There are several differences that I have noticed between the two countries, however. Korean students are still raised in a Confucian culture that puts great emphasis on education. It was education that helped make South Korea one of the top world economies following the signing of a truce with North Korea in 1953. Passing the college entrance exam is all that matters to high school students.
Education in Thailand is compulsory, and while it is good to attend university, it is not something every student gets to do. The cost of earning a degree prevents some people from getting better paying jobs. I have met some people who are content to work in massage parlors or in restaurants who would have liked to go on to university, but they came from a poor family. Learning Thai massage or continuing to work the family farm gives them an income, but it does not necessarily mean that their dream is coming true. Unfortunately, I have heard some girls turn to prostitution to help them afford to pay for college.
Students of English in South Korea that I worked with were mostly adults, university students or professionals who felt the need to study the language so that they can continue to advance in their education or career. The SDA Language Institute required students to spend two hours of practice in a lab, where they practiced for the next day’s lesson. Korean students got a minimum of 15 hours of conversational English a week.
Thailand is still developing. While it is in the perfect position for international trade throughout SE Asia, it is a country that still relies heavily on trading agricultural products. Parts of Thailand are land-locked and are not of much interest at this time to foreigners, though this will change in the future as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) continues to grow. English skills will be of utmost importance to the peoples of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other member nations. At this time, many Thai students do not as yet feel that it is important to learn to speak English. Most students I have worked with in Thailand have gotten one hour of practice in English a week. At most, they might get six hours of English, meeting with a teacher two or three hours a week in a block time, with no practice outside of class.
It is my hope that my students will learn to value their education. I think about their future and want it to be better than they can see for themselves. They have potential. I do not want to see them left behind, accepting the unacceptable as a way of life. Everyone should have a chance to make their dreams come true.
<James Heald teaching in Thailand>