English proficiency indicators in the works for professionals

5With English expected to be used more widely in the ASEAN Economic Community, the Thailand Professional Qualifications Institute is developing a set of English proficiency indicators for 40 occupational fields so that professionals can be assessed, and to guide education officials in creating English-language learning curricula that will be more effective.

“We are going to identify the indicators in collaboration with Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities,” Thailand Professional Qualifications Institute (TPQI) director Veerachai Srikajon said last week, citing two of the leading universities in the Kingdom. He added that TPQI would also seek opinions and input from partners and members of the business community, including entrepreneurs, when developing the indicators.

The indicators should help improve communication abilities in the professional fields, most of which, such as aircraft maintenance, use technical language and terms and have their own nomenclature. “It is clear to many business leaders that English is increasingly a key component of their competitiveness,” according to a report by EF Education First, a global organization based in Zurich, Switzerland.

Some large conglomerates, both Thai and international ones with offices and operations in Thailand, have already announced plans to use English as the main language for their work communications by 2018, according to The Nation, an English-language newspaper.

Deputy Education Minister Thirakiat Charoense-thasilp said the project by TPQI would boost the development of English-language learning and teaching and English-performance evaluations for students at all levels. “Our ministry has made it a key policy to increase Thais’ English capabilities,” he said.

He added that when the indicators are complete, they would be helpful to officials overseeing higher and vocational education, and would help inform their curricula for students.

Thailand ranks poorly in EF’s English Proficiency Index, which measure proficiency on the national level. Poor English skills indicate the small base of competent adult English speakers necessary for a globalized workforce, according to EF. The indicators being developed by TPQI, however, are part of an effort to target improving English in specific industries that are key to Thailand’s competitiveness.

Thailand’s general lack of proficiency does not appear to have hurt the Kingdom economically during its modern development, as the country has long been a magnet for investment and trade in Southeast Asia. But some economists and business leaders have been warning that future competitiveness will be at risk unless English proficiency improves.

The advent of the 10-nation free trade and investment area known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community, or AEC, adds urgency to their call for improving English. Cheaper labor and other incentives in competing ASEAN economies could draw direct investment away from Thailand. Increased proficiency in English would be an advantage over some of those competing economies.