RATCHABURI, Thailand: When Teacher Bally emerges from his office, students burst into laughter. They clap and cheer as their English-language teacher struts down the corridor like a supermodel.
Long strides. Feet crossing. Hips swaying. Theeraphong Bally Meesat looks nothing like his colleagues at Prasartratprachakit School in Ratchaburi, with violet lips, bright orange cheeks and large false eyelashes.
The 29-year-old school-teacher has recently become a social media star in Thailand after wearing extravagant makeup to teach English in the secondary school, a 90 minute drive from Bangkok.
“It all began by accident, really. I took part in a school parade and had a class afterwards. So I just came to teach with makeup on because I didnt have enough time to remove it,” Bally told CNA. On his desk, a cardboard tray is brimming with colourful shades of eyeshadow, blush palettes, lipsticks and foundations.
The children were surprised and excited. They thought it was hilarious and interesting. They were curious.
Entertainment defines Ballys teaching. He believes students can learn better when they relax and enjoy the class, particularly when it comes to foreign-language subjects like English. He said many Thai children do not like studying English or lack confidence communicating in foreign languages because they grow up in a Thai-speaking environment where the use of English is extremely limited.
A big age gap between teachers and students in Thai schools also has a significant impact on the learners interest in subjects they are not familiar with, he said.
“So many teachers still follow the traditional teaching style, which is strict and intense. They tend to focus on academic performance as thats how the national curriculum is designed. It targets good grades in exams,” Bally said.
“But for me, English learning should start with listening and speaking. Once students can do that, good grades will follow.”
To encourage his students to speak English, Bally is determined to make his class fun. Since the school parade, he has put on makeup to imitate the look of various Internet idols in Thailand. But instead of making himself pretty, the English teacher strives for an eccentric look to make his students laugh.
But besides their giggles and smiles, he also gets their attention.
“Entertainment is so important for students. Before we can give them knowledge, we have to break the ice, tearing down the wall of difficulty, the wall of pressure and the wall of age gap,” Bally said.
Makeup is just one of my teaching techniques to get their attention. It helps them relax, enjoy the class and open up to English.
THAIS HAVE POOR ENGLISH SKILLS
In 2018, Thailand lagged behind most countries in a global ranking of English skills. It came 64th among 88 countries and regions participating in the English Proficiency Index by international education firm EF Education First. It was grouped with China, Japan and Taiwan in the Low Proficiency band.
Although it leads Myanmar (82nd) and Cambodia (85th), Thailand came behind most Southeast Asian countries including Singapore (3rd), Philippines (14th), Malaysia (22nd), Vietnam (41st) and Indonesia (51st).
According to educational researcher Phusima Pinyosinwa, its poor performance in English could be a result of rote learning, which is common in Thai schools.
“English and other foreign languages are generally taught through rote learning. Teachers often fail to link the content in textbooks such as grammar and vocabulary with students context. What they learn is therefore disconnected from their life and thats why students dont have the ownership of learning or enjoy English classes,” said Phusima, who is from theThailand Development Research Institute Foundation.
The basic education curriculum also focuses on grammar more than the development of students communication skills, she added.
To increase English proficiency in Thailand, Phusima said teachers need to replace rote learning with active teaching using discussions,