Views from Laos

Hi. I just cannot help but respond to some issues raised in recent posts concerning teaching in Thailand. My background is that virtually my whole teaching career has been in Asia and, I suppose some students may one day soon be labeling me as a “crumbly”, so I’ve been around for quite some years, including mainly for visits but also for work in Thailand. Like Greg of Taiwan I see the attempted introduction of some checks and training in the teacher “acceptance” scenarios of Thailand a positive step by the Ministry of Education. The fact that there are seeming inconsistencies and missing logical steps in new procedures introduced should not pose as a major problem nor present as a complete surprise to those familiar with planning, scheduling, organizing and communication difficulties that are commonplace in Indo-china as a whole. Patience is a virtue in Asia and the acceptance of necessary change is a virtue everywhere.

In fact there should be no surprise to foreign nationals that the Thai Ministry of Education from an educational perspective is trying to improve matters in relation to hiring foreign personnel. I read a recent Yahoo survey which claimed that 40% of foreign teachers in Taipei, Taiwan, hold some false documentation, notably fake degree certificates that they bought in Bangkok. Yahoo did not provide an account of their procedures in obtaining this information or survey results; however, from my personal experience of working in Thailand as a teacher trainer, Yahoo’s article seems both factually credible in essence (even if the numbers turn out to be inaccurate). It would be interesting to read properly researched reports of the numbers or percentages of fake educational diplomas presented to schools by foreigners within Thailand itself.

Notwithstanding this, unsupported criticism of the Cambridge certificate is unacceptable. It is what it is. To the best of my memory or knowledge the initial motivation for introducing the former RSA certificate/RSA-Cambridge certificate/now the Cambridge CELTA etc. was that English had already moved firmly into being the major international language of communication but there were simply hardly any trained teachers to meet the vastly expanding needs for teachers of

the students of the world. The quick fix was a condensed short initial training course so that the varied mix of characters who had begun to appear as teachers in classrooms all over the world had the opportunity to study and practice on a survival course which also resulted in the award of a certificate. The expansion of TESL has been so great that the quick-fix course framework has never experienced a time frame sufficient to be replaced by or integrated into a full-course qualification. So the quick-fix mini-course in teaching has never been replaced but, rather, it has been extended upon such that there is now a sub-first degree level diploma.

The fact that many language schools in Thailand now seem to offer their own mini-course versions in TESL is not necessarily a good thing in all cases, because there is no qualified third-party agency such as a top university, e.g. Cambridge, to monitor standards and formats to maintain high standards. It is a common experience to find that TESL-certificate wielding Western bricklayers are working in Thai schools but have little clue to what they are doing. That’s perhaps just one reason that Thailand comes out bottom of the world league in internationally recognized testing systems.

So, good on the Ministry of Education. I trust that the format of their new system will gradually revise and improve through their gradually working through any difficulties that arise. Perhaps one day Thailand will host many foreign teachers who are skilled enough in a greater variety and range both of English language skills and up-to-date language teaching skills. Perhaps by then both the certified Western bricklayers and their trained Filipino colleagues will know how to write and present acceptable job-winning application letters and resumes – but that’s another topic that needs addressing in another letter or article.

Stephen Thomas in Laos

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