The Asean Economic Community, an economic cooperation body planned to be established between Asian nations in 2015, is causing an increased demand for Thai language classes in countries such as Myanmar. Myanmar’s Yangon University of Foreign Languages currently has 200 Thai-learning students enrolled, with the first batch of students nearly due for graduation. Countries around Asia have been quick to anticipate the economic benefits that may accrue from a higher number of Thai speakers in their population once the Asian Economic Community (AEC) is established.
The AEC agreement will lead not only to more free trade between the Asean countries, but also to greater ease of travel between member states – similar to the European Union. This has many implications agree a range of sectors of society in many member countries. For instance, in Thailand itself, police are being taught the basic elements of languages from other Asean member countries in anticipation of increased and more diverse tourism. Police will need to be able to deal with incidents involving other Asean country nationals on a more regular basis, so the police force is getting a head start with its ‘Smart Police’ program. The initiative has even gone online, with a Smart Police Facebook page set up to simplify communication between police and the public.
Also within Thailand itself, there is a continued and growing demand to learn English among all sectors of the population, but perhaps most notably among the lowest income earners. Increasing living costs are forcing more and more low income Thais into a debt trap they can’t hope to escape, and learning English is seen to offer a realistic way out of poverty. The increase in debt in Thailand comes at a time when many other countries around the world are desperately seeking to lower their debt levels, both public and private. However, despite the huge demand for English-language skills within Thailand, the education system has attracted much criticism for failing to meet that demand in a meaningful way.