes.
It significantly changes the atmosphere of the classroom and the students’ attitude towards English, said Sutthiwat. “Students are eager to attend the class and make every effort to participate in class activities. I believe that if every English teacher in Thailand exploits the RETC concept, Thai students’ English ability will increase considerably,” he said.
Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, Minister of Education, said that the development of Thai students’ English skills is crucial and needs serious improvement.
Each Thai student studies English for at least 12 years at primary and secondary school, but most remained unable to communicate in English. This remains the main obstacle to global competition, said the Minister.
The two main challenges that need to be addressed are Thai teachers’ English skills and their teaching approach.
By focusing on language accuracy and the memorisation method rather than the communicative approach, most Thai students are left unable to communicate effectively in English. Many Thai students have been found to also have a poor attitude towards English classes.
After recognising the challenges, the RETC in collaboration with the British Council and Ministry of Education, aims to refine Thai teachers’ English skills and adapt the existing teaching methods into a more communicative approach to enhance students’ listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.