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The myth of native English speaking teachers in Thailand – OPINION

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OPINION from guest writer Dr. Mariano Carrera

There is a myth in Thailand that one must learn English from a native speaker.Propagating this myth are the many beneficiaries of the practice, which does not include learners. Ignoring research that shows to learn English, one does not need a native English speaker (NES) only emphasises the myth-makers dominance.After all, if the students were to use English, they would encounter the concepts of competency, dynamism, and evolution.

Or “a NES or European NNES” means white. Businesses, class creators, and teachers promote the idea, hence the recent MOE bold plan to recruit 10,000 NES to improve Thai students’ ability to communicate in global business. This and other projects fail because they are based on myths, not facts.

Who are native speakers? There are about 18 countries that are classed as native English speaker countries. Yet, many recruiters in Thailand cannot name more than five passport holders with a certain look. South Africa is not one. Job boards regularly mention the big five, yet there are more countries to choose from.

Recruiting companies show that they are not aware of who are native speakers—limiting oneself in a small pool.

Why native speakers is another question, many recruiters fail to answer on closer inspection.Refrains usually echo around that NES would teach the student “proper” English. What is “proper” English? A pot of gold at the end of a rainbow is easier to find.Institutions such as the BBC mentioned that NES are the worse communicators and have used Ang Sang Su Ki speakers to train their staff on using English.

So, if the English are comfortable using non-native speakers to learn to communicate and use English, why not Thais?

What type of English is another question that uncovers the myth. The two major forms of English, American and British, have their own grammar, punctuation, and word usage rules. MS Word gives 17 forms of English. Imagine Thais using the Jamaican form. Promoters do not provide clarity on a form. Some schools mention the form, US or UK, but many do not and employ a mix of staff without guidance. No wonder some Thai students are uncomfortable with the language. They are trained to be handicapped from the start.

How should Thais be taught is another issue. Native speakers rarely go through the process of learning a language thus are unable to empathize with new learners. Hence, despite some theoretical suggestions (assuming TEFL or CELTA), NES cannot deliver that crucial push required.Non-native speakers are better positioned to lift the standards of beginners. NES might have the edge in terms of nuances and idioms. Still, global English requires using a few words properly and asking questions. Reading Aesop’s fables, other storybooks are a good place for language students to understand many English phrases.

When should native speakers be used in teaching English? When the learner is in a proficient state. In need of rounding. Learners need to practice what they are exposed too. Yet, rarely would you hear a Thai speak to another Thai in English (visit any Thai university’s English department). The teaching reinforces the concept that English is only required when talking to a native speaker. Hearing a Lebanese use three languages in one sentence increases confidence to use two.

Where should English teachers come from?A mix of countries.Competency, training, enthusiasm, willingness to learn and qualifications are what the British Council suggests.The MOE should learn about English first; then, some staff members learn English before embarking on improving the nations language use. Students learn more in their mother tongue unless proficient in a second language (UNESCO). Selection standards have been flouted before but experienced as a passing fad.

Proficiency comes from regular use, which comes from confidence, which comes from everyday use, which comes from being comfortable, which comes from exposures to various speakers. Perhaps instead of buying into the myth, Thais and educators need to start using their language, read about language, ask questions about language instructions and then think about recruiting. Designing proper selection criteria for foreign English teachers would help attract and improve Thais’ ability to communicate globally.First, some myth-busting on NES is required.

Dr. Mariano Carrera

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45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Avatar

    RR

    October 9, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Times ago I had an Aussie colleague. I had often to correct his poor grammar, although English is not my first language. NES does not necessarily mean high quality.

    • Avatar

      Andrew

      October 10, 2020 at 8:42 am

      While you are correct in saying that NES doesn’t necessarily imply high quality, non NES very likely implies low (or lower) quality.

      That’s why a lot of teaching positions require a degree in addition to being a NES. The fact of having a degree helps to ensure the person has an excellent command of the English language, including good grammar.

      Let me ask: if you wanted to learn Thai, would you prefer to learn from a Thai person or a farang who could speak Thai quite well?

      • Avatar

        Charlie

        October 11, 2020 at 10:09 am

        Answer is A nativyEnglish speaking person who can speak Thai. You say farang (which is slang) to direct your only opinion. I have taught English since 1988 and so what…does not mean I am a good teacher.
        The writer is completely wrong as the easiest and fastest way is consulting the native sounds, habitat and culture. Pronunciation is the key hence “ TH L R W etc.

    • Avatar

      GeoffQB

      October 10, 2020 at 11:29 am

      If you want to communicate in some version of english, learn it from anyone capable of teaching it.

      But “native” english speaker implies the teacher has english as their mother tongue, that means, it is the first language they use It has nothing whatsoever to do with their colour or ethnicity.

      My daughter is half-Thai, half-English. She has the IB and a degree from Oxford,both taken in English. But her MOTHER tongue is Thai. I’d advise anyone to learn Thai from her, but not english. It’s not her native language no matter how fluent she is.

  2. Avatar

    Mike Lloyd

    October 9, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    Your response to this topic seems highly academic and somewhat emotional.
    The REAL question is this : To whom would you like to communicate ? A person in London, Dublin, Singapore, Sydney, New York, ?? Or where. When you are clear on the answer , then you can be clear on the teacher —- regardless of their native origin,

  3. Avatar

    gosport

    October 9, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    I LOVE THIS PARAGRAPH

    Proficiency comes from regular use, which comes from confidence, which comes from everyday use, which comes from being comfortable, which comes from exposures to various speakers.

    Narkhon Which.

  4. Avatar

    Brian

    October 9, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    The terminology “native speaker” is not so great. It doesn’t matter if the language is the speaker’s first, as long as they speak it fluently. The problem is, most Thai people can’t tell whether someone is speaking English with some accent regarded as sounding good. So they specify native, when what they really want is just someone who sounds good. This sounds like an idea for a service to offer… accreditation as a person whose English sounds good.

  5. Avatar

    Bob Franklin

    October 9, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    I think this is utter nonsense. I am a British English GCSE & A Level teacher (not ‘white’ – by the way.) Seems like you are adding to some of those myths…If I want to learn Thai – I will hire a Thai person. The truth of the matter is that in most British and American teachers are not hired because they are ‘white’ or because they are ‘what is expected’. They generally have a good standard of education that links directly to those in international schools. They also serve more functions out here. They promote tourism and contribute to the economy, they often spend the lions share of the money they earn in Thailand – in Thailand. Don’t sit there with your doctorate pretending that native language, trained teachers are not generally more effective in teaching their language. No matter the language – no matter the colour skin – no matter the country.

  6. Avatar

    Dave Williams

    October 9, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Perhaps if the author had learned from a native speaker he would be able to write in a manner that would allow the reader to understand what he is talking about.

    • Avatar

      Jean-Pierre

      October 9, 2020 at 11:04 pm

      Strange. I am French, English is not my “best” language, and I understood the article.
      And perhaps it is the point : in order to be easy and simple, you do not need to be a NES, but simply be understood by all other non NES …
      And on this planet, there/we are many.

      I think with your observation, and my counter-feeling, the article has a point: when learning a language, what will be your audience ? You can then learn targetting a specific audience, even if it is “pidgin” English.
      The main issue when learning a language is to be afraid of making a mistake when interacting and speaking. Relax with NES as they went it too good for what is needed in a relaxed way !

  7. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    October 9, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    Learning English from a native speaker gives the student the right accent.
    Imagine a Thai who has learned English from a Jamaican and seeks work as a presenter on a English TV show. The Jamaican accent would not fit the requirements of clarity, respectability, and pronunciation.
    However learning English from teacher who have a pronounced Bronx accent or Glasgow accent would be just as bad.

    • Avatar

      Leigha

      October 9, 2020 at 4:10 pm

      That of course raises the question of what is “the right accent”….which really depends on where you live and who you interact with.

    • Avatar

      RR

      October 9, 2020 at 4:40 pm

      Yeah, the right accent, especially oz and kiwi ones… LOL

      • Avatar

        Tom

        October 11, 2020 at 10:22 am

        I am an Australian yet it’s claimed that the best accent and preference is Canadian. I personally agree. Asian countries also like Filipino’s as its USA accent but an Asian look and culture, similar and compatible

    • Avatar

      Cyril J

      October 9, 2020 at 7:30 pm

      I disagree, you don’t spend enough time with the student to give them your accent, and who told you that your accent is the right one? The accent -intonation- is learnt through tv, series, audiobooks, youtube, etc. where the learner can spend as many hours as they want.
      A person who speaks only one language will never teach anyone how to learn a foreign language, that’s not hard to understand (if you have learnt to speak fluently a foreign language)

    • Avatar

      Mark von Heisenberg

      October 9, 2020 at 7:45 pm

      What is the nationality of the writer? Filippina? Not native English.

      • Avatar

        Davide

        October 14, 2020 at 8:30 am

        Mariano Carrera is an Italian name, Mr Von Heisenberg, Bist du eine pifke oder? Quite straightforward to understand, especially when he is referring to Aesopo’s fables to learn english, quite easy insight on the Nationality.

    • Avatar

      Yan

      October 9, 2020 at 8:22 pm

      When I did my exam for TEFL, not being a “native speaker” I looked around and listened people speak “Cocknee” and “Welsh” and other dialects….Are these the ones who will teach Thai students? I believe that “non native speakers” with a good education and high level can add a lot more in teaching than many “native speakers”….

      • Avatar

        Peter

        October 12, 2020 at 10:47 pm

        Yan, In my humble opinion, yours was the most sensible reply to date.

    • Avatar

      Andrew Graham Field

      October 10, 2020 at 8:56 am

      Let me guess: the writer, who judging by her poor grammar and expression, is clearly a non NES, is bitter that she can’t easily find an English teaching position, or alternatively, is restricted to lower paying English teaching positions.

      As all NES know, we have an expression relevant to this type of scenario: “sour grapes”.

  8. Avatar

    GioTraveller

    October 9, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    NES or not what matters most is the ability of the teacher to impart knowledge in an engaging and thoughtful manner. There are plenty of both excellent and terrible NES English teachers here in Thailand. Likewise, there are plenty of both excellent and terrible non-NES Enlgish teachers here also. As a NES I don’t assume I’m better at teaching English than others. Frankly, most Thai English teachers (and older Thai students) know far more about grammar than I will ever know. That said, my students always come to me first for pronunciation guidance. Why? Because I am a NES from the USA and will give them a ‘correct’ way to pronounce a word or phrase. It may not be the only way (ex: aluminum) but they know I will offer a pronunciation that is understandable to most English speakers, native or not.

  9. Avatar

    J Scrivins

    October 9, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    18 countries really? Well not in Thailand

    This article was written by a Filipino national and perhaps cannot be unbiased and why I’m in no way deriding Filipinos as teachers, as I native speaker in the classroom, I have frequently heard them making grammatical mistakes in spoken English. The esteemed writer of this article must acknowledge that Filipinos have no pronouns so I’m told. So they frequently mix up him, her, his etc. I have also looked at my Filipino colleagues tests in the past and found them littered with mistakes. Whether this was down to laziness or lack of English grammatical ability I don’t know.

    I agree with what the author says about the different types of English, in my time I’ve seen eastern Europeans, Russians and even French teaching in English in Thai schools as the schools simply want a Caucasian face, until the Thai staff realise he or she can’t really speak English. Some schools like American, some Australian and some British English in their schools.

    I’m sure Jamaican English would be funny, but they aren’t NES in Thailand anyway.

    I don’t think this article should be complaining about NES vs NNES where Filipinos outnumber NES 50-1 this article is probably REALLY about the fact they routinely get paid less. Something which could be remedied if they all refused to come until the wages were at the correct level.

    I understand the official understanding with the Thai government is at least 30,000 per month, but that Thai schools frequently cheat the Filipino staff. I personally have seen my Filipino friends actively ripped off by schools to their face and its tragedy.

    One last thing about the British council mentioned in this article, when I was in a government school they were training the Thai teachers in a 3 or 4 week bootcamp, but no NES were allowed to go. Now as the course was about teaching techniques, perhaps that could have been useful for all these unskilled NES the article is referring to. What do you think??

    • Avatar

      Perceville Smithers

      October 10, 2020 at 4:21 am

      I completed a TESOL course and received the certificate (never did anything with it) but on the last day when meeting with the director, she said certain there’s difficulty in placing teachers of color in certain countries because they prefer a white face.

  10. Avatar

    Ynze Bakker

    October 9, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    In my opinion, there are two main requirements for teaching ANY subject, whether that is a language, mathematics, physics or whatever subject you can think of.
    The first requirement is mastery of the subject. So in this case, it would be a requirement to master the English language, which is indeed a huge challenge, as English and English are many different things. If a Thai person is fluent in English, and the would fulfil the second requirement, they certainly can teach English.
    However, the second requirement, that is equally important, is that a teacher masters the art of teaching. For this, many more additional knowledge and skills are required. In my opinion, this is something that is overlooked too often in Thai schools. Any foreigner who speaks English, is considered as a potential English teacher. I have been in Thailand for more than 20 years, and it’s amazing how often people have told me that I could teach English. However, I have always told them I cannot, because I don’t have the proper training and skills to be a teacher, no matter how well I can speak and write English.

  11. Avatar

    Patrick larkin

    October 9, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Dr. Mariano Carrera, you have a picture of my teacher friend column header, She might not be too pleased with that

  12. Avatar

    lorlen

    October 9, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    The grammer in this article is evidence of the need to learn English properly

  13. Avatar

    Sam

    October 9, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    All this coming from ‘mariano carrera’. Figures! Not supported her thesis very well ! Grade D

  14. Avatar

    Sam

    October 9, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    And what was your accent ‘yan’ ? It’s pronunciation that’s important and previously lived in an English speaking country also matters !

  15. Avatar

    Randy

    October 9, 2020 at 11:20 pm

    You would not hire a surfer to fix your TV would you ?
    Native speaker is a must no matter what.
    Also the Filipinos really need to check their grammar. Notorious for making mistakes.

  16. Avatar

    tom arnold

    October 9, 2020 at 11:59 pm

    Just look at those Facebook groups swarming with men from the Arabic and European countries desperate to get into Thailand and you have the new face of NNES in Asia, and Thailand. This is driven by lots of single men, some wanting adventure and some wanting a date.

    The Filipino author of this article will be complaining soon about the low standard of other NNES vs NES, when all the NES have left due to low wages.

    Then you can pen another article no doubt titled “The myth of European and other NNES vs Filipino NNES”

    I will look forward to that amusing article.

    NES might not all be trained at university with a degree in education but after a few years they are trained on the job.

    Once these other nationalities take over, you will miss all those polite NES, from those four or five countries. Take my word for it.

  17. Avatar

    Spaz

    October 10, 2020 at 1:35 am

    Poor article, poor English, poor communication. Great irony the author purports to understand this subject. Unintelligible poorly conceived waffle. Underlines the need for true native English speakers (or TRULY highly fluent near native speakers) both with concrete credentials to be training people in language and communication. The author themselves could do with a few classes.

  18. Avatar

    David Jackson

    October 10, 2020 at 9:48 am

    According to Thai law only Thai can teach Thai otherwise no one would learn the strange vowels and tones which are unique to this country.
    Anyone can teach English here but 99% of Thais attempting to speak it cannot flick the tip of the tongue to pronounce most final consonants clearly. R and L only work with an exact tongue location too.
    If you want to learn to communicate in English rather than just pass exams always go native.

  19. Avatar

    Don R

    October 10, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    TBH, Thailand is one of the worst countries you could teach English in. Don’t bother. You’ll make 2-3 more teaching online. 3-4 times more in Vietnam, Taiwan, S Korea, or China.

    If you teach ESL in Thailand, you’re practically a volunteer.

    • Avatar

      Jim Scrivens

      October 12, 2020 at 7:02 pm

      FACT CHECKING this untrue statement: I was making $1399 in Thailand in a non international school per month

      The money in Vietnam is maximum about $700 more than Thailand $2000 is the highest I’ve seen for regular jobs or language centers
      Teaching online pays maximum $25 per hours if your doing over 40 hours a week, teaching in Thailand is normally maximum 20 hours of contact teaching a week. That isn’t three times Thai salaries and its a lot more work. Double the work, no sitting at your desk there relaxing after two hours stressful lessons.

      China can pay double Thailand in my experience but I guess some top international schools could pay around $4000 a month but thay would be a lot.

      Japan and South Korea about the same as China.

      The problem with teaching in Thailand isnt the money, its the facts the kids can’t fail anything contrast that with China, Japan etc and you will see why Thailand is not doing well in any leagues. You always get your bright kids, but then the slow ones get close to the same grades.

      • Avatar

        Don R

        October 14, 2020 at 12:07 pm

        Glad you found something you like, stick with it.

        But most people will be surprised to discover how horribly unpleasant teaching ESL is in Thailand.

        $1400/mo is unusually high for Thailand. People often make half that much at jobs that advertise 20 “teaching hours”, then find out that they’ll be spending 45 hours a week in the school, “office hours”. Do the math, you’re making $5/hr at that point. You’ll be expected to wear a dress shirt, slacks, and a tie in Thailand.

        I hear Vietnam pays around $20/hr, the cost of living is lower than Thailand, and you can wear casual clothes. My goal was to get over there, but now it seems like it’ll never happen.

        Prior to Rona, you could *easily* get $15/hr online. It’s really easy work. Materials are usually provided, or just get a text book and teach out of it. I receive a weekly schedule from my manager, teach at home in pajamas. Zero hassle. Unfortunately, it’s become more competitive with more people working from home.

  20. Avatar

    Andrew Lum

    October 10, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    I’ve seen homework given to Thai college level students in an English course, it was not good. Perhaps this was an isolated incident in a particular college I’m not certain. I do think that English should be taught by someone that received their education from an accredited Western school where English is a first language.

  21. Avatar

    richard barker

    October 11, 2020 at 10:27 am

    you only have to read comments on Face Book now to find that most so called English speaking people cannot spell the “english” words correctly. So, how can those who speak it teach it if they can’t spell it.

  22. Avatar

    WillyWally

    October 11, 2020 at 11:24 am

    It’s the same for all languages. You can learn Thai from someone Chinese and German and French from a Polish person. You can learn English from a Laotian. You can learn Japanese from a Russian. The best way to help people learn language in your country is to find the cheapest teachers who have ability with the language. Hire Myanmar people to teach English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Russian in Thailand. They would be the cheapest in this area. Chinese English majors could also teach.

  23. Avatar

    British NES

    October 11, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Listening to a Thai person taught by an American NES I find quite amusing. Sentences preceded with the word “like” are most laughable.
    Bad habits can be learnt very quickly.

    • Avatar

      Jeff

      October 12, 2020 at 7:51 pm

      Some of the worst English teachers in my school have been British. The Americans and Canadians are far superior…and none of them begin sentences with “like”. More than anything that indicates the poor quality of people that your school(s) hires. Try thinking a little.

  24. Avatar

    Dean

    October 11, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Language, first you have to decide if you are going to learn a language or gain acquisition of the language. Pay attention to the articles being used in the previous sentence. If you can explain why that sentence has been written in that way, your ownership of the English language is reasonable, provided you did not have to stop and think about it.

    You are able to learn a language, but may never acquire it. You don’t have to learn a language to acquire it.

    Language is far more complex than one thinks.

    Pronunciation is extremely important in a language!

    To cut it short, the native speaker is the cheapest and fastest way to acquire a language, speaking a language is the highest level of attainment in language.

  25. Avatar

    LongTermEx-Pat

    October 12, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Firstly, I am not a teacher. I did study five languages at school where only one teacher was a native speaker (Russian); Mrs Smith if you can believe that. My verbal Thai is rather excellent…

    I’ve been hiring Thais for just over 30 years. I’ve rarely found a fresh-graduate who could speak English well enough to impress. However, many have had quite passable functional written English skills. Good comprehension of written English is as much as I would ever expect from someone applying for a role in sales or software development where reading is critical.

    The precision needed for correct pronunciation of Thai means students will typically mimic the accent of teachers of foreign languages. My Thai wife learnt English from Catholic Philipina nuns here. Her accent was atrocious and it took some while to eradicate all traces. Just reflect on how most Thai people say ‘teachER’; they can’t handle the concept of emphasis or that words can be pronounced in various ways without changing their meaning.

    Going out on a limb, I’d guess that the country of origin of a teacher is less important than the use of a body of material that is ‘standardised’, leans heavily on audio material of sufficient quality, and most importantly clearly shows that there is significant flexibility in the pronunciation of English. This is key because Thai people are easily embarrassed about mistakes and would prefer to be silent than to err. More latitude might encourage them to try and with more practice comes more confidence.

  26. Avatar

    Paul

    October 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    A fact, not a myth, I haven’t met till this very day a Thai English teacher with a degree in English, that can speak, use or pronounce English correctly. The arrogance, the holier-than-thou attitude it’s so aggravating to me. You are depriving the students of the benefits of NES. The six countries that you need to care about, America, Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand, and Ireland. Why do you teach grammar to students that can’t even read, speak, or understand English, this is the problem. I am not a teacher, I am a trainer for the past eight years that is all I have been doing is retraining students. I have to retrain and starting with the ABCs, you won’t believe this but trust me all of them can’t even say the alphabet correctly. V_W_X_S.it is so very sad. My mother was my grammar teacher her grammar was impeccable she was taught, for 12 years in a Catholic School in Boston. Please stop depriving your students in Thailand of the benefits of being with a native English speaker, nothing, I repeat nothing beats being with a NES, no degree is needed. What does a degree in English do, I have yet to meet even one student that can carry on a conversation they can’t even tell me what they had for breakfast. And just to remind you, they are being taught with teachers and Thai teachers that have degrees in English, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, you are depriving your students of confidence and the ability to speak English correctly. I only use the Natural Approach

  27. Avatar

    Mark

    October 19, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    It is simple: you don’t need a “NES” or how you call it. You need a qualified one. This can be also a person who learned how to teach on a good university and which has not as mother language english. The problem: such persons expects good salaries. Everywhere in the world.

    I don’t want to put all “NES” in Thai under one hat. But I assume some of them just want to live an easy life and might not be that qualified. And Thai enables it.

  28. Avatar

    Lone Ranger

    October 21, 2020 at 8:32 pm

    No doubt the best result is achieved by using both native and non-native speakers as teachers. A competent non-native teacher is usually better in teaching basic grammar, whereas native speakers should be used when teaching advanced students.

    This is what happens in Finnish schools and universities. It goes without saying that no one is a good teacher unless they have a good command of English.

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The Thai Government has no easy way out of the current protest situation.

Over the past months an organic, mostly young Thais, political movement has been building. It’s different from every protest movement in the past. The people attending the rallies don’t really align themselves or identify with the past political factions. They’re not red shirts or yellow shirts. They are new and say they’re seeking key changes to Thailand’s political system, and the role and powers of the Head of State.

Their demands – the standing down of the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, the dissolution of the Thai parliament, a new constitution to replace the 2017 Thai Charter and curbs on the powers of the Thai monarch – are unlikely to be met by the current government.

The protester’s 10-point manifesto, outlining their demands, pits them against a quasi-democratic government that includes many of the faces from its predecessor, the National Councilfor Peace and Order that removed the elected Shinawatra government in 2014 in a military coup. The leader of the coup, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, is now the prime minister, elected by a parliamentary majority. The entire upper house of the Thai parliament were hand-picked by the PM and NCPO, so a parliamentary majority is merely a formality.

There is little possibility the ruling government will concede to any of the demands of the protesters. They’re not going to simply step aside and hand over the levers of power to opposition parties. Whilst promising to convene an enquiry into constitutional reform last month, the parliament was unable to get the votes necessary and recommended a postponement. A postponement to an enquiry… blah, blah.

Thai politics has proved to be brutal over the past five decades with countless coups, periods of political instability, violent crackdowns on dissent and a 2017 constitution that guarantees that the status quo can continue, without the usual checks and balances in a modern parliamentary system.

But something else has changed this time.

The protesters are young and proving resilient and clever. There’s also lots of them.

Their defiance to the status quo has shocked the elite establishment. Everything is now being questioned, including the previously revered position of the Thai monarchy.

Just recall scenes over the past week…

• A royal motorcade driving right through the middle of a protest with protesters standing defiantly, metres away from the occupants of the yellow Rolls Royce, displaying the 3 finger symbol and shouting “our taxes”.

• People deciding to remain seated during the playing of the Royal Anthem which precedes all movies in Thailand.

• Usually compliant young Thai secondary school children displaying the 3 finger salute during the compulsory 8am school assembly and flag raising.

Even the public uttering of demands to change the role of the Head of State in Thailand were unheard of before this August.

Now, the genie is out of the bottle. What has been said cannot be unsaid and the young are now speaking about the issues openly. They’ve been emboldened by a government completely blindsided by the development and not knowing how to react to this new student-based voice. The only reaction has been the usual brute force.

Speaking to a young policeman, off the record, this morning. I asked how the younger members of the Thai police force felt when commanded to crackdown on their fellow young Thais. He said that there was a growing level of “unease” in the police and that it was getting more difficult to put their personal feelings to the side and act on the orders of their superiors.

The key problem now is that the young protesters face the Thai government and Army who are not adept at the skills of politics or negotiation. Chalk and cheese. Their upbringings are different, their experiences are different. The young say their seeking democratic reform. The establishment are trying to protest the status quo and the privileges they enjoy.

There is little room for negotiation.

The only way forward for the government will be crackdowns, curfews and brute force, most of which will attract almost universal condemnation from other governments and onlookers.

Simply, and starkly, the government are in a lose/lose situation. There are few ways they can extract a ‘win’ out this situation. To force a brutal crackdown on young, unarmed protesters will make them pariahs in a world of modern civilised governments. To do nothing, and allow the protest movement to fester and grow, will simply push their final demise a bit further down the road.

The only way out, to save face and diffuse the situation, would be to call an election. But with the current parliamentary set-up, the odds are stacked in favour of the current rulers to seize back power, again. Do you really think the Senators will step in to force a new election? Sack the PM? By precipitating the writing of a new constitution they would be effectively doing themselves out of a cushy, paid job. It won’t happen.

Everyone wants a peaceful resolution to this current situation but the stakes are high, and sustainable, realistic solutions are thin on the ground.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the staff and management of The Thaiger.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

So, how’s Thailand doing with Covid-19? – OPINION

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So, how’s Thailand doing with Covid-19? – OPINION | The Thaiger

OPINION by “Issan John”

According to some, Thailand’s a leading success story, with minimal deaths and an equally minimal effect on daily life. According to others, it’s fudging the figures and on the brink of economic collapse, and the only solution is to “open the borders”, take a risk with Covid-19, and welcome back the tourists it allegedly relies on for its survival.

Even within those opposing camps, there are those who think the successes are down to careful planning, and those who think instead that they’re more a matter of luck than judgement, as well as those who think the failures are inevitable, down to the unstoppable world-wide spread of Covid-19 and the resultant global recession, rather than down to incompetence and self-interest.

Unavoidably there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” and the Covid-19 figures can be read in many ways…

  • Thailand has had only 59 deaths reported from Covid-19, compared to over 43,000 in the UK and over 36,000 in Italy with similar sized populations
  • Thailand has only tested less than 1% of the population, as have most of ASEAN, while the West has tested as many as 25%.

Consequently, it’s often alleged that Thailand and others are “cheating” and fudging their figures to hide the deaths and the number of cases as they’re “too good to be true” and 80% of cases are asymptomatic, so the number of cases is likely to be far higher since testing isn’t as widespread as it is in the West.

The reality, though, is that if 80% of cases are asymptomatic then 20% have to be symptomatic, so they’d show up when temperatures are taken at Tesco, Big ‘C’, or 7-11 and tens or hundreds of thousands would be turned away and queueing at the hospitals, particularly given the alleged “paranoia” about Covid-19 here, and that simply hasn’t happened.

The West has gone for mass testing as their way ahead, while Thailand has effectively gone for targeted testing instead; both have advantages and disadvantages.

  • Thailand has a steady Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of below 2%, half the global average and on a par with New Zealand, while most of the West has a CFR of between 7 and 14%;

That suggests Thailand has better “care” for Covid-19 cases than the West, which seems unlikely. The estimated Infection Fatality Rate (IFR, rather than CFR), though, indicates that apart from comorbidities, from smoking to age to obesity, the IFR is likely to be closer to 0.35% globally (compared to 0.04% for “seasonal” flu, if unvaccinated), with little variation nationally apart from as a result of care / treatment, so that suggests that the infection rate is actually considerably higher than thought in the West while it’s genuinely low in Thailand

Thailand, like it or not, has clearly done genuinely well in terms of controlling the pandemic, not only minimising deaths, but minimising the effect on people’s lives in the country.

The effect of that success on the economy, though, is a different matter…

  • International tourism has undeniably collapsed in Thailand, affecting GDP which dropped by 12.2% in Q2.
  • Exports are down by over 6% in Q2
  • … but the Thai baht’s been steady against the US$, GB£ and Euro since before the Covid crisis.

Unfortunately international tourism can only be improved by opening the borders, which would inevitably mean the risks of Covid-19 increasing unless effective checks are made, and at the moment that has to mean quarantining and testing – the incubation period and the efficacy of current tests simply leaves no other option:

  • Quarantining and testing pre-flight is impossible to verify – the means just aren’t available.
  • Current tests are only 93 to 97% accurate, so between 20 and 40 passengers on each flight (5%) have false readings.That can’t be reduced to zero, but it can be reduced by a factor of 1,000 with 14 days quarantine and testing.

If tourism were to return to “normal”, pre-Covid, with 40 million visitors per year unchecked by 14 days quarantine and tests, that could mean 2 million cases of Covid-19 coming in to Thailand every year.

That doesn’t just mean that 7,000 of them would die here, or that many times that number of Thais would also die. The effect of that on Thailand’s economy and everyday life for Thais would go way beyond that, as Thailand would have to go the way of the West, closing schools and factories, and locking down bars and beaches and limiting travel as the West has done. There would be a short term gain, in return for a massive medium and long term loss. Not only would international tourism collapse, but so would so much else.

Those in, and reliant on. the tourism industry will suffer, inevitably, but that has to be balanced against the alternative as it is in Thailand’s tourism competitors, like Cambodia and Vietnam, and the long term winner will be the one who can hold their nerve and support their economy the most in the short term.

On the other hand, it’s far from all a success story.

There are reportedly some 120,000 “tourists” still stuck in Thailand, many of whom have nowhere else to go as it’s either not possible for them to return to their “home” countries or they’re “yachties” and other “travellers” whose “home” is wherever they are. Any moves to force them out while they’re here and spending would seem to be both short-sighted and counter-productive – particularly if the “option” is to replace those 120,000 already here with a planned 1,200 per month on Special Tourist Visas, and due to the “on-again/off-again” moves for those already here rather than clarity and forethought a lot of trust, confidence and goodwill has been sadly squandered.

The constant conflicting and contradicting “suggestions” from Ministers and departments, with the Anti-Fake News Centre and Thai Embassy saga just being one example of far too many, leading ot a similar lack of confidence (although it doesn’t compare with the antics of all too many Western MPs and ministers blatantly ignoring their own rules).

Thailand, in my view, has been one of the few national Covid-19 success stories ….. but whether that’s because of decisions taken or in spite of them is in the eye of the beholder.

“Issan John” (his spelling, not ours) is a regular, if not frequent, contributor to the comments section of The Thaiger’s website and was invited to submit his well-argued thoughts on Thailand’s progress through the Covid-19 mess. The opinions of Issan John do not necessarily reflect that of The Thaiger staff or management.

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