ENGLISH AS THE MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION AT ABAC*
Today, Thailand, traditionally an agrarian nation, can boast a complex multi-faceted economy embracing industries employing the latest sophisticated technology.
Thailand’s involvement in world trade is generally attributed to the Bowing Treaty of 1855 which was drawn up by representatives of King Mongut and the British government.
The earliest business education in Thailand may be traced, on the one hand, to a government vocational school named Wat Keofa Commercial School which was established in 1901. A special feature of this school was its emphasis on the acquisition of a substantial knowledge of the Chinese language. In due course the school adopted the slogan “ ”
On the other hand, some sixteen years earlier, in 1885 a missionary high school was founded under the name of Assumption College (AC). Its mark of distinction was that it offered courses of study in languages – Thai, English and French. The English language was primarily intended for business and science studies while French was the language of diplomacy.
By 1917 many foreign enterprises along the New Road urged AC to produce graduates for their firms. In response to their needs, a commercial program was added to the existing curriculum. By 1938, this initiative led to the development of an independent Junior College Assumption Commercial College (ACC). At that time, both at AC and ACC, English was extensively used as the medium of instruction in most of the subjects offered; even in science and mathematics.
Towards the end of 1960, the Brothers of St.Gabriel, who were managing ACC, decided to develop it into a degree granting College which later became Assumption Business Administration College (ABAC).
The Tradition Continues
When ABAC, or Assumption University as it is now Known, was formally established in 1972, its purpose as stated in the charter was to serve “the nation by providing a sound professional business education” with an emphasis on “making an extensive use of English as one of the Media of instruction”.
The 1974 ABAC Bulletin hinted at the connection between the need to meet international standards and the use of English as one of the media of instruction. As the College became increasingly recognized and accepted in the business community, foreign students began to fine their way to ABAC.
The importance of English as the medium of instruction was once again reaffirmed by later administrations. For example, the 1981 ABAC Bulletin states that “English is the officially approved medium of instruction”. By 1987 when the Faculty of Arts was opened to teach foreign languages (Chinese, Japanese, French) for business, the College Charter was modified to state: “English is the medium of instruction except in the subjects where it is otherwise stated”.
English Intensive Course, a prerequisite for academic life at ABAC
All students admitted to ABAC are required to undergo an English Intensive course of 60 hours before the start of the academic year. Those who fail the English Intensive Course final examination are obliged to pass through Remedial Courses of 90 hours or 45 hours depending on the results of their intensive course. This means that a student who has failed the English Intensive course will have to spend more of his or her time studying English in the first semester than otherwise.
On-going Formation in the English language
Since most of the subjects are taught in English, the capability of understanding spoken English becomes a crucial issue in academic life. Therefore, ABAC students are required to take and fulfill all requirements in four English core courses within the first two years of their studies. To facilitate students” comprehension capability, various means are used. For example,
- an outside the class interviewing program that is followed by an oral exam;
- periodical in-class oral examinations and oral presentations;
- ear testing through dictation (daily & weekly);
- expressing one’s self through weekly essay-writing;
- term papers;
- bulletin boards;
- ABAC’s English Language Center;
In addition to its crucial role of maintaining academic standards, the academic Committee closely assesses the applications of English usage and re-enforces through its recommendations the standard of quality English that is maintained at ABAC.
These standards and an over-arching cultural exposure to English is facilitated by ABAC’s unique international teaching community.
An International Community
Assumption University is truly comprised of an international community. Our faculty of Thai Nationals is joined by a cadre of international teachers and visiting professors from a number of other countries such as India, Pakistan, Burma, Japan, Australia, England, the U.S.A., Switzerland and France.
Since the business world has accepted English as a medium of communication and since many Asian institutions of higher education have adopted English as the medium of instruction, the ABAC administration saw that it was worthwhile to carry on the tradition handed down to them by the missionaries. For this reason, since 1980, the administration has categorically stated that English is the official language for communication among the members of its diverse faculty.
Every individual is encouraged to study the refinements and divarication of each other’s cultural heritage so as to enrich his or her intercultural understanding. The university, as its etymology implies, should have international, universalistic characteristics. These are met by the composition of the faculty and students and by the diverse cultural and educational experiences which their presence brings to bear on the university.
The Process involved in the selection of instructors
In order to foster the spirit of the International Community an effective selection process for hiring instructors is vitally important. This process, cited below, ensures a better understanding among faculty members as a result of having English as both the medium of communication and the medium of instruction. The Faculty Manual has this to say:
Assumption University exercises great care in the selection of its instructors because it knows that no matter how noble its ideals, they will never be realized unless its teachers are imbued with the same ideals.
Applicants for teaching positions are therefore Thoroughly screened by a committee consisting of the Rector, the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, the Personnel Director, and as needed, the faculty chairmen.
Since, excepting for a few courses, the university uses English as the medium of instruction, fluency in English is a requirement for most applicants. However, Fluency in English alone does not guarantee acceptance. The applicant must have a through grasp of the subject or Subjects he or she wishes to teach and must demonstrate Ability to impart such knowledge to the students.
Summary and Conclusion:
I have traced the development of a school from its modest beginnings in 1885 (AC) to an independent junior College in 1983 (ACC) through a further maturation to a degree granting college in 1972 (ABAC), which was fully accredited in 1975, and then in 1990 to a full fledged university (Assumption University).
The thread which ties together this historical development is the emphasis placed by successive administrations on the tradition of providing its students with a sound professional business education which emphasizes the use of English as the medium of instruction.
I have also outlined a preparatory process for academic life for which simple means are employed: English Intensive course, Remedial Courses, Interviewing with oral exam, dictation and essay-writing, etc. These efforts, simple as they are, require perseverance and constancy of practice to be effective.
To conclude, the motivation that prompted this thinking was consistently directed to the perceived need of meeting the criteria of international education standards while as the same time maintaining the English language imperative.
*Internationalization of Thai Universities, Chulalongkorn University, 1992.