Dr. Somtawil Dhanasobhon*
disadvantaged, should acquire these standards at each grade level. The standards of English which is perceived as the first foreign language in Thailand are organized under four strands or goal areas: communication, culture, connection and communities. The communication area contains 3 standards; other strands contain two standards each. They are articulated or benchmarked into four levels: 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. ( At present they are changed to yearly benchmarks) Each school or at least the school district has to develop its own curriculum and assessment based on these standards. Theoretically, this is very democratic. There is no more prescribed curriculum once forced every student no matter whom they are, where they are to use it. There is not much to worry about the IP and EP program because schools with such programs normally hire professionals and educators to help them with curriculum development responding to students’ , parents’ and communities’ needs. The Ministry of Education has tried to educate teachers on why and what about standards and provide training on curriculum development. Unfortunately the process moved rather slowly and inadequately. It sometimes even confused teachers more because the supervisors and MOE people got used to with the same supervision style-----one and only MOE style or model of curriculum development. Also we have been talking about school curriculum but in practice some schools adopt other schools’ curriculum. If they are located in similar environment, it is quite acceptable but not recommended for those whose environment are completely different from each other. The EP and IP program can help students exceed standards not only meet standards because of more time allotment, teachers’ proficiency and curriculum which allow them to use English language daily in their classroom as teachers use it as a medium of instruction in other subjects too. However common students in common school programs do not have this chance.
The second dilemma is the lack of qualified teachers. Teachers at the elementary school normally are not majored in English. They are supposed to be able to teach any subjects because people think teaching small children does not need high content area. It may be true for other disciplines. Science, Mathematics, Thai language, Social Studies and Physical Education, are all around teachers’ every day living and they are in their real life situation but not English. They never speak English to anybody. It is common to find P.E teachers teach English in the public elementary schools and they hold tightly the text books reading them page by page. Text-based teaching is again acceptable to me because there are a lot of good commercial text books in the market but teachers should be able to identify the objectives and purposes of each unit and know how to use and link them to the content standards. Teachers in some big or prestigious schools may be luckier to have audio or video tape along with the texts. Furthermore, English language teaching has been officially a mandatory subject since the first grade on only a few years ago although it is a common practice in private schools. When public schools have to teach English since the first grade on they do need a lot more teachers. Where do they turn to? Slowly but surely they turn to private schools. Thai people normally want to be government officers because of security and status. They do not hesitate to move to public schools. The private schools once prestigious for their strength in English are now facing the shortage of quality teachers as well. Although a lot of research confirmed that the earlier children learn English the better they will be but we have to keep in mind that children must be among the perfect models and in real life or close to real life situation. Imagine in our elementary schools what would happen? Much will need to be done to help these elementary schools meet the working expectations that the new policy imply.
At the secondary level, there is also the shortage of teachers of English because English majored graduates love to work in other higher salary jobs like air hostess, hotel and tourism business or in private companies. Teachers have to teach around 20-30 hours a week with large class of more than 40 students in each class.
Teachers find large classes difficult for three reasons: planning problems, classroom management challenges and instructional needs. First, large class teachers are confronted with multiple abilities. They have to prepare a lot of activities and materials to suit different students in one single class. Many teachers face the dilemma of whether to press ahead with advanced topics for a minority of able learners or to teach the basics to the less advanced students. Second, large class teachers can not concentrate on the lesson in progress. Instead, they must keep a watchful eye on the other students in the room to monitor seat work. Discipline problems have the potential of reducing the already short contact time. The instructional needs are also serious. Teachers tend to stress on text book page by page at the expense of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. We are well aware that doing this does not cultivate language proficiency with optimal effectiveness.
The third dilemma is about the effort of language teachers trying to push their students towards communicative competence. Dell Hymes (1974) said “Competence means when to speak, when not, and as what to talk, with whom, when, where and in what manners.” This definition may appear easy at a single glance. However, the complexity of the entire rule is such that it might appear impossible to anyone except a native speaker to acquire communicative competence. Teaching spoken language production, that is, teaching to talk in the foreign language is frequently considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of the language to attain. Why is it so? One major reason could be that the foreign language is taught in a classroom and not outside it as its own native language learned. The environment in Thai social context, English is not used as the regular medium of communication. To make it worse, while teachers have been trying their best to boost listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities in schools most of the country’s important evaluation systems like the national test and the university entrance examination use only the paper and pencil, multiple- choice tests. There is no room for any language skills or any other evaluation techniques like performance or authentic assessment. Students therefore consider practicing listening, speaking or any language skills a waste of time.
The next dilemma is the misconception of teachers that teaching English communicatively does not need grammar and structure. Teachers nowadays are afraid not only to teach grammar but also to say the word grammar. They think that grammar and structure are the things of the past. Canale and Swain (1980) pinpointed that communicative competence comprises of four competences: Grammatical Competence; Sociolinguistics Competence; Discourse Competence and Strategic Competence. The Grammatical Competence in this case means students should be able to use grammar in their production of language and it is not that students know about the rules of the language. However grammar and structure are not the terminal objectives of learning English as it was in the past.
Another issue that I would like to point out is about the learners themselves. Stern (1992) once said that to be successful in foreign language learning and teaching, active learners are needed. Active learners mean learners who keep practicing the language whenever they have a chance. Since language learning is considered to be a skill, knowing about the language does not guarantee the communication ability. Practicing listening, speaking, reading, and writing are needed both in and outside the class in the real life or close to real life situation. To have an excellent teacher or a professor teach you English does not guarantee your success if you do not practice it after class. It is probably the teachers’ duty again to remind our students about this.
Last but not least there are a lot of complaints that university graduates can not speak English. To my point of view this is because students finish required courses of English in the first two years. The last two years they pay much attention to their major courses. What I propose is not to increase the courses but to extend the time for students to take at least an hour or two a week learning English up to the fourth year. The major faculties may refuse to do so with the reason that their students need more time to study their major area.
What I want to add to this point is: do not be discouraged by the dilemmas previously mentioned. Studying another language and culture enhances one’s personal education. It is worth it to encourage our students to learn English despite all these discrepancies. Teachers are vital. The committed teachers like us here are the vital key to both program development and program effectiveness. English language teachers at all levels should be strongly encouraged to attend one professional conference or workshop a semester and be given released time to do so. These teachers need the spiritual uplift, the new ideas, the exposure to inexpensive materials and, most of all, the chance to meet and talk with colleagues in comparable situation.
For the elementary and secondary school teachers the MOE should provide information on program development options like ELT magnet programs and accelerated courses for secondary school students who are good at English and supply proficiency-based curriculum guides, diversified curriculum materials aligned to curriculum standards. Content-based curriculum and teaching should be used from the 10th grade on because it will make learning English much more meaningful to students. School districts or educational regions or local government bodies should arrange direct staff development meetings and workshops; recommend instructional materials and training opportunities for teachers and link teachers with professional organizations like Thai TESOL, AUA, the British Council, etc. For schools in the remote areas, teachers should also ask for assistance both in English language, curriculum planning and teaching techniques from the local community like the bigger schools and higher institutes nearby. These are critical tasks to improve instruction in English language.
Teachers should try to accumulate instructional materials such as songs, games, pictures, cd, dvd for the class use or for self-access language learning center. Teachers and consortia all around the world are daily creating useful instructional materials that either takes advantage of resources on the web or that reside in the web environment. Encourage teachers in schools to try searching through the internet if their schools can get access to it. A variety of teaching and learning materials help arouse students’ interests and motivation which is the most important key to success.
If teachers in the elementary and secondary schools put more efforts on pair works, group works, communicative activities or in other words putting an emphasis more on students performance in the language class, the evaluation process should turn to performance assessment instead of multiple choice paper and pencil test. At the national level, standard-based assessment should be used to ensure that teachers teach their students at least up to the standards. At the university level, one or two of the English courses required in the General Education part should be content-based which will help students be more humanistic learning about other subjects rather than their major courses alone. Exit examination for every university graduate tends to be the global practice to guarantee the student’s English language use.
On the part of students, they should be trained to be self-directed learners who are eager and energetic to learn English not only in class but also by themselves either from the school’s resource center, from authentic materials like newspapers, radio and television programs. Students’ active participation in the pair work and group work activities prepare them to have a chance to practice the language in real life or close to real life situations. It is considered the first start for learner autonomy. In addition, outside class activities like English
singing contests, speech contests, debates, discussion, English clubs, English camps are recommended because they provide the chance for students to practice the language.
To conclude, the Education Act presents a strong challenge to administrators and English teachers. The challenge is particularly strong because the focus lies in the language proficiency not just in knowledge about English language and cultures in general. The dilemmas occurred naturally because we are at the transition period between the old concept of teaching language for language sake and teaching language for language use. It may take a while before we reach to proficiencies vital to the national interest in business, foreign affairs, and education.
Canale, M. and Swain, M. (1980) Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics 1: 1-47
Hymes, Dell (1974) Foundations of Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
Stern, H.H.(1992) Issues and Options in Language Teaching. Oxford:OUP