Bilingual education has taken off in Thailand. But what does it aim to do, and how? The Ministry of Education is sufficiently confused to have scrapped the term "bilingual" for schools that teach in two languages and now uses the even more opaque term "English Program".
Sarasas Ektra School - the first fully bilingual school in Thailand - has a clear understanding of what bilingual education should do. It should teach the students the core curriculum areas in both languages so that they attain academic bilingual competence in these domains.
The model adopted to this end has been labeled "parallel immersion", meaning that students study the same or similar content in both languages. It is unlike immersion programs where different subjects are taught in different languages. But how does it work? And does it work as it's supposed to do?
This paper will describe the theory and intentions of parallel immersion and what appears to occur in practice. Reference will be made to a small study of Thai- and English-medium teachers in the bilingual program in support of the conclusion that parallel immersion is working as intended to some extent, but by no means fully. The question then to be addressed is whether this constitutes a weakness in the model or simply a reflection of what is in fact practicable where bilingual education is introduced on a large scale in a country where few people are functionally bilingual in the targeted languages.