Daily Archives: April 6, 2007

Teaching: Thai Style

(Sorry for the delay in posting my new blog. I was away on vacation. Anyway, the following article was published last Saturday in The Nation newspaper. Here below though, is the original un-edited submission)

As for the last schooling year which has just ended, much was said and reported about the horrendous state of dodgy foreign English teachers operating in Thailand. Thereafter, hardly a month went by without new news of some supposed crackdown on ‘fake’ Farangs with the likes of their Micky-Mouse qualifications.

Let us today however, have a look at the quality of the local Thai teachers. While stories of Farang teacher child-molesters have hit national headlines, the gory stories of Thai male teachers taking advantage of their students make the back page. Obviously due to the fact that such indecencies are absolutely nothing new. If the culprits are unfortunate, they may get kicked out of the civil service. And I specifically mention civil servant teachers. As they are held in high-respect within Thai society, before they can be jailed for some kind of gross offence, they first have to be judged……guilty.

A lot of Farang teachers have to spend their time in the teachers’ room listening to tales from their Thai teacher counterparts about their wonderful post-graduate degrees. As a translator from Thai-English I can not rekindle now, just how many Master Degree thesis I have had to translate. On asking the teacher about some details of the research, they hadn’t a clue, and it was quite obvious that none of the work had been done by themselves. In fact, this is a normality in Thailand, even though there may be very few Thai teachers walking around with dodgy accredited credentials, there are a lot who did virtually nothing to get their degrees besides attend the exams – should they fail, just try again. Just as I have mentioned before in a past column, cheating is embedded within Thai society, and like their students a lot of Thai teachers also enjoy participating in such activity.

It is now mandatory in Thailand that a civil servant teacher be the holder of a degree in education and it is now expected that the Foreigner have one too. So how about obtaining a prestigious degree in education, what is a stringent procedure? Well, it is compulsory that the student spend a few months performing work-experience in a near-by school. Great idea in theory, but in the past especially, that time was spent working as an operator and photocopier, while running errands down the local shop for the teachers every half hour.

According to a very reliable source of mine, 50% of civil servant teachers are ‘unwilling to change’ ie…. they prefer to adhere to their ancient style of memorization and that grades begot in class are of the upmost importance. I’m sure that there are plenty of foreign English teachers out there who have been completely bewildered to why their supposedly-smart Grade 11 kids on being asked “How old are you?” reply “I am fine thank you, and you?” In the eyes of perhaps the 50% who are against education reform, it is simply because of self-security, idleness, or the benefits which are derived from teaching privates etc…. Upcountry in particular, Thai teachers often earn more cash teaching their kids at home than actually in the classroom, and even though it is against the Ministry of Education’s regulations, their houses are packed at the weekends and evenings with kids, on the help of the teacher, completing their homework – thus guaranteeing a decent grade. You can call it corruption.

A lot of civil servant teachers on meeting their Farang counterparts can’t wait to tell them about their low salary of say 15,000 a month. What they do forget however, is to inform them about their ‘rank pay’, ‘relocation pay’, ‘accomodation pay’ and bonus pay’ etc… which actually means they are raking in double to that quoted. Above that, in comparison to the Farang teachers, they receive all the benefits of the job and also a nice secure pension. Unlike their Farang counterparts too, should they do a rather pathetic job and spend half their day sat around eating fruit and being absent from work with the flimsy excuse of “I must to go the bank” – are never going to get the sack.

How about schools making tea money, the Ministry of Education has ordered that there is to be absolutely no payment of donations for school admissions this summer. They just have to be dreaming if they think the country’s prestigious schools, both government and private are seriously going to adhere to such a regulation. Without such donations, especially to privates ones, just how are they going to pay for their latest statue, gold engraved plaque and frizzy fountain?

In Thai there is saying for it, which goes ‘Sprinkle on the parsley’ ie…it doesn’t matter how bad the actual thing is, just make sure it looks good on the outside. A school may spend a few million baht on some kind of fancy pompous meeting hall, but when it comes to purchasing basic teaching essentials such as a darned cassette player or a decent photocopying machine – well, that is a matter for another day.

As mentioned above, it doesn’t matter how unproductive a civil servant teacher is, they will never get booted out of the service. Much has been said about the standard of Farang English teachers working here, but how about a lot of the Thai teachers whose only lesson plan for the past 25 years has been “Ok, open your book page 31”. Many Farang teachers, both male and female must have been perplexed to strict behaviour which is asked of them, such as “Don’t smoke, drink or bite you nails, even if it is your own leasure time, within a 500 metre radius of the school”. In fact, Thai teachers expect a very high squeaky-clean moral standard from their Farang counterparts. As for the Thai male teachers, they can get completely plastered on alcohol, start a huge brawl and go home to their minor wives every night, and nothing is said. Should the Farang attempt any such nonsensical behaviour he will be booted out the back door before he can even say “Cock-a-doodle-doo”.

Talking about the standard of behaviour wanted, a lot of Thai teachers, especially female ones, spend half their days complaining to their girls about their hair-cuts and the length of their skirts. In fact, according to regulations, the girl will be punished more for a sliced-haircut than bunking off school. Corporal punishment is now illegal in Thailand but some teachers have creative ways of bending the law, just as asking the likes of “Do you want me to hit you?”

I guess everyone has noticed that a lot of civil servant English teachers, who on earing 30,000 baht a month, can’t even put a basic sentence together and still enjoy teaching their kids that Lemonade and lemon juce are the same thing and that the lottery ticket vendor in the market is a ‘merchant’. As for some of the examination papers which they have to prepare themselves, they are often flooded with inaccuracies. Again, should the Farang teacher dare to have the Thai teacher lose face by making a critical analysis about their standard of English, he will have his probationary contract cut short….period.

Thai teachers may complain about their Farang counterparts but a lot of the time, having a Farang teacher in a school is just a another prestigious money-making scenario. Actually, the whole of the education system is a money-making fiasco, where all the money goes – no-one ever seems to find out. Very handsome profits are made at fancy schools through the cost of lunch, uniforms, bags, passenger van service and ‘holiday educational camps’. Again, if a student decides against attending such a course, his grade for the year won’t be looking too hot.

I hate to say it, but unless the authorities-in-charge take a serious look at the system and actually enforce regulations, then there isn’t gonna be much improvement for the next 50 years. And for the sake of the children, the brains of the future, any Thai teacher, and especially civil servants, who does not work up to expectations ought to be given the red card….just like your average Farang teacher.