By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D
A number of our readers did not agree that China is increasingly influential in Thai education. There was also some objection to Student Centered Learning Thailand having a story about Chinese education as a feature article. No doubt these same readers will be chagrined to see a follow up article on Chinese education and this follow up editorial on Chinese soft power as exercised on Thai education.
After spending the last three months as a full time Chinese language student at Yunnan University, I eye-witnessed the new Chinese influence on Thai youth. Large groups of Thais were taking intensive Chinese language and culture courses in Kunming. Most of the Thai students I talked to were receiving scholarships from the Chinese government. The handful of Thai and Lao students I am in contact with daily are industrious students who, after only a year of study, already can read and write Chinese on a level normally requiring twice that time. One large group of young Thai students all came from Phyket. They all hoped for jobs in the booming tourist industry on the island.
Most of the Thai students I talked with saw the learning of Chinese as a means to their future livelihoods. It is not surprising that the new, profound influence on Thai youth is tied to economics. The economic benefits of China recently becoming the number one country in terms of numbers of tourists coming to Thailand has been dramatic. And the impact of the current huge number of Chinese tourists is having a significant influence in helping the Thai economy remain stable. For illustration the Chinese News website states that in 2014 there were 5.3 million tourists from mainland China that visited Thailand. These Chinese tourists brought in 702 billion Thai baht. The numbers of Chinese tourists have been expanding dramatically since 2009 when only .8 million Chinese tourists came to Thailand for a visit and brought only 20 billion baht into the country.
With this important economic influence, Chinese political influence is also increasingly felt. China’s need for friends in ASEAN is especially acute at this time when there is increasing enmity toward China on the part of the Philippines and Vietnam over territorial claims in the South China Seas. It is perhaps not an accident that Thai, Laos and Cambodian students are being courted to come to China to study and receive scholarships.
The influence of China on Thai education will continue to increase as long as large numbers of Thai students come to China to study and learn Chinese and the Chinese culture. It is also noteworthy that Chinese education is becoming more and more progressive. For example, in my classes at Yunnan University many of the teachers are using student centered learning techniques in the classroom, that is , they are involving the students in the day to day learning exercises. This is a far cry from Chinese recent past where, like Thailand, rote learning was the principal vehicle of classroom learning. If the trend in China to provide a more progressive education experience continues the influence on Thailand is likely to spill over.