In November 2010 the then Education Minister, Mr. Chinnaworn Boonyakiat, delivered a lecture to members of the Thai senate in relation to "Thailand's Educational Preparation for ASEAN Community in 2015". He admitted that in the past, Thailand had no clear plan relating to the development of the country's education system. In addition, Thai students had been studying subjects that did not match the demands of the labor market. He also conceded that if Thailand is to be competitive after 2015, when the free market across ASEAN opens, its education policies must adapt to meet the demands and requirements of an open labor market.
English is clearly the key to success and opportunity in the new ASEAN community. It is not only the official language; it is also the ‘world' language which is used across the globe for nearly all international dialogue and trade. English will be used at all levels of Thai society from 2015. Without strong English skills, people within the ASEAN community will be prevented from progressing beyond unskilled and menial jobs. So, how is this affecting foreign TEFL teachers and Thai students?
This desire for strong English-language skills is, obviously, translating into a greater demand for English instruction from foreign teachers. In Chiang Mai, I have noticed a wider range of schools and institutions contacting our school to provide teachers, teacher management and language courses. For example, we have managed the foreign language teachers at one local vocational college for several years. Within the last few months however, another vocational college has signed a contract with us to provide foreign teachers and a third will be meeting our school manager within the next few days to discuss providing teachers at their college as well. We already manage teachers at a number of schools and colleges across Chiang Mai and the North; but despite running a popular teacher-training program, we are still finding it difficult to fill all our teaching positions.
Also, talking to representatives from other schools, it seems rising demand for foreign teachers is affecting them. The foreign-teacher coordinator at the popular employer Dara Academy told me that he received fewer applications than normal for a couple of jobs he recently advertised. This suggests, perhaps, that teachers are gaining employment faster than before or there are fewer teachers in Chiang Mai - unlikely. In fact, Dara offered one of their positions to a recent TEFL course graduate, but she declined as she had already accepted a position at another Chiang Mai school.
Another course graduate (Belgian) was sitting in our school preparing his CV a few days after training finished when our manager received a call from the director of another popular private school. She needed a teacher immediately. He was whisked to the school and offered the position after a short interview. This all happened before lunch!
This weekend (August 25th - 27th) sees The ASEAN Education Challenge 2012 in Chiang Mai. Over 10,000 students, parents and teachers from across Thailand are expected to attend this event which is an opportunity for them to exchange knowledge, creativity and culture with the aim of promoting a more sustainable, inclusive and development-oriented future. M.L. Panada Disakul, The Governor of Chiang Mai and Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, will make opening addresses. Here's the full program
The event is being organized by the Private Schools Association (PSA) of Chiang Mai. Here are the organizers' dressed in the national dress of each ASEAN country. My wife, Ying, is located on the far right of the front row dressed in Singaporean national dress. This event evolved from her previous experience organizing the Singapore Education Challenge in Chiang Mai a couple of years ago.
However, this weekend's event is on a far larger scale and is spread over three days. I've witnessed the work of the PSA in order to bring this event to life. It's been a massive and ambitious undertaking by all members of the association. Surprisingly for an event such as this, it even looks as though it will break even financially as sponsorship has just about covered the costs of staging the event.
I feel that the opening of the ASEAN community in 2015 should be an exciting time for foreign English-language teachers in this part of the world. There are going to be more jobs and more opportunities to teach EFL in SE Asia as the EFL industry expands. This has to be good."
John Quinn is the course trainer at SEE TEFL in Chiang Mai