Teach the children well

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Teach the children well

As we continue our monthly series on the ramifications of the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), it’s worth noting that when it does finally come into being at the end of 2015 there will still be a lot of unanswered questions.

While much of the paperwork and the agreements and the intents will all be in place, even the various government departments of the 10 member nations will possibly, indeed probably, have their own localized interpretations of the aforementioned agreements and protocols. In other words, when the AECX begins it will not, by any stretch, be a completed exercise, it will be a work in progress with changes and modifications certain to take place as the full impact of its implementation takes place. To expect otherwise is to live in a political and economic Utopia.

One area that will be of great importance is education. The AEC will be a powerful economic force, no doubt about that. In simple terms the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the AEC is greater than that of the European Union and boasts the third-largest population region in the world.

Since the available ‘talent pool’ will expand it means the value of an education will become even greater. Sadly, Thailand lags significantly behind some of its neighbours in this vital area.

English is the language of business, like it or not. That is not likely to change for some decades, if ever. In 2012 Education First, a British company specializing in language training, concluded its annual survey regarding English Proficiency in Non-English Speaking countries. Of the 54 countries involved in the survey, five were soon-to-be AEC members: Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

It is perhaps no surprise that of the above five Singapore ranked highest in the survey. They came in at number 12, with Malaysia right on their heels at 13. Indonesia and Vietnam ranked at 27 and 31, or with low proficiency. And Thailand came in at number 53, second-last of the 54 countries surveyed.

Despite its almost recent opening to the West and international business, even China managed to come in at number 36.

Considering the fact the Thai government decided in 2011 to not make English as an official second language in its government-run schools, you have to wonder where the politicians and senior bureaucrats think Thailand is going ‘sit’ when it comes to the very real world of international business and trade within the AEC after 2015. Have they simply given up any hope of being able to compete in the language stakes with the likes of Singapore and Malaysia? Do they realize just how quickly countries like Vietnam and Indonesia have gained on Thailand in this area? Does the government think it can prosper forever on cheap labour?