By KETKARN BOONPEN
One of the team, 14-year-old Adul Sam-on, a Mathayom 2 student at Ban Wiangphan School, was heard asking the foreigners questions and helped translate for his friends.
Adul, who is an ethnic minority child living just over the border in Myanmar’s Shan State, can speak Thai, Mandarin and Burmese, along with some English and obtained a GPA score of 3.9 while also participating in football, volleyball and track and field sports.
His multilingual ability is due to his involvement in church activities – as he is under the care of the Hope Mae Sai Church – and he is being educated under the Thai government’s “Spirit of Asean” project.
According to Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) chief Boonrak Yodphet, the project, implemented at nearly 200 primary and secondary schools since 2010, aims to increase Asean regional awareness and give pupils the opportunity to learn English and foreign languages of neighbouring countries.
Wiangphan School director Punnawich Thepsurin said about half of his 1,160 students – ranging from kindergarten to Mathayom 3 – were ethnic minority children plus some Chinese youths.
The school’s Asean study centre focuses on teaching Thai, Burmese, Chinese and English so pupils can communicate in daily life, he said.
The school, with 39 teachers and personnel, has embedded Asean knowledge and four languages in its curriculum for each class in various intensities.
Kindergartners learn English from songs before covering more academic content in primary level. Each week students study four hours of English and at least two hours of Burmese and Chinese, while the remaining subjects are taught in Thai.
There are two Filipino teachers to teach English, two Myanmar-native teachers and two Chinese-native teachers, whose salaries are covered by a budget from Obec and the parents’ voluntary yearly contribution of Bt2,000-per-child, he said.
Having closely followed the news of the trapped youths’, Punnawich said he was glad to know the youngsters were safe.
“When I saw the video clip of our student talking in English to foreigners in the cave, I was happy that our courses worked and the kid could use it in real life. Now I’m determined to develop the school – which already won an outstanding lower secondary school award in 2014 – to be a good-quality, multi-lingual school,” Punnawich said.