I get a kick out of reading these posts on Ajarn. Teachers try to rationalize and explain (to themselves as much as anyone) why things are the way they are in Thailand. They point to MoE regulations, Teacher's licenses, budgets, etc. I have been living and working in Thailand for years and it seems patently obvious that the problems run much deeper than these symptoms. Thailand is fundamentally unprepared for competition in a global economy and modern world. The problem is cultural.
The MoE regulations and the rest are simply the result of a fundamental inability to recognize the value of education. As others have noted, this country is full of hacks who call themselves teachers. This is, again, a symptom. Salaries, growth opportunities, management practices and the rest are sure signs that this is a country and culture that isn't willing to pay, put in the effort, or otherwise commit to hiring and utilizing quality educational personnel. Teacher's licenses and even TEFL certificates are bogus qualifications that enable you to teach in this developing country or others like Russia, Vietnam, China, etc.
If you want to make a decent salary, you need to get certified as an educator in your own country and work in a developed country. Even traditionally lax countries are quickly jumping on the 'certified teacher' wagon (check job ads for Taiwan, Korea and Japan) as more and more teacher's from western countries are laid off. I personally have a TEFL and it was the biggest waste of time. I don't mean to suggest that there are no benefits to getting one but they are not real teaching qualifications. A recent article in the Bangkok Post talked about how Thais are some of the least qualified employees working in other Asian countries. The article said that less than 10% of Thai applicants for jobs in Korea can pass basic language exams to function in a Korean workplace; that compares with 80% plus of Vietnamese applicants and those from other SE Asian countries. This places Thai employees in the poorest, most dangerous working conditions in Asia.
Another article, an editorial written by a Thai business man (the owner of Black Canyon), said that he considers Thailand's biggest problem to be complacence amongst Thai youth and a willingness to tolerate unethical behavior. This seems perceptive. The inability to learn English in the classroom seems in part a consequence of a certain arrogance. In the late 90's, before the Asian economic crash, Thailand was a "rising tiger" economy (IMF). They haven't noticed how competitive Singapore, Malaysia, and even Indonesia have become since the collapse. Thais, like the French, Japanese, and those from many other Asian countries are still in denial about the fact that their language is not the "language of business" or a "world language". Thailand is also surrounded by Burma, Laos, and Cambodia; none of these countries are paragons of progress and development, to understate the situation entirely. It's hard not to think you're awesome when you're surrounded by these global powerhouses.
I have taught ESL classes at two Thai schools (Satit Chula and Suan Sunandha Rajabat University). Chula is one of Thailand's most reputable schools. The students were far better at Chula than at Rajabat. But this downplays the fact that students, given powerful incentives that worked like a charm with students in South Korea and a minority of the Chula kids, at one of the best schools in Thailand were incapable of finishing very simple worksheet exercises. I counted that more than 50% of my Chula students were either not able or unwilling to finish a worksheet when the rewards were movie time and candy. This was shocking for me.
Rajabat was even more hellish. I left after two months and a near nervous breakdown (I was actually trying to get results). As an aside, in a survey of workplace challenges for Thai and foreigner staff, Thais reported two very interesting things about expats:1- (this is the interesting bad one) foreigners always seem to think they understand Thai culture [I understand the issues that this causes me as I deliver this argument] and 2- western expats are very results-oriented (this is obviously the good one).
Being results-oriented in a country that isn't at all is difficult. Thailand is not known for standards, advance-planning, and organization (all of which are required for a successful educational system). I can't tell you how many Thai students have asked me to take the SAT's for them for sometimes as much as 100,000 THB. But this is manifested in many more areas than just education. Just look at the failure to get the BTS extensions running, the road structure, law enforcement, logical structural planning in the construction of malls, etc, etc, etc (everyone of my friends who have visited me have gotten lost in MBK).
Thailand is still a great country to live in and it has some of the friendliest immigration regulations around (albeit only for those who don't want to stay longer than 90 days, but that is common to Asian countries: I've taught in Korea and I received a stern warning from my fantastic boss in Korea that I should, rather, MUST leave the country and return to my home after a few years). The massive number of expats that seem to keep flooding in regardless of political issues, etc. is proof enough of this.
I no longer teach ESL classes to Thai-school students. I will never again work for another Thai boss. I now work for a Chinese man with Thai citizenship (caters to the Taiwanese test prep market) and a pair of foreigners. If you're smart and resourceful enough, there are thousands of opportunities out there. Leave the Thai school ESL classes to the hacks. That will seriously cut down on the complaining and horror stories. This is a country where merit (not the Buddhist kind, obviously) is paid for, not earned.
Working with wealthy Thais exposes you to a completely different culture than the one you'll experience in government school. Many things are the same but many others are not and it reveals the fact that the Thai populace is not completely to blame for their infirmities. The majority are systematically kept away from the kind of cultural reinforcement they need from their wealthier counterparts. Buddhism and other authority elites constantly tell the public to be patient, to wait, be modest, and never have high ambitions. Meanwhile, elites are constantly moving to better their lot and find more to sell to the credulous public. This is not supposed to be an exercise in conflict theory but to say, having worked for the family that owns Central and the family that owns True, that they are a very different breed from your average Tesco customer.
Citing the criminals who call Thailand home is superfluous. The flexible immigration regulations and lax law enforcement make Thailand a favorite among criminals of all stripes and colors. Pattaya is a hilarious (and scary) melting-pot of mafia types. In a country where a get-out-of-jail free card and cheap love combo-set is a couple thousands US dollars, it should come as no surprise that pedophiles find Thailand to be a desirable locale.
Now I'll wait to see how much the foreign Thai-culture experts and arrogant (that's a paradox if I ever heard one) ESL teacher know-it-alls have to say about all this.