Help Thai schools now – native English speakers wanted to teach phonetics and shadow Thai English teachers all over Thailand! by Nick Argles

Nick Argles, the Director of the Expat Life in Thailand magazine, was recently invited by M.L. Pariyada Diskul, Secretary to the Ministry of Education to join a delegation of senior officials from the ministry to the southern province of Satun. The delegation was led by the Deputy Minister of Education Dr Sophon Narathorn, Dr Boonrux Yodpheth Secretary General of Basic Education Commission, Khun Piyabutr Cholvijarn and Khun Ekachai chairman and board member of OPEC and of course Mom Luang Pariyada.

They were visiting 12 schools on 9 islands off the coast over a period of 3 days and I was lucky enough to be an observer and guest to see the schools, meet the students and their teachers, and learn from the education experts. The delegation meanwhile were conducting a survey on the schools deciding what needed to be done structurally, financially – in terms of grants and the distribution of funds and how they could make things easier for the directors, headteachers and teachers.

The children in the 12 schools were a pure delight and impeccably behaved, though excited and honoured to have such important guests come to visit their institution. In most cases they formed a guard of honour and blessed their visitors with traditional Muslim greetings reserved for special guests.

satun province

They cooked for us, served lunch and refreshments for us, sang and danced for us and at one school were even invited to request what they thought was needed to make their education and lives more fulfilling and worthwhile. Their wishes were quite humble and reasonable as they asked for simple things.

It was humbling yet very moving for me, ‘a farang’ to see these lovely children with so little, on the islands of their birth, looking so happy to be recognised and then to receive a rucksack, coloured pencils and a colouring book courtesy of Kubota the tractor manufacturer in Thailand. They were all so grateful and proud and sat still, often for well over an hour, whilst their visitors were presented to by the schools administrators. You could see that they were in awe of their visitors and on their best behaviour for their important guests. The accompanying photographers and press pack eagerly snapped away at every opportunity and it made me realise how difficult it must be to be in the public eye every day of your life.

The smallest school on the islands Buloan Don School had as little as 40 children, the largest up to 1500 on the mainland, and their visitors were met at the piers and often at the beach with a greeting party of the islanders and the local officials. Each evening we were taken back to Satun and our hotel for the 4 night 3 day trip. The officials had set a full itinerary with at least 3 schools each day so there was no time to rest.

One evening we returned quite late as darkness took over, and to further the growing concern on the half open boat without GPS, a storm met us reducing visibility to less than 40 metres. The boat behind us obviously lost sight of us and went off at a tangent so we had to slow down and signal with a torchlight to bring it back on track. Cold and wet but grateful to be back on dry land the city landlubbers presented a fine sight – many not eating much that night! Each morning we breakfasted at 6am and were on the way in a fleet of minivans to the next pier or school.

I was worn out by the time we arrived back in Bangkok at 7.30pm on the Friday evening. Not made better by the fact that I then had to wait over 2 hours at Don Muaeng airport for a taxi! I waited longer for a taxi than the flight of one hour twenty five minutes from Hat Yai to Bangkok. Come on AOT sort your life out please.

For a country that depends on inbound tourism for nearly 20% of its GDP you have to get better and quickly because today’s traveller will just not put up with it. On one day between the islands one of the 3 boats was grounded on a sandbank so the Thai Royal Navy SARS here to protect and guard their important visitors had to get intothe water and push the boat clear.

These schools badly need native English speakers to go and shadow the Thai English teachers to help teach the students phonetics and show how to pronounce the English language.

When I was alone with the rows of children I recited the days of the week and months of the year. They eagerly recited them after me. They can read and write English from a book but lack the confidence to approach a ‘farang’ and engage in conversation but it is so essential for these kids on the islands as they now have an opportunity to serve the tourist trade and need to develop customer relationship skills.

Khun Pariyada asked me if I could help find interns, teachers or even just volunteers to visit the islands and in return for bed and board help teach the children pronunciation and give them the confidence to engage in conversation in English.

I said that I would try and so I have reached out to a number of friends, media owners and presenters and we are all trying to promote a campaign in Thailand to learn English now so if you know anyone that has just graduated, or finished teacher training, or is willing to give a month, 3 months or a year of their life to help teach Thais to speak the English language please email fern@englishforthais.org