Will I need a degree to teach in Thailand?
A question that will rage forever and a day.
Is it possible to teach in Thailand without a degree? To use something of a tired cliché, If I had a pound for every time someone emailed me with this old chestnut...........I wouldn't need to worry about a pension plan anymore. And if so many teachers are concerned about working without a degree, then exactly how many teachers are gaining employment using false documentation. I've heard all sorts of figures banded around over the years, but if I was betting on it, I'd say somewhere around 30% of the foreign teachers in Thailand are working with fake documents. One teacher in three? Yeah, that sounds about right. Surprised? Time to delve deeper methinks.
Scour any TEFL jobs board in Thailand and you'll see that almost every vacant teaching position carries a combined TEFL certificate plus Bachelor's degree requirement. Some of the more hopeful establishments might even ask for a Master's. Turn your attention to TEFL discussion boards, and controversy continues to rage about whether a degree makes a good teacher or not. There's no questioning the value of a teacher training certificate, but a degree? Hmmmm......is it absolutely necessary? There are those who say that a degree is an educational ‘benchmark'. It proves that an individual has devoted several years of life to absorbing lectures, analyzing theories and preparing themselves to be fine, upstanding, educated members of the community. Others say that university is an excuse to lounge around, smoke pot, and listen to Cure albums until the early hours. To add further fuel to the argument, just ask any teacher who's worked in Thailand for any length of time, and they'll all have their own story of the degreed teaching colleague from hell - the teaching colleague who turns up for work late, is hated by every student on the campus, has body odour you can almost chew on, a chronic drinking problem, and if that were not enough - is possibly the dullest teacher on earth.
But for the new arrival from England or America, the arguments are meaningless. You've either got a degree or you haven't.
Before you analyze the situation in detail, it's important to bear in mind that Thailand has a typical Asian attitude towards degrees. No degree equals no hope. That's how I've heard many educated Thais put it. Things here are not like in the West where a young person might leave secondary school, gain employment without going anywhere near a university, and still make a great success of life. In Thailand, only multinational companies tend to use evaluation methods such as competency tests and truly try to get ‘inside' the individual. For most hirers in Thailand, the degree certificate with its fancy, cursive font means everything. It matters not a jot if you have the personality of a wooden spoon.
Unfortunately, one body that certainly possesses this ‘degree is everything' mindset is Thailand's very own Ministry of Education. Applying for a teacher's licence at the Ministry of Education is the first step for any teacher looking to obtain a work permit and thus becoming legally employed. However, if you have no degree certificate, it's possible that the MOE might have you escorted off the premises or just plain ignore you. Here we go again - a minimum of a B.A and TEFL Certificate required.
In 2003, a group of powerful and influential Bangkok language school-owners got together to form ‘Farang Rak Thai' (Farangs who love Thailand) It was the group's objective to march to the Ministry of Education (well actually they had an appointment) and try to convince the Chief Minister that the government's insistence on teacher's having a degree in order to obtain a teacher's license was doing nothing to ease the foreign teacher shortage, a shortage that was beginning to bite hard.
Alas, the appointment was not kept and the two parties never met or re-scheduled. Thailand became embroiled in the worsening bird-flu saga and the moment passed. Teachers would still need degrees to get a teacher's license and that's pretty much how things stand today. One does hear stories of teachers who have side-stepped the degree rule on account of someone at their school who knows someone at the ministry, especially in the more rural areas - but the stories are few and far between. You can safely file them under Teaching in Thailand folklore.
So is this the point where all those without a degree stop reading right now, abandon all hope of ever teaching in Thailand, and go back their routine nine-to-five job slavery? Far from it, in fact, where there's a will, perhaps there is always a way. Especially in Thailand.
Failing to mention the availability of bogus degrees in Bangkok and perhaps one or two other Thai cities is to do the topic of teaching and degrees a gross injustice. Fake degrees are out there and readily available. Ajarn.com took an evening stroll through the infamous backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road and was offered a Bachelor's degree for as low as 600 baht. An outrageous 900 baht if we wanted the transcripts to go with them. The sellers aren't too difficult to locate either. Better quality documents - that's to say ones that don't look as though they've been knocked up on a toddler's first printing set - are priced slightly higher. You choose your subject and you take the gamble. Foreign interviewers say that they can recognize a fake degree from one end of Khao San Road to the other. Apparently one or two officers in the Ministry of Education are getting good at it as well. Stories abound of teachers going for interviews only to find that the academic director on the other side of the table went to the same university. Except, he really did go to the university.
There are many teachers who get past the interview stage and their fake degree goes undetected. This can lead to a fascinating array of scenarios further down the line. If the teacher turns out to be unprofessional, unreliable, and a thoroughly bad hire all round, then schools have been known to launch a witch-hunt, asking the teacher to supply them with an official letter of verification on university letter-headed paper. In some cases the school might chase after degree verification themselves. However, this isn't always possible. Ask ten people whether an employer is legally entitled to do their own detective work, and you'll get ten different answers. Some universities charge a fairly hefty fee for a verification service. Others are governed by privacy protection acts. Some colleges will only issue a letter if the student graduated within the last 25 years, and then there are some colleges that have closed down or burned to the ground.
To put things into perspective though, it's worth remembering that there are also schools here that find out an instructor's degree is fake and yet continue to employ them. If a teacher is good at his job and popular with students, it sometimes makes sense for the school to turn a blind eye. Demand for teachers is currently outstripping supply in spectacular fashion. The last thing a school wants is to get involved in yet another interview and recruitment merry-go-round. There are even rumors of schools that make degrees themselves or at the very least, pat a new teacher on the head and point them in the direction of Khao San Road.
Seeking a legal opinion on all this, a Thai lawyer from one of Thailand's oldest established law firms told Ajarn.com that working with fake documents is a very serious offence and there can be dire consequences if the teacher is caught. In the eyes of Thai law, you are in effect, cheating the government, and that's never going to sit well. The lawyer summarized the situation by saying it's far riskier to work with bogus certificates than it is to work illegally without a work permit. So work illegally is what many non-degreed teachers choose to do.
Despite what stuffy academics would like us to believe, Thailand will never be some educational utopia where every TEFL classroom contains a teacher who is a genuine degree holder. Not in our lifetime anyway. Thailand needs truckloads of foreign teachers and simply not enough teachers want to work here. That's the bottom line. There's nothing complicated about it. The teaching salaries are by and large poor. There's little or no government help if you fall sick or are made redundant. There's even a school who listed ‘use of a bicycle' as its main teacher benefit. And Thailand's too hot.
Schools will continue to list a degree and a TEFL certificate as necessary qualifications and the well-paying international schools are sure to get them. But for those schools and institutes that pay below the magical 350-400 baht an hour, employing some blonde-haired, blue-eyed teacher clutching a degree in one hand and a TEFL certificate in the other is nothing but a pipe dream.
As a wise old teaching colleague once said - what some schools want and what some schools get are two entirely different things.
Feedback from this article (when it was originally posted)
With regard to Mr Phil Williams' contribution to the Learning Post of 2nd August, 2005, I wish to express my solid agreement with nearly everything he said regarding the issue of EFL teachers and their degrees (or lack thereof), and would like only to add a little from my own observations and experience.
There are a number of misconceptions on the part of the Thai Ministry of Education, and one is that EFL teachers with degrees are both available and capable.
First, capability. Frankly speaking, to expect an English native-speaking university graduate (even one with a degree in education) to possess the ability to stand before a class of Thai students, either children or adults, and teach ESL or EFL users successfully can be likened to assigning an accountant the task of performing heart surgery. It just doesn't work. For years, the MOE has held onto this misconception, granting teacher licenses and then work permits to foreign degree holders while abroad to pave their way to come here and work. There have been few takers, for the reasons I will discuss in a moment; and the few takers there have been have rarely worked out, owing principally to their lack of EFL/ESL teacher training and, along with that, their nearly total ignorance of the Thai people, culture and language, resulting in conflicts with Thai school directors, other teachers and government officials.
Thus, if the MOE had had its way all along, Thai people generally would be using English (with our apologies to the following) as poorly as people generally do in Taiwan, Japan or Korea, for example, where, also, the only essential hiring requirement has been a degree. (Yes, the Thai people DO generally use English better than people in those countries, though that is beginning to change, with the realization that teachers there also need to be trained in order to make language courses successful.) Luckily, in practice, the Thai people up to now have had the benefit of being taught, in large part at least, by trained English teachers without (systematic) regard to whether they were degreed or not.
Second, availability. People with degrees, particularly if they are concerned about their earnings, go to teach in countries where earnings are high and work permits facilitated, such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. They do not, for the most part, come to Thailand where earnings are low. Thus, though the Thai MOE would like to have degreed English teachers, their society is not prepared to compete salary-wise with other countries. Furthermore, with regard to degreed persons who enter the country prior to deciding to teach here, these are often discouraged by the difficulties of acquiring work permits and other documents to legalize them.
So who does teach in Thailand? Almost nobody plans to! With or without degrees, people come to the gentle nation of Thailand for a holiday, maybe once, or maybe three or four times, fall in love with the Thais and the Thai nation and resolve to dispense with whatever life plans they might have made up to that point and set forth on an English teaching career here.
The advantages of using such teachers are several. First, they love, respect and largely understand the Thai people and their culture and thus know what English learning problems must be dealt with on a priority basis. Second, they recognize the need for attending an appropriate teacher training course wherein they learn how both to make an effective lesson plan, and, at the same time, make learning fun for their students. What a contrast to the attitudes of degreed persons assigned to teach without having earned qualifications!
This leads to the question, how valuable is a degree? Very much so, in terms of self-discipline and the satisfaction of having taken on a lengthy (generally 4-year) project and seen it through to a successful conclusion. It does not, however, qualify one to teach English in Thailand. This leads, nonetheless, to the follow-up question, how can a short course in teaching EFL or ESL aid a person with no degree to teach English successfully here? The answer is a simple one. Though there is an enormous amount of knowledge, as well as observed teaching practice, that must be learned within such a course, this can be fully adequate for persons who successfully complete the program. This is because, though it takes years and years to train to be an accountant, doctor, engineer or lawyer, it only takes a short time along with (you may be sure) a lot of hard, dedicated effort, to learn to teach English effectively, especially in a course taught in Thailand whose trainers are knowledgeable of all, or nearly all, Thai learning needs.
Thus it is that educators experienced in Thailand are themselves happy to employ trained, effective teachers, loved by their students, without regard to where a "degree" supposedly earned by such teachers actually came from! This is the reality of the situation, bared and exposed down to the bone. A further area of exposure, and one which differs from the opinion of Mr Williams, is that fully 70% of the foreign English teachers in Thailand lack real degrees, though the overwhelming majority are qualified through a valid teacher training program.
If the MOE wishes to continue cutting off its nose to spite its face, as it were, these teachers could supposedly be identified and deported, with the result, in my opinion, that the entire educational system in Thailand could collapse, or at least suffer enormously. Is this what anyone would like to see happen? I, for one, sincerely hope not! However, now that the MOE is requiring transcripts, as well as degrees, before issuing teacher licences, one wonders just how far certain unthinking bureaucrats might really be willing to take this issue?
Finally, discussing the matter of teachers who are teaching without real degrees may not be as constructive as it might be, taken out of the context of the manner in which teacher licences and work permits are issued. Nearly all English (external) training done in Thai companies and schools is provided by language school teachers. However, teacher licences are issued to language schools solely for teaching in the employing school only. Thus, there is no way that companies and children's schools can legally use these teachers (nor the language schools legally send them) because there is either no work permit at all for the teachers, or it is issued for teaching elsewhere. How, then, can companies and children's schools acquire properly trained part-time teachers if their teachers can't get (actual authorizing) work permits. If this is not bad enough, the number of teachers a language school can hire and get teacher licences and work permits for is limited to the physical number of classrooms! Thus, if a school needs to provide training in 30 companies and 18 children's schools, it cannot acquire a work permit for most of these teachers at all, even one not actually authorizing, with respect to the teaching location.
What should be done? Background checks should be required for all teachers, to the extent that this is possible. Teacher licences and work permits should be issued to teachers teaching both full- and part-time. These should be issued to allow them to teach for, rather than in, their employing schools. These should also be issued on the basis of need, rather than the number of classrooms available in the employing school. Teachers could be required to study online, part-time, in pursuit of a degree. Last, and most importantly of all, persons seeking a teacher licence should be given a book from which to make a lesson plan, and this lesson should be performed with a class of MOE staff who need English training, along with an MOE decision-maker prized away from his or her regular job long enough to observe a 30-minute lesson to determine if this person is a good teacher or not.
One can only hope that these small changes would not be too much to ask, to ensure proper and professional English language training for all Thai people.
a caring educator
Great article - I read it when you first posted it on the website. But I can't help wondering about the rationale behind publishing it in the 'learning post' section of the newspaper. My understanding is that this section of the paper is for English learners, people who's first language is not English. Publishing this kind article here does nothing but cast aspersion on the entire ESL/EFL industry in Thailand; indeed, by your estimates, students can figure that the teacher in front of them this evening has a 1 in 3 chance of being a fake.
I'm concerned about the public backlash against teachers that could be created by publishing this kind of article in the post; it is highly unlikely that it will produce the condtions you mention in your article - better pay and conditions which would in turn attract better quality teachers. Instead, I find it highly more likely that the very sort of 'witch hunt' you speak of could take place on a national level, further damaging the already-suspect reputation of the falang, and making it more difficult for everyone - real quals or no - to work through the proper procedures to teach legally here.
At the very least, publishing it on the learners' page seems to be placing it where it will do maximum damage to the profession in the eyes of the paying student. As I said, I enjoyed the article on the website. But I'm wondering if the lure of seeing your name in a by-line may have clouded your judgement - what 'good' could it possibly do?
Hope it doesn't seem like I'm mud-slinging; I'd be interested to hear what your intentions were.
(And BTW, I've got a BA, a CELTA, and work currently in China - so maybe it's none of my business!)
I believe if you have the natural ability to teach, where you have a teaching cert or not, one should be able to teach ... however, though anyone with the ability to teach, should be allowed to teach, those without degrees should only teach at the level they have reached education wise. E.g. if a foreigner does not have a degree, then teaching english to high school or primary students level (if they finished high school) should be fine - provided they know how to spell and structure proper English sentences, and use the tenses properly of course. The demand by the Thai education system for teachers to be degree holders is justifiable I think, as teaching is transferring the knowledge you have earned/gained over years of studies and experience ... what is there to transfer if one has not reached a higher level of knowledge to ensure they have a wider perspective and an open mind.
I can understand why the locals demand degree holders as teachers - so their kids are taught by teachers who have surely proven to have learnt something new and innovative. Learning English is one thing, but since when did anyone just learn ABC without wanting to know the what, where, why, how, when, ...
? So, for a non degree holder, how well would they answer the questions?
There are different degrees of intelligence in answers, right?
I read with interest recently your article in the Bangkok Post regarding teachers with fake degrees in Thailand.
I myself have taught in Bangkok for a total of four years. I have been with various different language schools within that space of time, generally as an external teacher to a number of private and government schools throughout the city.
I have a Thai wife and a two year old daughter. We also have a another baby daughter on the way, both of which are, and will be, Thai citizens. My wife also has three sons from a previous relationship who are full-blooded Thais and who I support financially, send to school, and who live with us.
I would like to say that I am a good teacher, in the fact that my students love me, and learn from me. I love my job and have never been absent or had a sick day since I have been in this country. I also look forward to going to work every morning, something that was never apparant with previous occupations that I have had.
I do not have a degree, and in order to obtain previous teaching licences and work permits, have had to use a fake one which I bought in Khao San Road. It has always helped me to work 'legally' in Thailand, and so I have always thought that it was a good investment.
However, I have recently changed employers, and so have had to go through the process of obtaining a new teaching license. But I have now found out that the MOE is getting stricter on fake documents, and indeed I am now unable to get a license to teach, through them as they have informed me that they believe it to be a fake.
So yes, many people might say that this is justice, and that an 'unqualified' person such as myself should not be teaching in this country. However, I am in the mind that teachers with degrees do not necessarily make good teachers, and there are a lot more 'qualified' ones out there who are a lot worse and inexperienced than myself.
It now means also that I am going to have to leave the country soon, as my visa will shortly expire. This means that I will have to return to my home country and be apart from my family for a long time. It also means that they will be a lot worse of than before.
The current political party that is in power is 'Thai Rak Tai', if I'm not mistaken, which means 'Thai love Thai'. Well if they were aware of my situation and many other peoples', who I am sure have experienced the same problems as me, I wonder if they would amend the 'degree to teach' law, which might just help to put food in some of their citizens' mouths.
Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail. If you would like to publish it on ajarn.com or elsewhere, please feel free. Otherwise, I look forward to reading your future posts and logging into your site.
Thank you and regards,
I read with great interest your article in today's Learning Post. You have stated so clearly and well the dilemma that me and many others farangs are faced with in Thailand.
I have my resume on ajarn.com and am a regular reader of the jobs posted as well as the other links, particularly "School Watch". I realise that site is not affiliated with ajarn.com but it still gives one food for thought.
However, I digress. Today's article as I said, sums up totally where I am at the moment. I have a Ph D in Psychology from Macquarie University in Sydney, have worked in Thailand for over 2 years and am presently employed at a rather large, prestigious Government University, teaching English conversation to students who are not the least interested as my courses give them no credit points.
I have applied for a number of teaching positions at International Schools but the reply is always the same, you have no teaching certificate!! I enjoy teaching Secondary students when I have done some casual work and would like to join one of these schools and teach other subjects besides English. I want to help the young Thais with their education but it all comes back to a piece of paper. I obviously backed the wrong horse when I wasted 4 years of my live gaining my Ph D.
As time goes by, I am afraid to admit that the Khao San Road Academy becomes a more attractive option. I am an honest person and so have been putting off this course of action as long as I can. However, as I get more desperate to stay in Thailand my thoughts are focused on how I can 'massage' my CV to accomodate a teaching qualification from that Academy!.
The silly part about it all is that as a Ph D I can teach in Universities but not in International Schools.
Sorry to go on Philip. you are doing a great job with ajarn.com but if you have any advice for me I would appreciate it.
To provide some perspective, here's a web posting I made in response to your article in the BKK Post. Why not publish this on your website fore some balance
Recently the Bangkok Post ran an article by the current webmaster of ajarn.com, Philip Williams. While the quality of articles published in the Bangkok Post varies quite a lot, this one deserves special mention for daftness beyond the usual measure (whether on the part of the editor in charge, or Philip Williams).
In this article, Mr. Williams supposedly discusses the prevalence of fake degrees in Thailand, while actually trying to build a case that degrees are a) not needed to be a good teacher, b) many degree holders are either dull, uncouth, alcoholics, and /or loathsome*, and c) that Thailand would be better off not requiring degrees for English teachers.
Philip Williams, or Bangkok Phil as he calls himself, is part of an old-boys network in Thailand, whose main claim to fame is having been here for a number of years, and being married to a Thai. Higher education or advanced qualifications, on the other hand, are not part of the old boys agenda. Did anyone perhaps wonder why Bangkok Phil didn't mention his own qualifications (or rather lack thereof) in the article? How about some words about his educational background?
One of the things a good education will hopefully give you is some tools to evaluate the world around you critically. Among these tools, is that we should verify sources of information. Is the source credible, knowledgeable, and can the information be verified independently? Think about someone like Bangkok Phil. Does being a webmaster make him an expert on educational issues? Does teaching English in Thailand qualify him to make judgments on educational policy?
How about you just ask yourself this: would you rather have Bangkok Phil and his buddies teaching your kids, or a qualified, well-educated teacher, who is a professional in his or her field?
If you want education in Thailand to improve, you will have to raise the standards of teachers and teaching, not lower them to the level of barstool experts, no matter how long they've been teaching here.
I think that the recent call for lowering the requirements to teach in Thailand will not resolve the current situation.
The first question to ask yourself is: Why do people teach in Thailand? Well, do people fall in love with the country because of the culture? Or is it because the farang feels like they are important in Thailand and can get what they want for next to nothing?
The second question to ask yourself is: What is the point of a degree? A degree is not necessarily a measure of intelligence and knowledge, but a level of the skills which can be tranferred to other professions. That is why many companies in the UK do not specify a specific degree subject when recruiting.
Therefore, in Thailand, like in all other countries where EFL is taught, a degree is the minimum requirement.
The third question to ask yourself is: Does a degree make a good teacher? Teaching is a profession, and just like training to become an accountant, nurse or doctor, it takes time. The degree does not guarantee that one can teach but it is the minimum level of academic attainment necessary. Following the degree, specific training for that profession is necessary.
If someone has a degree + CELTA then they have some idea about being a teacher, but a profession teaching qualification would be the PGCE (a one year full time
course) which enables you to work in International schools. To teach EFL in Hong Kong and Singapore, the respective MOEs ask for the equivalent of a PGCE.
Don't forget, however, that a PGCE does not make an effective EFL teaching if the PGCE is not language teaching or English. An R.E. teaching would only be effective at classroom management and general techniques, not language acquisition methodology.
Are people who come to teach in Thailand teachers in their own country? The answer is probably no. They are probably joiners, office workers, IT consultants etc.
Even if they have a degree, they need training in teaching. I am quite sure they would still be joiners, office workers, IT consultants in Thailand if they could be!
Are there any exceptions? I would say there is an exception to the degree rule. Those who have considerable experience in another profession (and I mean a profession) who undertake a teaching qualification should be able to get a teacher's license. What's wrong with changing career and offering their general life experiences to others? And don't forget that degrees have not always been perceived as the minimum academic achievement.
I will give you a brief example, I have a friend who wants to move to Malaysia. He is a Financial Banker working for JP Morgan in London on big money of course, and with many years experience. However, as he doesn't have a degree, he cannot move to Malaysia.
Is that fair?
So, why isn't the Government cracking down on the source of the fake degrees (i.e. going to Khao San Road and closing them down)? Genuine teachers have to suffer the extra administrative burden as a result.
How many UK teachers have transcipts? I graduated in
2003 so I could probably get hold of them but what if you graduated in 1990? I am sure prospective teachers will simply go elsewhere (unless they are from the US where transcripts are the norm).
Finally, I have a BA + PGCE, don't have the experience for an international school, so am stuck in the middle. Luckily, I have no commitments here, but I will have to leave the country in a few months to enter greener pastures, namely Hong Kong or Singapore.
I have lots of student debts to pay off you know!
Solutions? keep the degree standard, consider experience with CELTA. crack down on the Uni of Khao San Rd, do not make transcripts a necessity and drive up teacher's pay (I wish!).
In journalism, we call this kind of feature "The Degree Dilemma Continues", a scoop; it has all the ingredients of a hard earned, well-researched story that delves into the polemics and paradigms of ESL scenarios specifically set Thailand. In short, Phil's column has tapped into a raw nerve.
For the 'stuffy academics' out there, the angle Phil takes smacks of heresy. As Don Henson, a qualified teacher says he fears that there could be " a public backlash against teachers that could be created by publishing this kind of article in the post..."
Far from it Don, and a nebulous statement for someone who is a parachute observer who is teaching in China, where the EFL climate does not apply to the homegrown aspects that Phil writes about specifically, that are uniquely grounded in Thailand.
I think that Phil is not playing devil's advocate- he's informing new arrivals on the Teaching trail the pros and cons of taking the 'fake road'. What he's saying is that in the 'Taksin' era, times have changed, and consequences of deportation are more evident for flirting with Thai laws.
The rules of engagement have shifted from the roaring nineties when I use to don a tie and carry a black Samson bag full of photo copied English books, while racing against the traffic on the way to a lesson, along the coagulated traffic of Sukkumvit. And that's why I'm raving about this article, for filling in the void of wishy washy reporting on EFL in Thailand, and in short, cutting to the chase. Which makes it all the more commendable for the Bangkok Post for putting their neck out, and actually running this expose.
Confession: I've actually taught on a fake degree. I loaned it off a buddy who graduated at Concordia University in Canada, and doctored the name in photo shop. . Back in the early nineties, doctoring of degrees wasn't as sophisticated as the high tech copies offered today at Koa San. I've moved with the times, however, and recently updated my qualifications with transcripts of my design, for as little as 1000 Baht! Asian Studies is my field of expertise!
I taught at a University down the road from Sukkunvit 26. There were two young Canadian graduates who attended the same University. Over the one semester they became suspicious of my teaching credentials- and they had good reason, they both attended Concordia. They were newbies to Thailand, and didn't have a clue about Thai culture, yet they were the most obnoxious example of the 'Degreed Class.' And every second day, administration hounded me for requisite transcript. But the faculty held onto me for another semester. I was a regular with the other senior teachers at a hole-in-the-wall bar along the klong. Martin, the head teacher, has since had a heart attack, and the other senior qualified teachers are now full blown alkies drinking lao koa.
But there was one part-timer teaching in the Faculty of English Department, who came clean and said he didn't have any qualifications. The students loved him, and so did administration. This 'bar stool' teacher would come into work disheveled and stinking of a night on booze down the road at Soi Cowboy. But he couldn't do wrong, the student's loved him and his approach to teaching was very non-academic and effective.
"How about you just ask yourself this: would you rather have Bangkok Phil and his buddies teaching your kids, or a qualified, well-educated teacher, who is a professional in his or her field?"
To this insightful question posted on Ajarn.com, in response to Phil's article, yawn... Which reminds me of Scottish Steve, a young, impressionable lad who spoke with a thick working class Glasgow accent, compounded by nervous bighting of his nails that were bitten raw to the fingertips. He had no formal education to speak of, yet in my eyes and many of the private schools in Bangkok, he was the most inspired and culturally sensitive teacher (he taught himself to speak, read and write Thai fluently from the Fundamentals of Thai, 1946 Edition) to have taught in the Kingdom. He'd party and whore all night, yet this teacher who claimed to his employers that he was educated at Oxford, would never miss a morning class. If I were a Thai, I'd definitely choose Phil's buddies to teach me. What they might lack in degrees, they'd definitely make up for by having a 'life' and a 'personality'.
Great article Phil, and thanks for saying it how it is, and not how it should be, for the great hordes of itinerant teachers like myself.
I have become an avid reader of your website (I intend joining the army of native English speakers teaching in Thailand at some stage in the future), and the debate over the degree issue is really interesting. Here are some random thoughts from this expat Brit in South Africa.
In my humble opinion, a good quality TEFL qualification is not just a nice to have, but it should be an absolute prerequisite. In the main our only experiences of being a second language learner are in the schooling system. Since most people coming over to Thailand appear to be in their thirties and forties, the difference between their ages and when they left school is often twenty years or more. This doesn't allow them to step easily into the students' shoes so to speak.
Regarding the degree, I guess it shows evidence of competence. If you need to have a degree to teach in the UK or South Africa, then why should Thailand be an exception? I have to agree with the Thai MoE on that little prerequisite.
My CV is posted on the ajarn.com website and I have already had a couple of approches from schools, but I cannot even consider putting in a formal application without a TEFL qualification plus teacher training. Ultimately Thai pupils, like any pupil around the world, need professionals to guide them in their learning. In my opinion, being a native speaker is not enough on its own.
Those are my random thoughts
First, I agree that those with fake degrees should be exposed when and where possible. I know of at least one female who has only a diploma from an fine art college in Ireland and had been teaching in Si Racha since February.
Second, the Ministry should contact universities in the west to verify that the degree in genuine, but do not let the applicants know about this move. Universities are only too willing to provide this type of information as it helps to safeguard their own reputations. I know this as I did it at a couple of universities in Thailand when people applied for a job.. Some came back, as suspected, as being phony (no record of said person).
Third, and this is a biggie, the Ministry should begin to take control of the situation. How? Very simple. When I go to a school to teach, I always ask for an outline of my courses, and for the courses of all years. Invariably, nothing exists. As a result of there being so many "private" schools, combined with the government institutes, all schools set there own curriculum. These are done without thought of what the students should have been taught in previous years, and without consideration for future studies. Ergo, (don't you just love that word) there are very few locations with a continuum of studies. Further more, when students change schools or start university, much of their previous studies are repeated as the instructors are not competent, do not have any experience in planning courses, and never talk with the staff or students regarding what took place prior to the students starting a new school or university.
At one location, I failed 15 university students. They complained to their adviser. The adviser attended a meeting and condemned my action without first telling the students to talk with me, and without meeting with me herself. Upon checking the student's workbooks, those, and others, had not even written one word which told me that they did not practice. None of that group talked with me outside of class, but those that did excelled. When I informed the director and the advisor of the truth of the matter, they would not believe me until i showed the evidence.
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Paul, I liked your comment, but since you're correcting people I feel the need to do the same to you.
"(T)he verb 'to practise' is spelled with an S no matter whether you’re British or American! This is BASIC, primary-level English knowledge."
Actually, Americans use a "c" for the word "practice" (and the like), and not an "s" as you so emphatically state. One would think that with such an extreme plethora of American-driven content online seen daily by anyone who turns on their computer that that would be obvious even from someone who has never set foot on American soil.
Moreover, in David's defense, the misuse of "there" and "their" is a typo all day long in my book, as we have all (yes, even you, Paul) made that blunder from time to time while thinking ahead of our typing.
While you erroneously ticketed David for his spelling and use, you completely failed to realize - or mention, anyway - that his comment is laced with overtones of sour grapes and proof positive that there is always two sides to every story.
By John, Earth (3rd May 2014)
I find it truly amazing that there are so many grammatical, punctuation, sentence construction errors et cetera in most of the articles. Clearly, there is a need for standards to improve in the western world, before we consider teaching English in Thailand.
By jsmith, England (5th January 2013)
Im interested to find out if someone has studied for 3 years but only has a National Diploma would still be able to work in Thailand? even though they would not have a degree as such, but have spent the time at a university studying?
By Nicole Bowes, South Africa (24th May 2012)
What a silly joke! People such as sanctimonious David, who says, "First, I agree that those with fake degrees should be exposed when and where possible," can't even write simple, correct English! Yes, we all know it's easy to commit an error or two when typing stuff out—I think we all understand that. But it is certainly no typo, when you are ignorant of the difference between "there" and "their;" and the verb "to practise" is spelled with an S no matter whether you're British or American! This is BASIC, primary-level English knowledge—I remember learning these things in Grade III.
I don't lightly criticize an educated person for their grammatical deficiencies (in their native language!); I only mean to point out the fierce absurdity of taking a conservative position on this question of degree qualifications. While studying pure and applied science, I knew many classmates who graduated without ever knowing many basic concepts that are stipulated as required knowledge for a 1st- or 2nd-year student. In broad terms, the situation is extremely simple: in formal education, it is quite possible to pass the majority of your subjects by learning to "sing the song" at assessment time. It's a sad, stark fact—a law of the university universe—that plenty of people have a prestigious qualification without having gained the depth of understanding implied by that qualification. No, of course not all. Maybe not even most. But plenty. And plenty is bad enough.
The only conclusion that makes sense is that qualifications—of any type—should be viewed (like everything else on the planet) in PERSPECTIVE. Each prospective teacher should be considered on the best available picture of their merit, and that means breadth. Insisting on some nominal, so-called "standard" of quality that is implemented as a one-dimensional policy—eg, a simplistic requirement for teachers to have degrees—is just a foolish delusion, as you will invariably allow some lazy fakers into the system, while denying access to other, perfectly competent, passionate people—thus wasting perfectly good teaching resources!
As my girlfriend routinely asks me: "khao jai mai?" :)
By Paul, Udon Thani (13th January 2012)
All the comments make interesting reading. Is a Degree a must? Should Thai officials make it so difficult, when they themselves, are largely, unqualified.
I'm from London and I consider myself a well educated and traveled person, but I' shall never teach in Thailand again. I've read so many bad reports by so many other teachers which reflects in part, my own past experiences.
Recently, I attended an interview at the claimed, best High school in the area'. All was going well until I witnessed the state of the classrooms. Very poor!. The second knock back came when I presented my Yellow house registration book, plus both my Thai drivers licence for a motorbike and car, (both valid for five years), as prove of I.D. The response given by the interviewers was, "YOUR A THAI CITIZEN". WHAT!!!! The alarms bells rang out loud, I knew from that moment, that this school was a complete waste of time. The employment contract was a mess, the set-up a mess and the director was not interested about me and what I had to say. He was more interested in ringing out his own praises, very loud and clear. TIT!
I walked out of the interview and never looked back and it so happens, three teachers are about to walk out of that Government school, because they still have no work permits This is what is all about, they couldn't care less that these guys have families to support and are doing a job illegally within a Government run school!
I once taught English language at a private school, (TEST, UBON), but had to walk away from my post, (plus two other teachers, an American and German). because of unpaid salary for three months. Fight for our pay, forget it! We had no chance and that's how things are. No back-up for outsiders. Thai's show little regard for their own kind, so what chance have we? Think about it!
By Steven, Buri Ram (21st August 2011)
"One does hear stories of teachers who have side-stepped the degree rule on account of someone at their school who knows someone at the ministry, especially in the more rural areas - but the stories are few and far between. You can safely file them under Teaching in Thailand folklore."
I work in a government school in Issan which employs several teachers that do not possess degrees or fake degree certificates. They have work permits, one has been teaching at the school legally for several years and one has recently received their work permit and teaching license. I do not have a degree but the school still offered me employment and a non-imm B visa and are currently in the process of applying for my teachers license. Like many things in Thailand, it is often not a case of what you know but who you know, if the school have connections at the MOE and you are happy to live in the North East where the level of English is extremely low and there is a huge shortage of teachers it is possible to teach legally without a degree. I also know several other schools in this area that are legally employing teachers without degree certificates.
The salary I receive is low in comparison to what many private language institutes or international schools offer, but it is still three times what many Thai teachers are earning in the same school, and I can afford to have a good quality of life here (the cost of living in Issan is also very low).
I also have friends legally teaching in Chiang Mai without degrees or fake degrees but I believe it was harder for them to find employment. I hope that clears things up a little, and thanks for an interesting article.
By Raphaella, Issan (17th June 2011)