ASEAN, the AEC, 2015 …What’s all the fuss about??

 | Thu 1 Aug 2013 19:56 ICT

If you teach at a Thai school, you’ll have probably heard a lot of talk about ASEAN, the AEC and 2015. Chances are you’ve also noticed flags representing the 10 ASEAN member-countries flying at the school’s front gates. And it’s not just schools, all kinds of places have got on the ASEAN Flag Flying Phenomena, from the Immigration Office to the Municipal Sanitation Station.

But what is all the fuss about??

Well in a nutshell 2015 will see the 10 countries that make up ASEAN  (Association of South East Asian Nations) all become members of the AEC (ASEAN Economic Community).

This will allow travel and trade between these countries to become quicker and easier. Individuals from these countries will only need their passports to travel around the region.  Furthermore, the area will also become a free trade zone enabling a greater flow of investment, capital and labour throughout the 10 member-countries. In many ways it will resemble the EU model.

He is a great YouTube video with more info about the AEC

As a result of these changes students in schools across Thailand are being encouraged to learn more about their ASEAN neighbors. And this is no bad thing, in the past the Thai education system has been accused of being very insular. Now today’s students will be growing up as citizens of ASEAN and they will have greater opportunities to travel, to continue their studies in neighbor countries, to work abroad and to do business throughout the region

With these huge changes on the horizon it’s clear that schools and educators have a role to play in helping today’s students prepare for life in this new domain.
Language teachers in particulate will play a pivotal role in helping today’s students prepare, not least because English has been designated as the official language of the AEC. Therefore a good starting point for schools and educators is helping Thai students catch up with their ASEAN neighbours in terms of English language ability – as I mentioned in last month’s blog, Thai students’ English language skills have been ranked as the weakest in the region in some reports. So this is clearly one area for improvement. But it’s not just language skills, students need a better understanding of their neighbours’ countries, cultures, and economies if they are to benefit from the changes ahead.

Therefore don’t be surprised, if in the run up to 2015, you find yourself being asked to integrate ASEAN content into your lessons. This is something that both the Government and the MoE have been calling for for sometime but of course these things don’t always filter down to teachers in the classroom, especially foreign teachers who are frequently kept in dark on everything but the most pressing matters.

So how can we as language teachers integrate ASEAN content into our lessons?

Well, here are a few ideas that I’ve used with students of different ages that you may find useful;

Lower Primary
+ Group Work Activity – Mix and Match – Maps, Flags, Capital Cities, National Monuments, National Dishes, etc..
Introduce/review basic information about the 10 ASEAN nations then break the students into groups and give them a pack of pictures containing Maps, Flags, Capital Cities etc.. Have students identify the pictures, group them and then give feedback

+ Pair work Activity -.Role play / conversation – My ASEAN Friends
Give students ASEAN identities and then have them introduce themselves and ask each other basic questions.
What’s your name?
Where are you from?
Where do you live?
What do you like to eat?

Upper Primary
+ Basic Reading Comprehension
Prepare short texts with basic information and comprehension questions about different ASEAN Countries. Arrange students into pairs. Give each pair a text about one country and have them answer the questions. When they’ve finished they can exchange information with other pairs or give feedback to the class.

+ ASEAN Quiz – Multiple choice / True or False
Give students an ASEAN review sheet with important facts. Let them study it for a few minutes then arrange students in small groups for an ASEAN quiz. Use the students’ competitive nature to stimulate enthusiasm.

+ Pair work,  Role Play – On holiday
Assign students ASEAN identities and then place them in situations that tourist may find themselves in – buying postcards, asking directions, ordering food, meeting new friends etc..

Secondary School/Mathayom
+ Role play – Interviews using more advanced vocab/grammar
With the older students you can have them create the ASEAN identities themselves. Just allocate the students different countries and let them use their imaginations. Then as a class create a dozen or so interview questions using a range of grammatical tenses. Finally, have the students interview each other. If you have a chance, you can also have the students video their role play using their telephones.

+ Reading Comprehension Activities
As with primary students, prepare texts with interesting information about life in other parts of ASEAN. Then give the students some comprehension questions and have them work in pairs/small groups.

+ Group Work / Projects – Planning an ASEAN tour
I’ve found my students really enjoy working on this topic.
Start by telling your students that they’ve won a 10 day, all expenses paid ASEAN holiday. Working in groups have them plan all the details of their trip. Then have the students present their plans to he class. Students can then vote on the best holiday.

+ Essays, Speeches & Debates
Finally for older/more advanced students you can prepare essays, speeches or class debates. This takes a bit of work and its well worth having students do their preparation in groups. After I’ve given the students the title, I go over the main points, provide essential vocabulary and then have them create their plan with a mind map.
The students sometimes need guidance structuring their arguments but they usually come up with interesting ideas and arguments.

Just last week I attend an English Speech Competition where students from Montfort, PRC, Varee and Sarasas discussed the challenges and opportunities that the AEC presents. Their presentations were very informative, focusing on opportunities for students, consumers, business owners and people working in the tourist industry. The students also highlighted some of the challenges Thailand will face including;  labour migration, job snatching, damage to the environment, unemployment and organized crime.

Clouds on the Horizon??

It was encouraging to see some students recognising the challenges that the AEC will present because there are clouds on the horizon – joining the AEC is not just a case of – more travel, more trade, more money…
Chances are many people in Thailand will actually be worse off in the years following 2015. And no doubt those who find themselves worse off will be the most vulnerable…. isn’t it always the case?

Last year there was a seminar about ASEAN held at CMU. One of the guest speakers, Dr Netpreeya Choomchaiyo, better known as Kru Kate, highlighted one area where Thailand will struggle in the years following 2015.
Labour in other some other ASEAN countries (Vietnam is the frequently quoted example) is both cheaper and more productive than in Thailand. There is a real fear that in the years following 2015 many factories will move abroad and employment opportunities for unskilled and semiskilled workers in Thailand will diminish.

Educating your students about ASEAN and the AEC is important on many levels so if you do have an opportunity to integrate ASEAN topics into your lessons, it’s well worth doing so.