With the impact of globalization along with the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015, Thai society has given great importance to foreign language education, especially the English language due to its prominence as a significant communication tool. Nowadays, bilingual programs are available to both primary and secondary levels throughout Thailand. With most bilingual programs providing quality education in English with affordable tuition fees, the trend of parents enrolling their children in bilingual schools is dramatically increasing.
So What Exactly is a Bilingual Program?
Bilingual programs are programs that offer the majority of classes in the English language. Instead of learning with Thai teachers, students receive education taught by native English speakers from many countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, etc. Moreover, these English language classes still follow the basic Thai education curriculum. Students in bilingual programs also receive some classes conducted in Thai, such as Thai history and Buddhism. Therefore, students studying in bilingual programs who aspire to pursue their bachelor’s degree in Thai universities can also take university entrance examinations and enter Thai universities like other students.
Bilingual Program VS International Program
Although numerous leading international schools are available in Thailand, many Thai parents still see bilingual education as a better choice. The main reason is, of course, the tuition fees. Unlike international schools’ excessively expensive tuition fees, bilingual schools offer affordable prices. More importantly, many parents fear that enrolling their children in schools with an authentic international environment may eventually take away their children’s “Thainess.” In other words, international school students are prone to be unaccustomed to the Thai language and culture as they will mostly hang out with foreign friends and speak English most of the time.
My Experiences in a Bilingual Program
Throughout middle school and high school, I was educated in a bilingual program. My school offers two programs to students: the regular Thai program and the English language program. The bilingual program’s classroom size is smaller than that of the regular program: there are about 20-30 students per class for the bilingual program while there are around 50 students per class for the regular program. At school, the textbooks I used were from many sources depending on each subject. For example, for subjects like English literature and World History, the books were from international publishers while for Math, the book was created by my foreign teachers as the classroom content needed to follow the basic Thai curriculum.
For my school, our uniform is the same as students at the regular program. Therefore, although the number of students at the English language program is less than that of the regular program, the other students did not alienate us. We became close friends with students from the Thai program. There are also many school activities that all students must participate in together, such as Sports Day, School’s Library Week, etc.
What Are Some Benefits of Bilingual Programs?
Going to bilingual schools provides countless benefits. The first one is clearly how the students will be familiarized with English language. As most of the classes are conducted in English, students will no longer face difficulties in using English in their daily life as well as in higher education at university. The second one is that there are more opportunities for students. For example, at my school, there are more interesting clubs for students in the English program to join, such as the English Debate Club and the Amnesty International Club.
Still, Bilingual Programs Are Facing Some Problems too!
As most of the students in one class are Thai, they end up communicating with each other more in Thai instead of English. Although there may be signs like ‘Speak English Only’ or small punishments like charging students 10 baht every time a Thai word comes out from their mouth, most students still manage to speak Thai in their daily life at school. Therefore, as students speak English only when talking to foreign teachers, their English is not as fluent as it should be.
Studying in a bilingual program is a great choice for those longing to improve their English skills or for those interested in studying abroad. However, the effectiveness and benefits of such also depend on the children themselves as well as support from their families. In other words, instead of speaking in Thai with his or her peers, although it may be awkward at first, one should force himself or herself to speak English most of the time. Back at home, parents should also encourage their students to use English in their daily life. I know a lot of friends whose English speaking skill is far more outstanding than the others. They told me that at home, though their parents are not that fluent in English, they try to speak in English daily. In this way, both the parents and children can support each other and improve their English together!
What about your home country? Do you guys also have bilingual schools?
By Sresthabutr Hataipat, ASEAN Correspondent from Thailand