English could be the key to help improve Thailand's serious educational problems, Surin Pitsuwan, a former secretary-general of Asean, said last week.
The latest World Economic Forum’s report on global competitiveness described Thailand’s quality of higher education as “abnormally low” in comparison with other Asean countries.
“We must pay attention to the content of the WEF’s findings. Our standing is getting worse. We have seen Thailand’s scores sliding down the scale in all categories survey after survey, year after year. This is a serious matter that calls for a national strategy to reverse the trend,” he said.
Thai education has been in a crisis state for a while now and efforts to bring about reform have not borne fruit due to political interference and bureaucratic resistance, he said.
“We talk a lot about teaching our students to be critical, to think independently and to solve problems, not use rote learning and memorisation. But we are getting nowhere.
“English could be an answer to our educational malaise. With a higher proficiency in English, Thai students can change the dynamics of the classroom. They will have access to more information before going to class, forcing teachers to be better prepared and turning traditional lecture rooms into seminars where active exchanges can take place,” he said.
In the current sad state of Thai education, teachers have little motivation to prepare their lessons and students have no tools to access information relevant to their courses due to their universally low fluency in English.
English must be an urgent national agenda item. A high percentage of Thai students, even at secondary school level, already carry smartphones.
“But they are IT-savvy only for digital games. And not to access useful information for learning and intellectual growth.”
According to the Asean Charter, English is “the working language of Asean”. All Asean business is conducted in English. But Thai youths are lagging behind in this increasingly important communication tool.
Last year, among 54 countries surveyed for English proficiency, Thailand ranked 53, only ahead of Libya.
“That is a dismal state of affairs to be in, when we know well that export growth, GDP expansion and even per capita income increases have direct correlation with English proficiency. I insist, that with a higher proficiency in English today, Thailand’s competitiveness will increase many times over tomorrow.”