As Thai English proficiency drops, a timely lesson from China  

your say November 06, 2018 01:00

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News that Thailand has dropped 11 places in the international English-proficiency ranking is alarming. A closer look at how regional neighbours are winning the battle to master English suggests self-education is a key element missing in Thailand.  



Bangkok-based education expert Dr Kevin Colleary explained last year that mastering more than one language has a crucial lasting benefit in facilitating the “4 Cs” learning method. The four Cs – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity – are widely considered to be the most important skills for every student in the 21st-century. Compelling evidence of how learning a language improves intelligence is offered in the article “For a better brain, learn another language”, published at The Atlantic website. 

Cleary was speaking at the Chulalongkorn University forum “Reforming Thailand’s Education System: Where To Start?”, where Bangkok-based teacher Stephen Holroyd highlighted Vietnam’s recent surge in the PISA rankings and wondered how much it was down to the trilingual education environment there.

He also told us of his experience in China, which like Thailand is struggling with English. An encounter on a school trip to Guangzhou taught him that some of the “21st-century skills” so eloquently presented were in fact much older. He encountered a translator whose English proficiency was out of this world. Sitting listening to her perfect English on a minibus trip, he asked if she had been educated in the UK. She answered that she never even been to Beijing or Shanghai, having lived all her life in Guangzhou. She topped the class at university, but instead of reading the cheap books of “pass notes” favoured by her peers, she read and reread every single one of Jane Austen’s novels. The minibus conversation bizarrely was dominated by the themes of “Mansfield Park”, “Northanger Abbey”, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion”. 

In other words, her multilingual self-education was the foundation for her absorption of the 4Cs that should be at the core of education everywhere, including Thailand.

Self-education is becoming a crucial part of our lives in the fast-changing 21st-century; there is no other option. 

Holroyd’s minibus anecdote shows what one can achieve with the right mindset, and offers hope for Thailand to overcome its 2018 EF English Proficiency setback.

Dirk Sumter

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