Learner-centred approaches in teaching English in Thailand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
This thesis investigates the implementation of learner-centred pedagogies in English classes in public secondary schools in Thailand. It explores the understanding of learner-centred approaches from a range of stakeholders, how these approaches are implemented within classrooms, and the factors supporting or impeding implementation. The thesis also aims to contribute to understanding on how the Thai culture influences the implementation of learner-centred approaches. Past research in this context has typically been small in scale, with low numbers of participants, and a single participant type, e.g. teachers. The current exploratory case study focused on small and extra-large public secondary schools in the educational service area 25, Khon Kaen, Thailand. Data were obtained from a range of participants from Ministry level to students using three different data collection methods: questionnaires, individual interviews and student focus group interviews. In total, data were obtained from 117 questionnaire respondents, 16 interviewees and six student focus groups. This approach allowed for data to be obtained from a wider range of perspectives than previous studies, and also provided methodological triangulation.
The findings revealed that teachers did not have a consensus over what learner-centred approaches constitute. In interviews, they provided very brief responses, and demonstrated limited, and somewhat superficial, understanding. This limited understanding was further evidenced when teachers talked about their implementation of learner-centred approaches. In reality, much of what was discussed reflected practices that were traditional and teacher rather than learner-centred. The main barriers in implementing learner-centred approaches were reported as: other school duties and responsibilities, a limited understanding of learner-centred approaches, large class sizes, and inadequate teaching and learning resources. Other issues related to the level of English language proficiency of teachers, opportunities for students to use English outside the classroom and pedagogical training for teachers. Across all phases of this study, it was apparent that the Thai cultural context is influential, and tensions were seen between the policy intentions and Thai cultural norms. For example, discrepancies were observed between the policy directive of learner-centred teaching and the dominant examination-based assessment, the power distance that exists in Thai society and large class sizes which are typical in many Thai schools. The findings of this thesis have significant implications for policy makers, educational trainers, school management, teachers and students. In particular, there is an urgent need to consider how learner-centred approaches can be adapted to align more closely with the Thai culture. Professional development and support for teachers is another aspect in need of urgent attention so that teachers are supported to make changes to their teaching and pedagogy in line with learner-centred approaches. Additionally, support for teachers to improve their levels of English language proficiency is needed so that teachers are more comfortable using English in their teaching. This will also help to provide students with increased opportunities to communicate in English.