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ASEAN ANALYSIS  2 August 2010

Education in Asean countries

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   2 August 2010

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It is widely reported that educational standards have declined in most western countries and there are many reasons cited for that development from children playing computer games to the breakdown of the traditional two-parent family or the decline in the standards of teachers.

However, factor any or all of these social trends into Asean countries and the educational situation takes a hit. Add to that, the need to learn the world’s default language-English- in countries that generally use one language (not English) such as Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam and the situation even worsens.

In the 10-member Asean community, there is a wide divergence in the amount of English spoken, although practically every country realizes speaking English as a second language is an important tool all of its citizens should have.

The Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Burma seem to be the leaders in the use of English. Of course, the Philippines was once occupied by American forces and Singapore and Malaysia are more affluent and therefore, finance their education system more adequately than other Asean countries. Burma (Myanmar) benefits from its years of occupation by the British, who gave it an English-speaking tradition.

In other Asean countries, obtaining English skills may be difficult. Thailand is a good example.

English is the official second language in Thailand and yet outside the tourist areas of Bangkok, one may hear very little English. Go upcountry in Thailand and the English language becomes almost nonexistent, except for the touristy areas of Chiang Mai.

The Thai public educational system is one of those subjects in Thailand that are eternally complained about but reform seems wistful promises. The educational system uses learning by rout, thereby producing graduates that have difficulty thinking independently or creatively. The Thai schools and universities are also criticized for an outdated curriculum that produces students that are not job-ready upon graduation.

The more affluent Thai families send their students to private schools that abound in Bangkok and sidestep the situation in which public school students find themselves.

The crux of the problem in Thailand is not related entirely to finances but recent developments indicate that the education of school teachers must be improved and salaries raised to attract a higher level of teacher.

Whether politicians can wean themselves from the extravagant funding of the Thai military, an army with no major enemies, to fund “butter” issues such as better salaries for schoolteachers and police will be an interesting story to follow.

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