I have been teaching in Thailand for over 6 years now and I feel qualified to make a few observations and even point to a few changes that could make a difference. In the face of increasing frustration I feel compelled to put my opinion out there in the forlorn hope that someone in authority will take some notice. My frustration stems from three distinct areas.
1. Wishful thinking. Laws have been passed that require foreign teachers to have at least a university degree to qualify for a teacher’s license. Highly skilled teachers with diplomas, teaching certificates and experience are rejected outright or have to teach illegally for peanuts. While this on the face of it, is an attempt to get the best possible teachers, it is totally unrealistic. There is simply no incentive to teach in Thailand long term. Teachers in their own countries generally get more money, access to health insurance, superannuation and legal representation than here.
2. Lack of support. Without a suitable teacher’s union non-Thai teachers are at a disadvantage for a start. The Thai teacher council based in Bangkok has proved to me to be extremely difficult to communicate with. Telephones are only answered intermittently and then by non-English speakers. No English language pamphlets are available because the rules are changed regularly and no-one seems willing to act as spokesperson except to give the most sketchy of explanations. This does not sit well.
3. Discrimination. Those few who do stay the distance and have put down roots generally have Thai families to support. They are exploited through discrimination on visas, work permits, home ownership and even entry charges to national parks and entertainment venues. This certainly does not sit well.
All this happens in a climate of desperation as schools try to staff their English departments with skilled native speaking teachers. When these are not available the second choice is of course non-native speakers who teach with often difficult to understand accents. The government knows this yet they persist with the same strategy. They must know these policies do not work and are counterproductive. They must be doing this for a reason because those in power are not stupid.
I am sure that at the root of this is the belief that Thai culture will be threatened if the English language gets a foothold in Thailand. This was proved to me by the previous government’s rejection of English as the official “ second Language”. (Bangkok Post) I am convinced otherwise, for like Holland (where Dutch and English co-exist to enable the Dutch to take advantage of the language of commerce) Thailand can gain the same access to commercial opportunities for its citizens without endangering their treasured culture.
The incoming government has a chance to change the policies that retard English acquisition in the community. I wonder if they consider that a priority? I certainly won’t be holding my breath.