One item of news shocked me late last month.
It was about the 12-year-old son of Myanmar migrant workers, who had beaten his Thai counterparts to win a Thai-language writing competition held to mark National Thai Language Day.
Yasa, a Grade 3 student at Arunmetha School in Tak’s Educational Zone 2 who was born and raised in Thailand, was announced winner by the Office of the Basic Education Commission.
The contest was meant to encourage youngsters to preserve their language and to raise awareness of the value of Thai heritage.
Actually, it’s not really such a big deal to see a Myanmarese boy winning this competition. After all, as they say, practice makes perfect. However, the question is, to what extent do Thai children care about practising?
Never mind the fact that few Thai students take part in contests like this, it’s disappointing to see that few give importance to being proficient in their mother tongue.
Also, what do those working on education on the national level and prominent educators think about this? Do they think it is small enough to ignore?
In addition to this lack of interest, another issue has caught people’s attention – how students are being taught to spell.
Obviously educational institutions in Thailand need to focus on academic achievements and are, therefore, introducing new methods in order to keep up with the rest of the world so Thai students can win in global contests.
However, in this rush to keep up with others, are we ignoring the basics? Is Thai history and the very essence of Thainess being instilled in Thai students?
New textbooks, with “integration” as their concept, have been introduced, with the ones used for the past decade or two being consigned to the rubbish heap. Also, some subjects are being dropped, with the reasoning that Thai students need to keep up with their counterparts from neighbouring countries.
It is understandable that school curricula need to be updated and improved, but some subjects need to be mandatory in order to anchor the young ones to their roots.
In my time, two or three decades ago, Thai-language teachers used to be the strictest – demanding that reading, writing and enunciation be perfect in their classes.
Each child’s handwriting had to meet the guidelines – the size, circles, lines and curves of each character had to be crystal clear. Failure to do this would result in the student having to do the work all over again.
Also, enunciation had to be correct, regardless of whether you were saying ror rua or lor ling.
Now, a new textbook on Thai spelling is raising eyebrows.
Traditionally, we were taught to spell a word based on how it was enunciated. Now, however, the spelling is taught based on how the word is written. Hence, those who learnt how to spell based on enunciation find it difficult to follow the new system, which depends more on learning by rote.
Yet many educators are defending this new way, saying it is good for young children who don’t understand the sound-and-character system, adding that they will be introduced to the old method when they learn more.
Of course, it goes without saying that development is part of life. However, change does not always mean its better and an old method does not always mean it is bad.