Skype has made video conferencing incredibly affordable in the past few years, and this easily accessible technology is having some interesting effects when it comes to crossing cultural boundaries and extending language learning beyond the classroom. In a recent example of this, students at Lodi High School used Skype to make contact with Thai teacher Karnteera Ingkhaninan. The Skype chat was a follow up to a 3 week trip to Thailand made by the American schoolkids. The Web is allowing students to stay in touch with their cross-cultural contacts in ways that weren’t possible only a few years ago. This increased interactivity adds excitement to the language learning process for students and allows them to enjoy a more authentic language learning experience direct from a native speaker.
In Thailand itself, debate is raging over the quality of the local education system. Criticism has been leveled at the system for years, in particular with regards to what is seen as a lagging behind in quality English programs. But some defenders of the Thai system point out that it remains superior to the American education system in several key ways. An opinion piece written by John Arnone responded scathingly to contentions that Thai students were missing out by not getting a good enough education in creativity and individuality. Arnone argues that it’s questionable whether these character traits can even be taught or if they simply develop on their own, and in any case students are in school to learn fundamentals such as mathematics and languages – not how to be creative. Arnone does concede that English teaching in Thailand leaves a lot to be desired, but argues that the lack results from English teachers with poor Thai language skills who cannot communicate clearly with Thai students in both languages.
However, other media commentators have pointed to the Internet as part of a fracturing of Thai culture and a sense of interconnectedness amongst Thais. Kobsak Chitikul is a Thai politician who recently wrote an opinion piece in which he pointed to technology in youth culture as part of the reason Thailand is losing a strong sense of identity.