Yet more Notes From a Tainted Paradise

Teach your children well

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I don’t know how many times Lek and I have been sitting watching a news item on the television when she would suddenly exclaim, (in Thai):

“How can they all speak such good English?”

The news reporter may be interviewing a flood victim from the slums of the Philippines, or a fisherman in Cambodia, or even a starving villager in Burma, but they all can do something that few people in Thailand can do – they can speak passable English.

Thailand is far richer than any of its neighbouring countries, but its education system, especially as far as the teaching of English is concerned, is still woefully inadequate.

Thai-School-Children-Get-No-EducationGo to any school in the Kingdom and speak to any teacher who teaches English. I will bet you he/she will not be able to speak a single sentence in the English language – yet they are teaching English to their students. Is it any wonder so few can speak even the most basic of English? Crazy, but true.

Unfortunately, one can only conclude that there is absolutely no desire by the ruling classes to genuinely improve the English skills of the ‘masses’.


Again, one can only conclude that there is a real fear that if the masses can read English, they will learn a lot more about what is happening in the world, beyond their own hallowed shores, and what they learn may be to the detriment of the ruling elite.

The other day, Lek and I were watching an item on TV about the tourist business in South East Asia.

“Where is that?” She asked.

“It’s Goa, it’s off west the coast of India.”

“Really? I didn’t know that there was any sea near India?”

I showed her a map of the Indian sub-continent and pointed out the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and The Bay of Bengal. 

“Didn’t you learn geography at school?”

“No – we only learn about Thailand.”

Unfortunately, not only do they ‘only learn about Thailand’ but what they learn is coupstudentsoften ‘revisionist’ history – a history that always puts Thailand and the Thais in a good light.

They are always the heroes and the victors in any conflict – totally ignoring the fact that much of Thailand was part of the Khmer Empire for generations.

Even the fact that they were under Japanese occupation during the war and that the Thai government came to an ‘accommodation’ with their Japanese occupiers is largely ignored in Thai history lessons. The kids are only taught what the ruling establishment wants them to be taught.

Students have facts rammed down their throats – quite often, distorted facts. They are never encouraged to challenge or question what they are taught.

Once in a while, some notable Thai professor, who has probably been educated abroad, challenges this Thai system of indoctrination and learning by rote. Such people are usually hounded out of office and accused of being  radicals – unpatriotic ‘deviants’.

A couple of weeks ago, the government instructed the education authorities to “accelerate educational reform policy at all levels.”

Under the planned educational reform, “Thai children will have access to optimum education and learning in happy atmosphere and become full-fledged under the “4Hs” theme – Head, Heart, Hand and Health.” (sic)

“The educational reform and development plans are to have “clear goals in terms of both quantity and quality while children should be instilled with pride in ‘Thainess’, be independent and tend to public interests.”

Does anyone have a clue what that all means?

Hot on the heels of this  announcement in bad English was the startling revelation that Thailand ranks 62nd out of 70 counties in English skills, where English is not their first language.

Above Thailand in the table are all the ASEAN countries – including Malaysia, (14th), Communist Vietnam, (29th) and Indonesia at (32nd ).

Instead of concentrating on the “4 H’s”, (whatever they may be), may I respectfully suggest that they have a look at the 3 “R’s”…

And if Thailand’s lack of English skills isn’t bad enough, we recently learned that two-thirds of Bangkok students failed a maths test conducted by the Programme for International Student Assessment.

65 % of the students failed – a failure rate equal to Mexico and Montenegro.

This doesn’t surprise me at all. Every single Thai I have ever met simply cannot do simple arithmetic in their heads. They always rely on calculators. Even when simplest of sums are written down on a piece of paper, they cannot work out the result without recourse to a calculator.


Always look on the ugly side of Life

A few disturbing facts about Thailand’s capital city.

  • A recent study showed that Bangkok commuters spend an average of three hours a day travelling to and from work and that the traffic problems are worsening. The average car speed is 16km (10 miles) per hour.
  • There are no less than 37 agencies responsible for Bangkok’s traffic affairs. Yes – you read it right – thirty-seven !!
  • The ever-worsening traffic problems means that in a list of the most ‘desirable places to live’, Bangkok is now 102nd out 140 of the world’s major cities.
  • There are only 2.2 square meters of usable green zone per person in Bangkok.
  • Bangkok municipal council employs some 97,000 people – twice the number in Seoul which has a million more people than Bangkok.
  • Every municipal department related to the running of the city was rated as “having very good performance,” which resulted in massive bonuses paid to staff amounting to Bt2.3 billion ($76 million).
  • Another Bt200 million ($7 million) and Bt66 million ($2.2 million) was used to train city staff and send them abroad for study respectively. Really? Their English skills must be so impressive…
  • The city has so far spent 9.9 billion Baht ($330 million) on a new municipal building. They have been constructing it for 20 years with no end in sight.
The Ritz-Carlton – dominating the Bangkok Skyline

This is twice the amount spent on The Ritz-Carlton Residences complex, (above) which is the tallest building in Thailand. (73 floors, 3 1/2 acres).

Ah well…it’s still a paradise…albeit somewhat tainted…




MAB mini pic


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