Friday, November 18, 2005

Thai literacy levels, fact and fiction

Bangkok Post

Although government figures put the adult literacy rate at 92.6%, an assessment
by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that
37% of 15-year-old students were performing at a level indicative of very low
reading abilities.In mathematics, the OECD report found that only 40% of the
15-year-old student population had basic maths skills, he said.

Anyone who has seen a Thai try to do basic consumer math, such as figuring a percentage (tax or discount) will suspect that this 40% figure is rather high. In a way, I am sure it underlies the reason for lack of tipping here: how could any Thai be bothered to figure 15%? Generally one just tosses some coins on the table, and that's it. Anything more (assuming they could even do it) would be considered "thinking too much," never a good thing, oh no.

But seriously, when you consider that most Thais do manage the equivalent of a 6th grade diploma, it's pretty amazing they come away with so little. Probably better they don't waste more time in school, as this says more about the Thai educational system than it does about the students themselves (who are often wrongly portrayed as stupid and lazy-- although this is the inevitable result, I'm certain they don't start out that way).

For example: I have never met a Thai below the college level who could read a map, work simple multiplication in their head (e.g. 6 x 7), or coordinate a day trip involving more than 2 errands. Even Thai university graduates, especially in the 'soft' disciplines like communication and marketing, are barely up to the challenge. One wonders what they do all day, pantomiming office work and waiting for lunch to come. The guy who fixes my airconditioner is smarter, more capable at reasoning, better educated (vocational school), and a lot less full of himself than most Thai office workers I have encountered.

If you try to open up a business here that doesn't involve topless dancing, you will encounter this in spades.