04 May 2012

Pood Pasa Angrit Dai Mai?

In the United States many of the international service projects focus on teaching
English in developing nations. This includes the very prestigious Fulbright Scholarship
and many programs through the CIEE organization. I understand that as the planet
becomes increasing global with Western countries at the epicenter, teaching English is
a competitive strategy. Developing nations strive to meet the standards of a developed
economy. If a student in a developing country can speak English they already have
an edge on other students for career advancement. The modern business world is an
international market with English being the formal language used by most.

Three weeks ago three other CIEE students, four English majors from
Khon Kaen University and Ubon Rachatani University and I traveled to Sisaket province
on the Cambodian border to teach English. Many of the children we taught had family
members that emigrated from Cambodia and spoke Khmer as well as Thai. Most of the
children I taught are barely going to make it through 8th or 9th grade and will then become
farmers or take over the family trade such as selling food. My cultural biases tell me that
there is something wrong with this trend. Being a farmer makes you poor. Living in rural
Thailand makes you poor. If you are poor you are unhappy, right? If these children
stayed in school and learned English they could get better paying jobs and be freed from the bonds of their birth. As I was teaching I couldn’t help but to ask myself, is this true?
I have met farmers here in Thailand and they are some of the happiest people I know.
Families that I stayed with in Yasothon were organic rice farmers. They produced
enough rice and vegetables to feed their family and make a profit. None of them knew
English. None of them needed to. They were completely sustainable and truly happy.
So then what would be the point in teaching English to them or these children?

In Thailand through the CIEE Development and Globalization program we
have studied many of the development projects in Thailand such as the trend towards
chemical agriculture, the export of rubber, the creation of dams for irrigation and mining.
A personal conclusion I have taken from exchanges with communities in the areas
surrounding these projects is that development can have negative affects on the way of
life of the rural populations in Thailand. Chemical agriculture and mining has produced
negative health effects for villagers and a deviation from a self-sufficiency economy.
The creation of dams has flooded wetlands that were once utilized by villagers for food
and products to sell, destroying their livelihood. Teaching English has become another
development strategy and I struggle to see fits into this negative trend, if it does at all.

According to the UN a language dies on average every two weeks somewhere
around the world. An article through the CBC News speaks to the loss of languages
throughout the world. The article explains that languages are key to maintaining
indigenous cultural identity and diversity although thousands of languages will disappear
in the generations to come because English is replacing them. When they are no longer
taught in schools and the majority of media is in English these languages become
obsolete. I understand that in the struggle for development competition is pushing the
teaching of English but I can’t figure out if the effects of this push are negative or
positive. Is development making culture disappear? Is globalization destroying rural
communities? Was me teaching English or anyone teaching English in a developing
nation perpetuating this system? I have yet to discover the answer.

Draaisma, Muriel. "CBC News In Depth: Aboriginal Canadians." CBCnews. CBC/Radio
Canada, 22 Feb. 2008. Web. 28 Apr. 2012.

MavaMarie Cooper
University of Michigan

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