Coming to teach English in Thailand just isn't what it used to be a decade ago. While demand for teachers has increased, the Teachers' Council of Thailand has tightened up stipulations to licence foreign teachers, and rumours continually persist of further restrictions on who exactly can officially work as a foreign teacher here.
There's a great deal of uncertainty in Thailand in the post coup environment as lax law-enforcement has become top priority for the junta government. Visa restrictions are being tightened up, ed visas are coming under scrutiny and teachers without licences or waivers are beginning to feel quite insecure about their futures here.
Getting qualified with a proper teaching diploma looks like the obvious way forward for long-term English teachers in Thailand.
Prior to the ousting of the previous government, some important changes were imminently expected and the Ministry of Education may still go ahead later in 2014. In this Bangkok Post article (Sept 2013), the then education minister Chaturon Chaisaeng made it clear that they expect those with intention to teach full time in Thailand to get properly qualified. But he also conceded that some leniency would be needed due to the need to retain ESL teachers.
In a more recent article in the Nation (January 2014), it was announced that approval had been made to promulgate stricter minimum requirements for teachers in Thailand, suggesting that everyone would now need a teaching diploma or education degree as a minimum. Full details were revealed on the MoE's website as minutes of the meeting.
To my mind rumours that they will expect an education degree or masters are far-fetched and simply unrealistic.
In short, they are intending to move towards licensing only those with a minimum one-year post graduate teaching diploma (in the absence of a degree in education).
Obviously one needs to have a general degree to achieve a diploma. However, it is unlikely that such a move can be practically implemented immediately. Without a grace period of at least a year, many schools would lose their ESL teachers, causing a crisis in the industry. In fact, Prime Minister Prayuth even mentioned the need for some flexibility in visas and work permits for TEFL teachers specifically during his weekly address on August 22nd.
Presently teachers are given a two-year grace, typically to ‘gain experience' but mostly to accommodate the many foreigners working as TEFL tutors. A further two years is granted on case-by-case basis if you've got a good track record. Most likely they will reduce this to only a single two-year temporary licence waiver, giving ample time for teachers with genuine career intentions to get the diploma.
Before continuing, we should consider why they are doing this? One reason is ‘office politics'. All Thai teachers are expected to be properly qualified and would have completed a degree and sat diploma exams with internships. Ex-minister Chaturon recently said that there's an oversupply of Thai teachers, with more than 60,000 graduating each year, chasing just 20,000 openings. For one, their jobs are being potentially taken by foreigners.
The most a teacher can expect to earn in a standard school is usually 15,000 baht. Then arrives a young, inexperienced, foreigner with a degree irrelevant to teaching, and with no training, expecting to get no less than 30,000 baht. There's not much the school can do if it needs foreign teachers, so it's a logical solution to demand that everyone gets a certificate in teaching. This will negate some of the displeasure felt among local teachers. If you're serious about making a career out of teaching in Thailand you should consider spending a year studying part-time towards this post-grad qualification.
As a reminder, the details available on the TCT site, are summarised as follows;
To obtain a permanent teacher's licence a person must:
1. be over 21 years of age
2. have completed a degree (any)
3. have completed one year of teaching experience
4. have a certificate/diploma in teaching from a recognised institution as an alternative to an education degree
5. have completed an ethics and culture course.
To accommodate a huge demand for TEFL teachers, and trainee teachers, a temporary licence is issued if you satisfy points 1 and 2, and this lasts for two years. As previously mentioned it typically can be extended for two more years, usually if you have a consistent record at a particular school.
Being Thailand there is usually inconsistent information given out, arbitrary implementation of the restrictions, and anecdotal evidence of people being granted leniency. This makes it difficult for anyone to give an absolute guideline. But the message is clear, the Ministry would like all teachers to meet a minimum professional standard according to tertiary level institutions.
To be fully licenced as a teacher in Thailand you clearly need either a degree in education or post-grad teaching diploma. This is the challenge faced by any TEFL teacher who has been in Thailand for four years already. Many are now looking for options to satisfy this. There is, however, an alternative offered: the Professional Knowledge test.
Professional Knowledge Test
This is a set of five tests which are periodically offered by the TCT, with suggested study material. It is a substitute for a diploma and can, theoretically, be completed in a matter of months. But in truth those who have taken it mostly find it frustrating, incoherent at times, and difficult to pass on the first attempt.
Some pass a couple of the tests to satisfy authorities towards an extension. It is not really that useful outside of Thailand however. For the effort involved, it is probably wiser to study for a diploma from one of the institutions abroad offering a distance learning program. Those who have passed the PK test can rightly feel proud, it's quite a rigmarole. It is cheaper than studying for a diploma however.
What about TEFL?
For the benefit of those new to the subject, I will briefly add that the standard 120-hour TEFL certificate commonly offered in Thailand and elsewhere is not required for a TCT temporary licence. However, recruiters do like to see that you've taken the trouble to learn TEFL teaching methods and will usually favour those with a recognised TEFL cert, certainly if you are an inexperienced teacher. At the very least you should enter the profession with this training. The shorter online courses are not recommended since they lack the teaching practicum component.
Most countries in the world have a standard requirement for authorising teachers, both in the public and private sphere. Typically they require you to take a post-graduate diploma in teaching, which includes internship. It really varies from one country to the next, some are called certificates, or licences. In the United Kingdom you are expected to first past the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), then spend a year or two as a trainee teacher before you are fully qualified with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
In Ireland, Australia and New Zealand they each have a similar standard referred to in each as the Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). In the United States it is administered on a state level, with most local education departments expecting prospective teachers to sit exams which are presently administered by the Education Testing Service (ETS) or Pearsons Education. Courses exist to guide you through this.
In Thailand the TCT maintains a database of worldwide institutions which it recognises as authorised to award degrees and diplomas, and a teaching certificate from one of these will satisfy the teacher licence application. The database is published online but it is not up-to-date, and it's necessary to enquire directly with the TCT (Khurusapa) sometimes.
In recent years a number of local universities or colleges have begun offering diplomas or education degrees. Unfortunately several have been rescinded after it was discovered that Isarn University was apparently selling certificates.
This is the international version of the UK PGCE, offered by distance learning at several British universities and the most likely choice for those wishing to do things properly, and not restrained by budget. However, its relationship to the full PGCE is quite vague and those universities offering it are clear that its specifically for teaching abroad and offer no guarantee that credits can be converted to the official PGCE.
Presently there are four approved programs that I'm aware of that can studied by correspondence, with exams sat in Thailand, this is not a definitive list but based on widely confirmed online forum feedback.
They offer a popular PGCEi program in many centres around the world including Bangkok (with an orientation in Oct 2014), application deadline however has past (20 August). You need a second class degree minimum to apply. 60 credits towards an MA Education at the same university are awarded. Hitherto this seems to have been the only route in Thailand to study towards a recognised diploma where exams can be take locally, and their recent intake included two dozen or more.
Full price: £3,170 (165,000thb), may not include local exam fees.
Website contact: Helen.email@example.com
Their PGCEi is far more thorough and expensive with variable fees according to your prior teaching experience. It's now run from their Southeast Asian centre in Malaysia with enrolment for the forthcoming year now closed (course started 11th August). You will need a good second class degree to apply. For future courses you will need to make three trips to KL for lecture sessions. This is more suitable for those serious about a career in international schools.
Full Price: £4,500/208,000thb for teachers 2 year experience in teaching, otherwise £6,000), may not include local exam fees.
Website contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Philippine Women's University
This is not a PGCEi (which is a diploma specific to the United Kingdom), but a Certificate in Teaching Practice, licenced by CHED, which oversees all tertiary level education in the Philippines. It is the standard qualification for becoming a teacher in that country and I understand many Filipinos now work abroad in international schools with a similar certificate on top of Masters degrees in other subjects.
It's been offered in Thailand for a year now with UniTEFL in Chiang Mai appointed as the enrolment and examination representatives. However, it appears to only be available for Filipinos at this stage. Credits count towards their MA education. You need to have completed a degree to apply. Enrolment for August Trimester has passed, next enrolment is January.
Full Price: $3,790/121,000thb, all inclusive, payable in three trimesters.
Website contact: email@example.com
New Era University
A similar course offered by PWU, known as the Certificate in Professional Teaching, which is open to all nationalities, and has just been launched, so has no track record. Also located in the Philippines, this university is well established and has a large distance learning programme apparently. The course grants credits to their MA in education online. It's significantly cheaper than the others and once proven to be of good standing is likely to be popular with Thailand teachers on a budget. It's also administered in Thailand by UniTEFL, with exams sat in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. You need to have completed a degree to apply.
Full price: $3,360/108,000thb ($300 less for Filipinos), all inclusive. Slightly more if paying by semester.
Website contact firstname.lastname@example.org
All four programs are offered by universities listed in the OCSC database of recognised institutions according to the TCT for approved qualifications. I have met people who have graduated from each of these programs except the New Era one, claiming to have gained their teaching licence once qualified.
As a side note, The Philippines was ranked 42nd in the world for tertiary level education standards in the recent Times Supplement on Higher Learning. Thailand was 82nd and Malaysia 17th.
Can you get a job with an international school with a PGCEi?
Yes, is the short answer. The PGCEi is specifically designed for teachers wanting to work at the highest level in countries where private schools seem to have one foot in each of two education departments. However, the various international schools, of which there are dozens and dozens in Thailand alone, have quite variable standards for recruiting teachers.
A top notch British Institution such as Shrewsbury almost certainly prefers British teachers with the QVT and an impressive CV of experience. A missionary Christian school in Chiang Mai, such as Grace International, only accept teachers sponsored by churches in the US. Then there are private schools owned by a Thai family running GCSE O/A levels who will hire anyone suitable. And there are many of these, presenting good opportunities for experienced TEFL teachers who have attained a PGCEi or similar. Since their classroom is multi-cultural, they tend to hire a mix of nationalities to teach, so that a credible teaching diploma involving a rigorous one-year course of study is considered on a case-by-case basis.
In discussion with one headmistress from a new international school in Chiang Mai, off the record she said that a recognised teaching diploma from various countries would be considered alongside other strengths on their CV, but that all teachers hired should have the teaching certificate.
What about the EP?
This is where the greatest opportunities lie for the standard ESL teacher wanting to advance up the career ladder, and a good reason why you should get certified as professional teacher. The rise of the English Programme (EP) is phenomenal in Thailand, where more and more demand is emerging from the growing Middle Class.
These are private (and some public) Thai schools under the MoE supervision that are teaching the curriculum in English, using foreigners. You will be a homeroom teacher teaching various subjects, not just English, therefore it's imperative you are correctly trained and certified as a proper teacher. The salaries are, on the whole, 30 per cent more and many TEFL teachers are now applying for these positions.
If you have been an ESL teacher in Thailand for several years, and will need to invest time and money in getting a diploma in teaching to maintain your licensure, this is the way to go - stepping up to EP and eventually International School jobs.
Godfree Roberts received his EdD from UMass and has taught ESL all over the world. He currently publishes a newsletter for people who want to live in Thailand permanently,