English proficiency in Thailand lagging

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Sep 23, 2020
Read the following article and try to answer the questions below to test your comprehension.

According to the annual English Proficiency Index released last week by the global language education company, EF Education First, Thailand's overall proficiency score has dropped for the third year in a row.

The index showed Thailand's ranking drop to 89th out of 100 countries, down from 74th last year. The nation scored 419 out of 800 under the company's new points scale, which is considered "very low". In 2018, Thailand ranked 64th of 88 countries on the index, with a total score of 48.54 -- a drop from 2017, when it ranked 53rd out of 80, with a score of 49.7.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand is currently ranked 7th -- behind Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia, but ahead of Myanmar. Within Asia, Thailand ranked 20th out of 24.

The low score is no surprise, as the country lacks a clear strategy to improve English education in schools.

The Education Ministry has urged local schools to offer English Programmes (EP) since 1995, and large budgets have been allocated to support them over the years, but the various indicators, including the latest EF index, shows its efforts have failed.

Numerous schools in Thailand have opened EPs, but it seems their focus is earning more money from parents rather than improving proficiency. In fact, many schools employ teachers which lack teaching skills.

Furthermore, while EPs can be an alternative for parents who can afford it, for others it is among the factors which are widening the country's education inequality.

The attitude of many Thais, including parents, which see Thailand as having its own language and culture, thereby minimising the need for English, is also contributing to the problem, as it causes a lack of enthusiasm among students.

The poorly-designed curriculum that focuses on grammar must be scrapped, and replaced with one with an emphasis on listening and speaking, so students are encouraged to practice.

Right now, students are forced to memorise grammar and vocabularies -- an outdated approach for a key subject that is included in entrance examinations for various higher education institutions. This needs to change.

In response, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan has come up with a plan to recruit about 10,000 native English speaking teachers. The ministry also plans to launch an intensive English programme that will require all public school students to study English for five hours a week. Bilingual programmes will also be introduced in about 2,000 schools nationwide.

While these are good initiatives, their effectiveness remains in doubt. The proposed figures are far behind the number of public schools nationwide, of which there are more than 30,000.

The government needs to tackle the problem's root causes, namely the quality of instruction and curriculum. There are many new-generation English teachers who are ready to help if the curriculum is reformed to support them. Meanwhile, older teachers need serious reskilling and upgrading. The issue must be on the national agenda as English proficiency is key to increasing the potential of the country's human capital.


What are some of the problems facing English language learning in Thailand?

Numerous schools in Thailand have opened EPs (English Programs), why haven't they been working?

How does the government plan to tackle the problem?

What suggestions does the author offer?

How does English education compare in your country?