Reprinted from the Bangkok Learning Post, courtesy of David Hopkins, TEFL International. Authors are Supalak Komarakul Na Nagara, Ph.D., and Robert E. Woodhead, of the Center for Professional Assessment, in Thailand.
Congratulations are in order for just about every single student, teacher, organizer and administrator who took part in the recently concluded Ministry of Education’s “Expo for Communicative English Language Learning,” otherwise referred to as ”ExCEL.” Any doubts anyone might have had as to the success of the event were immediately erased the instant the lights dimmed and throngs of students took to the stage as part of the opening ceremony. The traditional opening consisting of formally scripted speeches rendered by senior officials was notably missing from the ceremony. It was instead replaced by a superbly orchestrated student-dominated performance.
Representing the different regions of the country and all different age groups under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, the student groups took turns singing, performing, acting, taking part in historical skits and orating --- all in English. During the song performed by students from the School for the Blind more than a few members of the audience could be seen dabbing their eyes as they were touched by the emotional rendition of their chosen song. Much to the delight of all students and members of the audience the Minister of Education, Chaturong Chaisang, wholeheartedly joined all students on stage for a repeated chorus of their theme song.
Just the mere thought of several hundred students in one place might keep some adults away. However, those of you who decided not to attend ExCEL certainly missed out on seeing just how talented our very own Thai students can be when given the opportunity to put their creative side to work. The Ministry of Education’s goal to provide the opportunity for teachers and students to do just that certainly worked beyond expectations.
In addition to the English songs performed during the opening ceremony there were mini-performances, some integrating subject areas such as Thai history and culture into their plays and songs. Just imagine a group of kindergarten students acting out scenes from Suriyothai – in English!
As part of the closing ceremony, speech contest winners from each of the study intervals delivered their winning speeches in English. Although they were all to be commended, the two youngest winners most definitely won the hearts of everyone present with their speeches.
As only initial segments of the opening ceremony were broadcast on national television, the Ministry is therefore planning to produce and distribute DVD’s with greater information to schools throughout the country. They also hope to produce televisions programs for later broadcast.
All the students who took part in the different elements of ExCEL undoubtedly made a lot of new friends. Their teachers also made valuable contacts with ministry officials as well as teachers and administrators from other schools. These contacts will become instrumental when plans for the revised English language curriculum are released, as these new contacts will hopefully be viewed as their very own support groups. Rather than having to rely on their own limited resources for teaching plans, activities and teaching aids they will now be able to share resources and experiences with others.
If we had any complaint to make concerning the event it would have to be that given the concurrent scheduling of activities, participants were put into a situation of having to make “forced-choices” as to which workshop, performance or presentation to attend. Eavesdropping on some of the participants who came from all parts of the country we could hear them debating how to maximize their time during the two days.
The Ministry of Education, organizers of this major event, certainly did their very best to provide something for all the 20,000 registered visitors. In addition to the several hundred booths in the main exhibition area, there were a total of 34 workshops and presentations and on-going stage performances from 55 schools. In addition, the final rounds of the speech and singling contests were also held with winner announcements made on the final day. Therefore, getting sidetracked was highly unavoidable for any and all dedicated ExCEL goers.
Feedback from some of the teachers was a good indication of the level of appreciation, as they suggested that this be turned into annual event. They also urged that the duration be expanded so that teachers could truly benefit from participation in the workshops.
There were also suggestions that the event be held outside Bangkok in their respective regions. Other than the expected participation from English-focused schools such as international, bilingual and schools operating English Programs, there was an equally large turnout from regular schools, large and small, from all over the country.
Towards Communicative English
If ministerial plans for amending and strengthening the current English language curriculum are carried through, some positive outcomes in the level of communicative English among the general Thai student should become apparent.
Discussions taking place in the past about the state of English language teaching in Thailand possibly led to the release of the revised curriculum a few years back. While last year’s project to “quick train” teachers might have possibly yielded some positive results, it was not until ExCEL that there was any nationwide attempt to bring ministerial officers, schools, teachers, students and experts together under one single roof with one common purpose. For this reason it is hoped that ExCEL can be regarded as an indication of the government’s support for the Ministry’s current effort in this endeavor.
In the previous Learning Post issues we reported on the Ministry’s curriculum review workshops. While our focus was on English language in particular it should be noted that reviews are underway for all major subject areas. The underlying object is to end up with programs that are designed to enable students to actually put what they learn, inside and outside the classrooms, into actual practice. In terms of the English language, the mandate is to focus on communication English.
In our previous article we tried to set forth our perspective on what communicative English means, not just to the teacher but also the student. As we tried to point out, each time a buzzword is introduced teachers tend to be left to their own resources to determine how best to implement that practice in their classrooms. It is hoped that the attempts made by EXCEL organizers through the workshop sessions, presentations, demonstration teaching sessions and the opportunity for teachers to exchange ideas and viewpoints will actually lead to a much more unified start towards promoting communicative English.
Supalak Komarakul Na Nagara, Ph.D.
Robert E. Woodhead
Center for Professional Assessment
2006 ESL MiniConference Online