Sunday, October 24, 2010

Editorial: This quick fix for schools is failing our children

This quick fix for schools is failing our children

Published on October 21, 2010

Plan to declare English as second language in classroom ignores real problem: huge class sizes and outdated teaching methods
The debate on whether the Education Ministry should declare English as the second language in schools does not address the root cause of the problems in Thai schools. The real issue is the quality of teaching, not just of English but of all the subjects that students need to learn to be equipped for the future. Thai students already spend several hours on each subject per week in the classroom. What remains highly debatable, however, is whether schools give their students the quality time essential to learning.

The attempt to declare English as the second language in the classroom is an admirable thing and shows we are concerned over the low quality of learning. Knowledge of English undoubtedly broadens students' opportunities for learning. But it does not take a grand ambition to place English as the second language to solve the problem. Educators can tackle the issue effectively if they themselves are willing to learn and remain open-minded.

Every Thai student already studies English, but the average level of proficiency is highly questionable. Many teachers have not received training to improve their skills, or access to new knowledge. Some simply don't have the language skills to teach English. This means that many of our students are stuck with unqualified teachers day in, day out.

Although educators often claim they want to prepare students for the fast-changing world, most Thai schools still operate in the same way as their predecessors half a century ago. Typically, up to 50 students are crammed into one classroom and subjected to robotic learning by rote. Teaching methods have barely changed over the years. One change we can expect to see, though, is a drop in the quality of teachers, as their low pay means that teaching is no longer a coveted profession.

The authorities are scrambling for a quick fix. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, they prefer to announce a big-budget programme under a "sexy" title. But spending money alone will not guarantee satisfactory results. It is a shame that money is being lavished on education but producing nothing for our kids.

Rather than debating the terms of our English teaching, educators should take a direct route to improving learning by, first, focusing on limiting the class size for each subject. This puts the priority on ensuring every student receives sufficient attention from teachers. The method of learning by rote does not inspire students to excel at subjects for which they show aptitude. The current classroom environment fails when it comes to promoting either multidimensional learning or students' self-esteem. Students are often judged simply on their ability to memorise lessons, meaning that those with other talents can feel discouraged and left out.

Teachers should also receive constant training, because we owe it to our students to provide them with the best possible schooling. Improvements could also be made if public schools drew more on the resources of progressive or international schools, which are more up to date with techniques.

Meanwhile, an open-minded attitude is essential among teachers and school principals; learning is a never-ending process. Efforts to get retiree native English-speakers to assist in Thai schools have been unsuccessful largely because of the cold reception from teachers who are more concerned about their turf and ego than their students. These teachers should be sacked.

Teaching our children to become good "global citizens" should also be on the agenda. For instance, they should be taught about conserving energy and the impact they can have on the environment. But responsibility and citizenship are not sufficiently addressed. Instead, youngsters only hear adults asking for their rights but refusing to be accountable.

And most importantly, students should be given belief in their capacity and ability. Rather than promoting youngsters' self-actualisation, schools tend to punish students who don't perform well in the robotic model of learning. Meaningful knowledge is sidelined in favour of teaching students to fit into a mould by achieving good grades.

Thai students need to learn more about their geography and history to see how this physical and cultural background has shaped them. This will then enable them to understand themselves better. In contrast, currently they are usually forced merely to memorise information without learning how to think with it.
Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group
October 25, 2010 02:57 am (Thai local time)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Portraying Asia as the villain will backfire on the US



Published on October 14, 2010

American politicians using China and India as scapegoats for job losses are playing a dangerous and divisive game

Political spin with a short-term focus can leave the public mired in misinformation. Unfortunately, US politicians are trying to capitalise on ordinary Americans' anxiety over an unemployment rate of 9.6 per cent by scapegoating China and India as the cause of job losses.

The tactic is designed to connect with Americans during the mid-term elections, as economic recession tops the list of the country's concerns. However, the misleading election propaganda could create misunderstandings with the US's trading partners, especially those in Asia, which is being portrayed as the villain.

Over the past few weeks, a series of political ads on television has singled out China and India for costing America jobs. For instance, Zack Space, the Democrat Congressman for Ohio, who describes himself as "standing up against a Chinese government that has devastated American workers", accuses his Republican opponent of supporting free-trade policies that have caused a loss of US jobs to China. Earlier this year, Bill Halter lost a Democrat primary in Arkansas after his rival's TV ad featured South Asians thanking Halter for sending jobs to India.

Political messages like these can leave a negative impression among American's trading partners. The attacks on Chinese workers are counterproductive to the American attempt to pressure Beijing to re-value the yuan and thereby reduce the price-competitiveness of Chinese products. India's government recently expressed its disagreement with the US decision to raise the visa fee for Indian workers in the US. None of this bodes well for the US's effort to double its exports in the next five years to create some 2 million new jobs at home.

In short, such political misinformation will not improve the US economic situation. Jobs in India and China outsourced by the US may not be adversely affected by such sentiments, as their number is likely being exaggerated by the politicians.

More importantly, these messages foster anti-foreigner sentiment among ordinary Americans at a time when they are suffering from the recession. They can easily buy into the belief that they are entitled to vent their anger towards "outsiders". But blaming outsiders is no solution for a society that promotes the harmonious co-existence of people from different races. Minorities among America's rich mix of different ethnic backgrounds could in turn become scapegoats in a hostile atmosphere of blame.

Like anywhere else in the world, less competitive companies and industries in the US will find it difficult to survive. As such, American workers deserve better solutions from their politicians, such as new retraining programmes, rather than being given a caricature of workers overseas stealing American jobs.

The fact is that the motivation of several multinational companies for relocating their plants overseas has not been to capitalise on cheap labour but rather to penetrate foreign markets. Japanese and American automakers have set up assembly plants in Thailand mainly so as to sell their vehicles in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

American politicians should also make their constituents aware of the realities of global trade. Americans need to be reminded that they are also benefiting from this intertwined business environment, as cheap imports to the US benefit consumers, boost domestic consumption and curb inflation.

Many foreign companies have also made their presence felt in the US and created jobs for the locals. For instance, India-based pipe producer Welspun recently decided to expand its operation in Little Rock, Arkansas. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart stores in China contribute to the performance of its headquarters in the US.

Instead of looking for scapegoats, US politicians should be focussing on real solutions to their employment problems - for instance, working with other countries for a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of global trade talks. And instead of accusing each other of being too sympathetic to China or India, and promoting a hostile environment of confrontation, Republicans and Democrats should instead urge their constituents to learn more about people from different backgrounds. As the Chinese proverb says, "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will win every battle."

Privacy Policy © 2009 Nation Multimedia Group

October 14, 2010 09:57 am (Thai local time)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

end of telegraph service

Witness to history, telegraph service set to shut down
Published on April 19, 2008
Jeerawat Na Thalang
The Nation

During a recent visit to the Central Post Office on Bangrak Road, officials there proudly told me about the history of the post office building, which has been deemed to be part of the nation's cultural heritage.

"There's a bomb underneath the car parking lot," an official said, pointing to the parking space in front of the building. The bomb was dropped during World War II but it did not explode. Officials didn't know how to retrieve the bomb without setting it off, so they left it there after the war ended.

The monolith building was designed according to old European architectural styles and its floor is decorated with tiles from Italy. The tiles may have darkened over the years but they give a vintage look to the interior of what is known as both the Bangrak Post Office and the Central Post Office, Bangkok South.

The building has witnessed the fast-changing pace of communications technology, from the old days when postmen wore neatly ironed shirts with shining stripes and rode bicycles to deliver mail to more modern times when people on different continents can communicate via email within seconds.

From next month, this old building will witness another historical event in the evolution of technology. The telegraph service will cease to exist, with a new generation turning to new methods of communication like e-mail.

Telegraph was once one of the most popular ways to send quick messages. People used the telegraph wire to deliver hot news, such as the results of a job interview, news of a recent death or claims for debt payment. At its peak, from 1987 to 1992, more than 500,000 messages were sent by telegraph each month. But that number has declined to some 8,000 this month. CAT decided to close down the service because the cost of maintaining it was not worthwhile.

The telegraph service came to Thailand in 1875. At that time, both the French and the British offered to construct telegraph lines in Thailand. The French offered to connect the line to Saigon, while the British wanted to run a line from Bangkok to Tavoy, Burma. King Rama V eventually turned down the offers from both countries and decided that Thailand would construct its own line. Thailand launched its first line in the East, connecting Bangkok and Samut Prakan. The service was later expanded to Prachin Buri to connect with the Indochinese line in Battambang in Cambodia and Saigon in Vietnam. Later on, the service was expanded throughout Thailand.

The telegraph was in fact part of several historical events. On January 17, 1928, the Post and Telegraph Department launched the international radiotelegraphy line for the first time by using a short-wave transmission machine to send a signal to Berlin. King Rama VII sent a telegraph to the Thai ambassador in Berlin saying:




During World War II, the international telegraph service - which came through Manila - was halted in December 1941. Later on, the Thai government tried to negotiate the re-launching of the service via a neutral country. On April 6, 1942, the international telegraph service was reopened as the service was connected via Geneva, Switzerland.

Postal staff said that when they were students at the Post and Telegraph School, Morse Code class was their toughest because they had to memorise how to send the code accurately. An urban legend at the school had it that some telegraph experts could receive and memorise four messages at the same time before delivering them all later.

Officials said they received incomprehensible messages frequently, which they suspected were sent by lovers. Unfortunately, quite a number of the messages sent were death notices.

"It combined the art of finger-tapping and the accuracy of the code," said Saneth Pangsapha, the 59-year-old head of the Bangkok South Post Office in Bangrak. He demonstrated how to tap the code with his flexible wrist. "Telegraph is very classic. It requires both technical skill and a human touch," he said while complaining that his wrist has turned "dusty" because he cannot move his fingers to tap the code as fast as he used to.

These days, the telegraph service section consists of 25 staff members, a reduction from some 300 when the service was more popular. The telegraph section is located on the upper floor of the Bangrak Post Office. Morse Code is no longer applied. Officials use a computerised system to send telegraphs.

Consumers can, however, fill out the telegraph forms, which they can collect from the ground floor of the post office. Pieces of the brown paper form available in a box obviously shows that the form has not been reprinted in years.

Many years ago, the telegraph office wanted to change the image of the telegraph service. "People were frightened when they received a telegraph. They thought chances were good they were about to receive death news," said Kanissorn Tongsap, another post office official. The post office introduced the idea of telegraphs sent for "friendship and goodwill". However, the campaign was not quite successful as people turned to other types of technology to send messages, such as SMS.

Thailand is not alone in closing the service, as other countries have also ended the service recently. "The other factor forcing us to close the service is that spare parts needed for telegraph equipment are no longer available," said Kanissorn. Some countries such as France, however, used telegraph services during the Iraq War because the services were deemed safer. Who knows, the abandoned telegraph poles along several main roads may be dusted off and used again.

Members of the public are invited to join the telegraph exhibition in the final week of April at the Central Post Office in Bangrak.