BANGKOK – With the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community on Thursday, Thais worry their English competency is not up to par to compete in the regional economies free labor market.
Dumrongkiat Mala of the Bangkok Post reports Thais’ poor grasp of the English language has generated concern among students, teachers and policy-makers, and comes despite the vast new employment opportunities promised by the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
Dumrongkiat reports that according to the EF English Proficiency Index 2015 conducted by Education First Language Institute, Thailand is a non-English speaking country with “very low” English proficiency.
The English abilities of Thai people are ranked at 14th out of 16 countries in Asia and 62nd out of 70 countries worldwide.
Under the Asean Mutual Recognition Arrangements, professionals in eight fields are allowed free movement throughout the region.
The eight fields are accountancy, engineering, surveying, architecture, nursing, medical services, dental services and tourism.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday urged Thais to pay more attention to improving their capacity to communicate in English, which he also considers a weak point for Thais in the era of the Asean Economic Community.
He called on people to boost their skills to compete in the Asean Economic Community labor market, as they will face tougher competition from people from neighboring countries, according to government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.
Following the launch of the AEC, the job market will become more competitive. People with higher skills in English will be at an advantage, so we try to prepare them for the AEC,” said Amornrat Kreetatorn, 54, the head of the English program at Chetupon Commercial College.
While Thai students are relatively competitive in terms of vocational skills, the lack of English proficiency is a major disadvantage, said Ms Amornrat.
“I am seeing an influx of skilled workers from countries like the Philippines doing jobs that require English-speaking employees in Thailand. Our students need to be aware that workers with stronger English skills will have the cutting edge,” she said.
Wanich Uamsri,deputy secretary-general of the Office of Vocational Education Commission (Ovec) said he attributes the low English proficiency among most Thai vocational students to the traditionally prescriptive approach to education, which he says hinders language learning.
The influence of Thai culture and low motivation among students to learn a foreign language also play a part, he added.
“Thai students are good workers, but they still lack language abilities, which will limit their career opportunities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ovec has introduced an urgent plan to improve the English skills of both students and teachers, including the publication of small books with 1,000 often-used English vocabulary words for the vocational sector and a one-month “train-the-trainer” program for vocational teachers in the first two months of this year.
“We are not expecting our teachers and students to become experts in just a short period of time, but we want to boost their confidence in using English,” Mr Wanich said.
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