The domino effect

A look back at the EFL world in Thailand throughout 2009.


As we reach the end of 2009, a lot of things have been happening in the EFL industry in Thailand. EFL companies are either falling like dominoes or radically altering their business models.

"If you go down into the woods today...you're in for a big surprise." Ok, maybe not "the woods". Perhaps that should be changed to something more urban as in "the city of Bangkok" because if you do chance to take such a stroll, you'll see that there have been some very surprising things happening of late, particularly in the world of EFL. You'll find for example that there have been so many companies slashing their advertising budgets, altering their business models, changing business premises, taking on new partners, or folding altogether. Given this pattern, it would seem that many EFL related companies in Thailand are all falling like proverbial dominoes!!

The year started well enough in January with the usual Thailand TESOL conference, so the year began with a relatively normal beginning. It should be said that this coming year, Thailand TESOL is 30 years old in 2010. To celebrate, the organizers will be holding the 30th International Conference from January 29-30, 2010. They have decided that the theme of this conference is "ELT in the Next Decade: Sharing, Caring, and Daring". Do please give them your support.

Domino Number One

As the year progressed, we had a scandal or two though which began with the debacle that was English+ and the subsequent lawsuit that became fodder for journalists at the Bangkok Post and The Nation. It seems Mr. Manoch, the entrepreneurial owner, was unable to control his staff who regularly turned up for classes drunk or in a pretty sorry state ("three sheets to the wind" if I may use a sailing metaphor!) and many of his franchisees, who paid a considerable amount of money to use the brand name, and his teachers, have now filed a lawsuit. Watch this space as they say.

Another stalwart of the Thai EFL business, that has had a torrid time since the Credit Crunch and the global recession, is Elite which has changed offices from the Silom Road base (above the Korean Air shop) it has occupied for longer than anyone can remember. If this were America, we would say that the owners are "downsizing", but let's be honest, nobody gives up long established and apparently successful business premises, and continues trading, unless something is radically wrong, right? Or is it a case that in this recessionary period they are in fact "upsizing" like those offers you get at MacDonald's for a bigger Coke? Um, not sure. I'll let you be the judge. When I emailed the powers-that-be, I was directed to Vannop Tanrudee, and I was told that all was well and that they had just taken on some new full time teachers. "We just opened [sic] new school branch at Sathorn road mid of this year, and just recently recruited new full-time teachers for our new young learner programmes. Absolutely no truth from [sic] your rumours." So there you have it - straight from a particular animal's mouth. (I have refrained from using the full idiom in the possibility that I may later be sued for defamation...)

The Rumour Mill

But perhaps the biggest of the dominoes, which may not have actually fallen, but has radically altered the way the company does business in The Land of Smiles, is EF (Thailand). I spoke to Jean Scurti, the Senior Operations Manager, who assured me that yes, there were some changes in their business.

"EF Thailand, the division which is run by EF Education has absolutely no intention of closing. We have business partners in Thailand, franchise school [sic] in Bangkok, which are closing but we are not closing EF in Thailand. In terms of advertising, I do not oversee marketing, and it is not in my realm to comment on rumors about advertising spending." For me, this is a strange comment to make from someone who signs off as the "Senior Operations Manager for Thailand" but who doesn't seem to know anything about the marketing or advertising budget. The words "pass" and "buck" spring to mind!

When pressed for further information she responded with the following, "This year we have reviewed a number of our business partnerships in Thailand and taken the decision to discontinue some of them. Our head office remains in Bangkok, providing educational services to young people, students, adults and members of the business community." Again, watch this space as they say.

The Thai Culture course

The mandatory Thai Culture course has always been in the news since it started in 2006, but there have been a lot of people this year voicing their concerns albeit behind the safety of an avatar on ajarn.forum.net and elsewhere. In 2008, there was also a petition that was posted by one well-known teachers' agency (who shall remain anonymous), the Thai owners of whom have been quite vocal about what they perceive as treating farangs in a despicable way. It seems to me that they are unhappy only because they themselves are getting less and less of an opportunity to exploit the farang teachers who get paid peanuts and who have to often travel upcountry in order to serve their paymasters in Bangkok.

I had to laugh though when I read this for it neatly sums up just how far a Thai school owner will go in order to be critical of their superiors at The Teachers' Council of Thailand, the ministry that oversees the test which determines whether a teacher will be awarded a teaching license or not.

"WE feel that this is another way of extorting money from foreigners who wish to teach in Thailand and highly unnecessary in time and cost. WE urgently request that you send a written objection to this email address to be taken personally to the Ministry of Education to protest this course. WE ALL NEED YOUR SUPPORT!!!" Three more words spring to mind - "Pot" "kettle" and "black".

Like any petition that, on rare occasions, gets started in the Land of Smiles, it came to nothing as one would expect given the price for making criticism public - blacklisting, failure to have a visa or work permit renewed, or even worse, deportation. Like the German officer used to say, during interrogation in the old movies, "Resistance is futile!" Nuff said. If the rumours are to be believed, the Thai Culture course will soon be scrapped anyway, or allowed to fade quietly away as if it never existed, which is the uniquely Thai way of discontinuing deeply unpopular practices thus saving a degree of face.

One wonders what else is in store for the world of EFL in Thailand this coming year? Whatever it is, I hope it's good! Have a great 2010!

Tom Tuohy is a teacher and writer. His blog is http://ramblingsofanurbancrazyman.blogspot.com  Some of the material in this article will be republished in two articles for the EL Gazette in their February and March 2010 editions.

 

More Tom Tuohy articles


Comments

I think I've seen threads on the ajarn discussion forum where people have said they finally passed the tests. It was a struggle but they got there in the end.

OK not many teachers have passed, but I'd seriously question a failure rate of 100%.

By philip, (4 years ago)

Hi Bob,

I'd sure like to know where you got the following:

"According to reports, statistics reveal a 100% failure of the tests. Go figure."

Do let me know as I couldn't find anywhere to get information, especially statistics for the Thai Culture test, or any other teaching license data in Thailand. It just doesn't seem to be available.

cheers

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

Some more information regarding the new teachers' licence.

I've just discovered that if you take the tests (of which there is 4) then you will either:

*receive a 5 year licence for passing
*receive a 2 year licence for failing.

According to reports, statistics reveal a 100% failure of the tests. Go figure.

I might turn up, write my name and walk out, happy in the knowledge that my ability to legally teach EFL in Thailand is secured for 2 years at the expense of 4000 Baht.

Who's in charge of this? Mr Bean?

Any other news or reports please, as I cannot stop laughing! A TEFL is less important than a flunked government paper which, if you follow the trend, is impossible to pass.

By Bob, Bangkok (4 years ago)

A lot of what you say bears a degree of truth as Thais do seem almost otherworldly when it comes to things that you mentioned, almost to the point of cavalier-ness (can I say that?)

I mean that their approach to some things that would annoy the hell out of some farangs is almost cavalier.

That being said, you are probably right of course but then Thais are taught to accept things as they are and largely ignore things they don't understand or can't change. That's a very Buddhist concept too isn't it: accepting the impermanence of the world around you.

Still it annoys the hell out of me when I see young kids on the boats chucking non biodegradable garbage into the Chao Phraya river while mum and dad look on impassive and uninterested. To misquote a great Irish dramatist, "The ignorant in observance of the untaught".

Only the other day I was outside a hotel in Hua Hin and some guy goes to his car, gets inside, starts the car and, just before he puts it into drive, puts his hands into the side panels of the driver's door, scoops up a pile of crap (Styrofoam coffee cups, plastic bags, various crumpled brochures, empty hot-dog wrappers) and proceeds to dump the whole lot on the pavement right outside the hotel. He didn't even look up and the entire action took a nano-second as if he had done the most natural thing in the world! Then he drove off with not a smidgen of guilt. My wife and I looked on in total disgust. Heathen.

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

One of my wife's favorite sayings is "Thais just don't care". It's what she will invariably come out with when I point out broken paving slabs on the footpath, plants dying in the middle of a central reservation for lack of water, and a council bin overflowing with garbage. Thais just don't care.

I get the impression that teachers and employers can rant and rave all they like about any proposed changes - however ridiculous they may be - and it's yet another case of "Thais just don't care"

By philip, (4 years ago)

Jenny,

I think most people would agree with you. Although at this stage it's still too early to say whether this is anything new - it could just be "new wine in old bottles" if you know what I mean.

It's always been this way since I've been here and is one of the main reasons why farangs get so disgruntled: either they get a complete lack of information, the information comes from nowhere and hits them for six, or the information is very complex and seems to contradict itself at every major point!

What would it be like to have the information clearly, in good time for the changes to take place slowly, and a forum to discuss the changes with complete impunity! Ok...umm...wake up...where was I? Oh yeah...(must've been dreaming and nodded off for a minute!!)

No doubt it'll all be revealed in due course. Only time will tell.

Thanks for your comments.

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

I'm so glad I decided I'm leaving Thailand and going to teach in Japan instead. The only people Thailand is going to end up keeping are the unqualified teachers who can't teach anywhere else, if they keep instituting these ridiculous new certification courses. Most Thai teachers don't know how to teach properly to help their students compete with the international world, so why would Thailand keep doing everything they can to force good farang teachers to leave Thailand? Makes no sense!

By Jenny J., Bangkok (4 years ago)

Phil,

I have already told my editor about this at EL Gazette so hopefully there'll be an article coming from me that will research this and put it out in the public domain where it belongs.

I have also opened a thread on the forum so others get to hear about it - http://www.ajarnforum.net/vb/the-staffroom/47008-re-breaking-news-about-the-new-teaching-licence-applications-for-2010-a.html#post1326157

Thanks for the heads up about calling the number but it would be an exercise in navel gazing for me as my experience before is that cold calling asking for verification of facts in Thailand is like asking a mafia hitman to admit what he had for breakfast! The words "mai mee rapitchop" spring to mind!! Lol

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

Interesting stuff Bob. I notice that there's even a phone number where you can call and ask for more information. Might be worth it in the name of research Tom? Of course we've all phoned these government organisations before and it's been a lesson in sheer frustration. So with that in mind, I'll wish you the very best of British luck.

By philip, (4 years ago)

Ok Bob,

this does look more interesting and the name is different - "Testing of Teaching Profession Knowledge for Foreign Teachers". Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

I wonder what this means for a lot of chalkies in the kingdom? Anybody got any further information?

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

Bob,

I have to agree with Phil here. The four tests that have to be taken under this system bear a striking resemblance to the Thai Culture tests as there are four tests to be taken there, too.

Can I ask where you got the original idea about the "...up and coming ‘teaching skills’ examination[...] in the pipeline, costing a reported 35’000 baht to complete"?

I agree that it pays to keep abreast of these changes as you never know what diktat is going to come from the MOE next.

Keep us informed.

best

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

Right then. Proof at last. Lap this up.

The Teachers' Council of Thailand have issued a 'Teaching Profession Knowledge for Foreign Teachers' cirtificate. http://testeng.ksp.or.th

This certificate consists of 9 different parts, costing 1000 baht each (not 35'000 baht as previously advised.)

If you select the FAQ's tab it'll give you a run down of the requirements but not the reasons for taking it.

If you actually click on the main link it'll give you a run down of the schedule, the pass mark, qualifications and documents required and other misc. stuff.

What's odd is the timescale for applying, which is basically from January 11th - February 1st (even though the details allegedly have only been put on the site today).

What's more, is that this certificate is for Thailand only. It'll only prove you can teach in Thailand and will not be beneficial if you decide to work in any other country.

I've also been told that if your TEFL was taken within LOS you may be exempt from taking this certificate. If not, then you will be required to take this. Does this suggest Thailand does now not accept TEFL from outside organisations, such as CELTA?

I will know more tomorrow as one teacher at my school is being put through the application process tonight.

I would strongly suggest to look out for new rules regarding teacher licences and degrees in the next few weeks. Rumours are also suggesting that the Thai educational government is at loggerheads with The British Council.

Please help spread the word on Ajarn.com and let people know, as this looks at first sight like a quick money making scheme which could affect many teachers presently and in the coming months.

By Bob, Bangkok (4 years ago)

Bob, Cassandra James is also Michelle, who offers advice on the Julia's Journey feature of the ajarn website. I honestly didn't know she wrote under that pen-name. I think that article - which was written quite a long time ago - was a response to a piece written by Jason Alavi (now in the ajarn blog archives)

In short, I don't think the article proposes anything new.

By philip, (4 years ago)

In response to Tom and Philip:

I'm not sure if this is the same thing, but if you take a look at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/610131/new_teaching_qualification_requirements.html

Regulation 2 C) (or b as it is on the site) states that the teacher will have to pass four exams that are derived from current Graduate Diploma in Education courses.'

This was written in early 2008. I've never come across this before, unlike hearing about the Thai Culture course, teaching certificates, etc.

I would like to contact Cassandra James and see if this is linked at all. I could be misreading this but this is the best info I can dig out at the moment. All I'm saying is this may be on the way. Any new teachers thinking about teaching ESL/TEFL may well want to stay clear of Thailand. For us that are left here, it's either pay the money ourselves or, as Philip rightly states, make the schools lose out. Any conspiracy theories of dumbing down education in Thailand anyone?

By Bob, Bangkok (4 years ago)

The saddest part Bob is that ultimately it's not only the teachers who suffer but also the employers who can't find decent instructors. I'm sure that many employers are complaining to the powers-that-be about things becoming too difficult here, but I'm equally sure the powers-that-be aren't listening.
There are definitely officials out there who think that teachers are willing to pay whatever it takes to work in Thailand. They could be in for a rude awakening.

By philip, (4 years ago)

Bob,

wow! Tell me more? Can you see any teachers here prepared to pay that kind of cash for a worthless piece of paper? I certainly can't! That could lead to a mass exodus of chalkies from the kingdom IMHO.

It might be better if the powers-that-be funded these programs themselves instead of expecting foreigners to always pick up the bill every time some new-fangled scheme gets introduced. This is on top of the whopping increase for work permits to be introduced soon.

keep us all posted.

cheers

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

There are rumours already regarding yet another supposed mandatory course that foreign teachers will be extorted money for. According to some reports, an up and coming 'teaching skills' examination is in the pipeline, costing a reported 35'000 baht to complete.

In my opinion this is the fail safe for the failing Thai Culture course. As yet, I cannot find any concrete information but has anybody else heard about this? I for one will lobby for it's debunk if the rumours become truths.

By Bob, Bangkok (4 years ago)

Hi Liam,

Can I ask where you worked? Which branch I mean? And also can I ask - what makes you so sure the company has left Thailand? Couldn't it just be that there has been a name change like that with RMIT?

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Bangkok (4 years ago)

English First has pulled out of Thailand. Being a member of staff there I was one of the last to know. The Thai staff told us nothing so I just walked.

By Liam, Bangkok (4 years ago)

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