A recent report stating that English-language teachers from primary and secondary schools in 30 provinces had scored well below 50 per cent in an English test is disturbing news for the national educational system. A total of 14,189 teachers sat the test, and 74.59 per cent of them reportedly scored less than 41 out of 100. About 10 per cent of the participants scored over 60.
The overall score for the test was divided into 30 points for listening, 30 for reading comprehension, 20 for writing and 20 for speaking.
The lowest recorded score was a shocking two out of 100, and this has left a serious question in parents' minds as to whether the teacher who got this shameful mark deserves to keep his or her job teaching English.
Senior education officials and members of the general public have expressed concern about the poor test results. Some have suggested that low-scoring teachers be given scholarships to English-speaking countries to help them improve their English, but the big expense involved in overseas training would be a major financial obstacle for the government.
Unlike teachers at university level, teachers in primary and secondary schools fall under much stricter rules when it comes to taking long leave for training.
Schoolteachers who want to take just one or two days off to attend a seminar reportedly have to submit their applications up to one month in advance, and some even have to pay their own travelling expenses. This clearly shows how different the government's standards are when it comes to the treatment of teachers at university and school levels.
Responsible agencies do not necessarily have to send them for further training in English-speaking countries in order to help them improve their English.
In the current age of fast-developing information technology, they can make use of the Internet and other electronic tools. It should be the responsibility of the Fundamental Education Commission and Ramkhamhaeng University, which together conducted the English test, to find ways to put this less expensive alternative into practice.
The teachers themselves hold the key to the collective achievement of any plan by the government to improve the standard of English-teaching in schools. Instead of occasionally taking traditional training courses, they would have to actively follow up on the development of information technology and make the best use of it.
Those who are complacent with their limited English skills and see no serious need to shape up should be dismissed and replaced by others who are more willing to pursue perfection in teaching standards.
China is a good example of a country that has achieved a fast improvement in the use of English.
Those who have visited Chinese cities must have seen Chinese students who studied English only in local schools able to fluently converse in the language, even though they have never been abroad.
The secret to their skills, as revealed by the students themselves, is that they have trained themselves outside the classroom by using the Internet, listening to tapes and radio programmes and watching TV. This fast collective improvement in English is outstanding considering the fact that the development of modern education in China began only 30 years ago, after years of being hampered by the Cultural Revolution.
For Thailand, the poor skills of hundreds of thousands of English-language teachers in schools across the country could be a serious threat to overall educational standards, and if those responsible offer the excuse that they have difficulty recruiting qualified personnel for the jobs and thus have to use whoever is handy, this is not just a matter of teachers' poor qualifications: it reflects a larger problem with the central screening of those