Discrimination against Filipinos. What a nasty issue.
It is incredible that in this day and age, we as a species still have to deal with such things as racism, sexism and inequality. I love all countries and cultures. Most normal people do. If I didn't care for Thailand, I wouldn't be here. But let's not forget, it's a country which has grown up in many ways so very fast - by western standards. It's economic development has sprung up from almost nowhere in a relatively short number of years.
In many ways it models itself on the West ( whether for good or bad - who can say.. I just hope the wonderful and positively humbling elements of Thai Culture are not lost in the process - as is all too often the case in westernising countries ), however some of the social developments taken for granted in the west, are still in catch up mode here in Thailand.
Social reform won't happen over night. Even in my own country Australia, racial and sexual discrimination as such has only been officially outlawed within the last 25 years.
Prejudices still occur, however it is illegal to, for example, hire on the basis of gender, religion, race or colour, or even to adjust your shop prices on the basis of race or background ( sound familiar? ).
Leading by example
I do love Thailand, but dealing with some of these common frustrations are at times a daily issue for us foreigners. The best I can do is try to lead by example. Thais are basically good people. We have to do our best to demonstrate other ways of thinking and operating, until better practices, where appropriate, become the norm.
It is my vision that today's MBA's studying in Thailand ( under a NO FAIL policy - oops ), will be tomorrows CEO's, and will hopefully - when they take office someday accept nothing short of world's best practice, and the kind of business standards that are common place in the west.
This kind of thinking will filter down through the community, resulting in less corruption, less 'old school' business tactics and behaviour, more accountability, and more fair trading.
Less than helpful generalisations don't serve to help this issue. eg. 'Filipinos are better at grammar than native speakers..' etc etc etc. Clearly we can't with any credibility say that ALL native speakers or ALL FILIPINOS are better at anything, than anybody. So let's keep it real.
However, I digress. There are sad facts on both sides of the fence that need to be addressed. Be warned. I'm a straight shooter. I tell it like I see it. I try to show balance and honesty. I'm not always right - but I do my best to portray things as I see them - and criticism is my friend. Below are some of my observations concerning this issue based on the years I have spent teaching EFL here in Thailand.
1. I wish to say this from the outset. MOST Filipino teachers are the MOST hard working and passionate teachers I have ever come across in my 20+ years of teaching.
Generally, most Filipino teachers spend more time in preparation and making materials than most other teachers I have witnessed. This is a flat fact. Does it make them better teachers? Well - you can play golf for twenty years, practice your swing daily, and still be a crappy golfer... but it does demonstrate a level of dedication and professionalism that is self evident.
Most other teachers I've worked with, including myself, don't spend as much time and effort in these areas.
2. Racism is real. Yes, we all know this fact. Rarely does the pay level of a Filipino come close to that of a native speaker. A quick check around the staff room will show you that you are in fact the lowest paid English Teacher in the school - aside from the Thai staff who teach English there - sorry dear friend - it's all relative.
Clearly many advertisements ask for native speakers only. And while it is often necessary that English teachers have a level of proficiency that is at least equal to that of most native speaking people, a person's racial background obviously does not qualify this fact.
Part of this is a mix of quasi cultural / business prerequisite on the part of the employer. Face does play a part of business relations in Thailand. If a parent is paying 30 - 60 000 baht per semester for their child to attend an English program or a bi-lingual school, sometimes the parent is not happy to see that child being taught by someone other than a native speaker.
Filipinos or Thais?
Some schools are acutely aware of this. One particular school I have witnessed, has gone so far as to take the most sickening of measures, by trying to disguise Filipino staff as Thai staff. Yes, you heard me correctly. I would love to name and shame this school - for a variety of reasons, however - moving along, female Filipino staff were actually forced to wear uniforms identical to Thai staff uniforms, while native speakers actually had a separate dress code.
Practically all of the 100 or so native speakers at this school signed a petition urging the school to relax this and the countless other discriminative policies enforced by the administration, against the Filipinos. Many, including myself, eventually left in disgust at the various kinds of humiliation perpetrated against our Filipino comrades ( among other reasons )... however change DID occur. If no-one had spoken out, what would be next? Why not make them wear a 'Star of David' on their shirt ( no offense intended )? You get what I mean?
But of course discrimination also occurs against dark skinned people ( Thais included ), as well a Farangs. Some African people I have worked with have grammar skills and education degrees far superior to my own, and beautiful enunciation to boot, but are not only paid less, but forced to stay at school, alone, while the rest of the school attends field trips. How would you feel?
Not all teachers are competent
3. Some Filipinos are truly crap teachers, have crap grammar, crap attitudes and sound like crap. Sorry. Flat fact. But this is ALSO true for some teachers from every other country in the universe.
Some teachers qualify in some way for either part or all of the previous compliments. Sometimes I will walk past a classroom, being taught by a highly qualified Filipino teacher, armed with education degrees, beautifully prepared material and lesson plans, and shake my head in wonder of what the heck it was they actually said. My worry being that if 'I' didn't understand what they'd said, there is no chance in hell that the students will have the slightest chance of getting any of it.
Then the teacher will finish the class daunted and exhausted from the amount of classroom management having to be applied during the lesson, and complaining of how disinterested and lacking in focus the students were. I wonder why?
Having said that - I similarly have walked past Irish, Australian, and Scottish teachers, and wondered exactly what language they were teaching. This is a common issue in ESL instruction. It is a commonly appreciated fact, that for practical reasons, it is important for ESL students to be exposed to a variety of accents, however - some accents really do make ESL learning about as comfortable as passing wind in a space suit.
Some teachers on the other hand, take great care in their delivery, so as to make their presentation more neutral. One particular teacher, a Texan guy with one of those incredibly strong 'southern accents' was deeply passionate about this. I did a double take past his room once, thinking we had found a new teacher, when I in-fact had discovered to my delighted surprise that he had completely ironed out his accent for the classroom. It was so lovely to see. Not an over qualified guy by any means, but a truly dedicated and passionate professional teacher, who cared deeply about the learning outcomes of his students.
Another problem I have encountered is grammar. A case in point reflects the problems associated with the terribly low salary some Filipino teachers are forced to accept. Due to this fact many teachers fill a gap in the market, catering to students who's families can't afford to pay around 500 baht per hour for after school tuition.
Some Filipino teachers are happy to work for 200 - 350 baht per hour tutoring students after school. The basis for some of the lessons taught by some of these teachers, involve the completion of the students' mainstream English home work assignments.
This has represented a real dilemma for me. I have frequently found my students, being taught by my Filipino colleagues after hours, presenting their completed homework with numerous grammatical errors courtesy of the Filipino teacher.
This presents a couple of problems - 1. I have to un-teach these errors. 2. I really would prefer the teacher to stop teaching my student, on account of providing erroneous lessons. When I mentioned this issue to the teacher concerned, it was world war three.
The small amount of extra income is desperately needed by some of these teachers, who are often forced to share accommodation and live a fairly spartan lifestyle. Faced with the prospect of possibly losing this extra work, this previously friendly ( and self proclaimed 'God Fearing' ) teacher, rather than creating her own lessons for the student ( as was suggested ) and leaving my assigned homework alone, instead decided to act overly defensively, assigning great hatred and fury towards me.
Needless to say, 99% of all other Filipino staff at the school shared similar sentiments towards me after this. Most pleasant. My dilemma was obviously between my empathy towards the poor teacher, and my duty as a teacher - to the student, who was receiving conflicting lessons.
My feelings here lean towards suggesting that teachers who are not English majors, and / or are professional enough to know that grammar is not their strongest point, should stick to health, social, science, or conversational english in these cases. I hope that doesn't sound too harsh.
People DO care
4. Got a chip on your shoulder? Beat a dog often enough, and before long - it will act defensively even when only looked at.
Most Filipinos I've met have the biggest hearts and are the most passionate teachers of all I've met. The common place discrimination is hard to shrug off. There are bound to be casualties.
Now, increasingly I see small numbers of teachers of Filipino origin, huddled together, wagons in a circle and quick to lash out ( often when back is turned or Thai admin are out of sight ) at anything or anyone that may seem even remotely anti-Filipino, whether it is the case or not. Hypersensitivity and extreme defensiveness has been observed from many teachers who are rightly 'shell-shocked' by this incessant lack of equal rights.
Let me say this to those people. You are not alone. People do care. Native speakers do care. Many Thai people care too. Don't forget who you are. It's the worst thing to do. I have lost too many friends ( totally different situations ) who have come to Thailand, and forgotten who it was they were back home... and allowed themselves to give in to the pressures and temptations of living life in this country.
Don't alienate yourself. Don't hide. Don't think that the only honest support you will get will be from your Filipino brothers and sisters. Seek - dare I say it - 'outside' counsel. Like minded caring professionals from all walks of life are ready to listen. It will help you broaden your outlook, give you ideas about how to survive and succeed and even help you take your mind of some of this crap, and stay focussed on working well and enjoying life.
Thanks for your time. Filipino teachers... ( and others ) bless you. You are admired. You really are doing a great job. Be proud of yourself, keep it real, live well and prosper.
Peace & Love.