The Nation



Thai language skills low in far South

Songs used to teach children in Yala schools, where most children speak Malayu

N THE SOUTHERNMOST province of Yala where most people speak Malayu, Thai language teachers are using games - and even a karaoke machine - to boost the Thai-language proficiency of their students.

Eleven-year-old Abdullagip Salae from Betong district's Ban Mai (Teacher's Day) school reads from a reading practice book - part of a set published especially for schools under Yala Primary Education Areas 1, 2 and 3. Despite being in Prathom 6, Abdullagip struggles to understand the words.

Walaiporn Petchrada, a Prathom 3 Thai-language teacher, said most Thai students begin learning to read and write Thai language in Prathom 1, but in the deep South, Thai-language lessons didn't begin until Prathom 3 and Malayu language was spoken at home.

The region's lack of Thai language is a longstanding issue and stems from the fact most Muslim residents speak Malayu, she said. "To help children learn Thai and remember vowels |and spelling rules, I use singing to make it easier for them to remember," she said.

Masana Malee, a Thai language teacher uses an alphabet-shuff-|ling toy to teach spelling so children have fun putting consonants and vowels together to make words.

She has also revived the use of |the "Manee and Friends" book series so that her students can practice |their reading skills. "The textbooks we are using now are too advanced |so some of the weaker children |have difficulty catching up. The Manee and Friends series helps to solve that problem and we get good results; children understand and are able to read more and more," she added.

'Karaoke programme'

Abdullagip's school, with 700 all-Muslim pupils from kindergarten to Prathom 6, is under the Yala Primary Education Area 3. Kiat Mannarat, a Thai-language teacher for Prathom 4-6 in Muang district's Ban Kalupang, noticed that his students could sing Thai songs, even when they couldn't read - thanks mainly to karaoke. "If they enjoy learning to read, they will certainly learn more," he said.

Kiat decided to use a "karaoke |programme" and got his students |

to sing the lyrics of a popular song line by line. He then transposed the lyrics onto flashcards, which were used |in classroom games to boost their reading skills. The approach yielded good results with a 65 per cent improvement in students' reading skills, he added.

Yala Rajabhat University president Kraisorn Sritrairat, chair of the provincial committee for learning development, said children needed to be able to communicate in Thai, as it was also the key to studying other subjects.

Beginning Thai-language activities early also encouraged use of Thai with parents and friends. If a student's Thai skills were weak - with the exception of religion - it would be difficult for them to continue further education in Thailand in subjects like medicine, engineering or economics.

Thai language illiteracy in the deep South has also affected results in Ordinary National Educational Tests. Last year, some areas, like Yala Primary Education Area 3, received very low scores, Kraisorn said.

Yala governor Decharat Simsiri said Yala, Pattani |and Narathaiwat had poor academic records and |children were unable to read |or write Thai. He said the problem wasn't due to lack |of staff or funds, but a failure of the relevant agencies to work together to tackle the problem. Decharat said the 35 education-related agencies work in the region, but had little communication with each other.

To overcome the problem, Decharat set up a working group with representatives from each of the 35 agencies to develop educational initiatives and to tackle problems faced by the provinces educational system. Poverty, he said, was the main problem for the region.

The working group was therefore doing what it could to provide job opportunities for parents of students in the school system, while promoting education as a way out of poverty for children in the region, he said.

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