Kylie Millar

Another swipe at the system

I know I'm not the first to write about the education system in Thailand

Last week I was sat down by my managers (yes, this required all three of them) with minutes to go before the bell for first lesson and was told that my teaching style is not appropriate for the school. I had to clarify exactly what it was that they didn't like and was met with the response, "We don't want TEFL style teaching at our school."

This completely confuses me as I am sure I was employed because I have a TEFL certificate; in fact it is one of the requirements to work at this school. They would much rather I sat at the front of the class with a microphone and a pre-written dialogue of no real life use, dictating to the students and then testing their memory of said conversation. Surely a more engaging, student centred and (dare I say) fun approach to learning would not only encourage the students to take part in the lesson but also in turn boost their learning and further increase their final grades?

Thailand lags behind its ASEAN partner countries when it comes to its education system, curriculum and management. The International Institute for Management Development ranked Thailand at 51 out of 60 countries with regards to its education system as a whole. Despite spending 20% of its annual budget on education (which surely a good chunk of went towards giving every student a tablet in one of their latest ‘keeping up appearances' gimmicks), Thailand is failing in the global stakes educationally.

I may have only been teaching in Thailand for little over a year but its long enough to have a fair insight into the way things work and luckily not long enough to have been brainwashed into thinking that it's a system that works.

Thailand is set to enter the Association of South East Asian Networks (ASEAN) in 2015 where it will promptly fall to the bottom of the pile with regards to many aspects including the English speaking skills of the nation and the success of its education system and the students that are dragged through it.

The minister for education is calling for a revolutionary reform - apparently he has a magic wand that makes this possible to think up and implement in less than 18 months.

In a system where archaic, military inspired regimes are ingrained into practice, it will take a long time to overhaul the whole system - what Thailand needs is a long term solution, not a short term bodge job that will make them appear fit to be part of the ASEAN network alongside its fellow SE Asian neighbours. But then again this is Thailand, where saving face is more important than admitting fault.

Despite employing a system where it is impossible to fail a student, Thailand still manage to come out bottom of the pile globally once again. This may be an idiot-proof way to have a 100% pass rate but unfortunately for Thailand it isn't all about keeping up appearances and as such, Thailand is systematically failing across the board from making students study for too many hours a week, hanging on to military practices of forcing haircuts on students and using old fashioned teaching methods such as rote learning and memorization. And I haven't even touched on the continuing use of corporal punishment and being one of the few countries around the world to make their university students wear a uniform.

The minister for education wants to turn the current education system on its head, to do away with rote learning and memorisation approaches to teaching, encouraging students to improve their critical thinking and problem solving skills. But when we still have schools just like mine who want a western looking teacher but not the western approach to teaching his changes aren't going to get very far, especially not in time for Thailand's entry into ASEAN in 2015. Best get thinking up a flashy new policy... we already gave them all touchscreen tablets... any ideas?

For more of my reflections on life in Thailand visit my personal blog.


Hi there, I'm half Thai/ British. Having experienced education on both sides (as a student in the UK, and as an ESL teacher throughout T'land) I wish to make some points. When it comes to educational standards I'm the first to agree T'land is in dire need of a complete and utter overhaul. It is a shame Thai kids generally lack the motivation to learn English, but heck, are British, American, Australian, et al, kids renowned for their foreign language abilities? It seems nowadays in the UK every student is getting A's and B's at their GCSE's, yet so many youngsters fail to string a coherent sentence together. If u want to look at quality edu today, look East! I love the 'fun' atmosphere u find at Thai schools. I don't see much bullying or kid truancy, unlike in the UK. I sure have never heard of a Thai kid stabbing a teacher or walking into school with an automatic shot gun. As a westerner myself, I think it's important we realise our own failings with our educational system (and that we don't always have the answers). What's fundamental for any ESL teacher in this country is encouraging and motivating students to want to learn English. One person can't change the world, but u can change the world for one person:-) Peace.

By Chat Hallard, Phetchaburi (20th March 2014)

See my follow up to this post here:

By Kylie, Hat Yai (20th November 2013)


Yes, "they" get what they pay for and from reading your response, I get an idea why you are making a lower salary now than 10 years ago :).

Are you underpaid now or were you overpaid then? But of course, no law restricts you to teaching English in Thailand, there is a big world out there with unlimited opportuntities!

If you are unhappy, you can seek new opportunties, or you can stay where you are and moan.

Your choice, but I don't like the chances of your moaning either changing the system or improving your lot in life.

By Jack, Back at home :) (20th November 2013)

I'm sorry to hear about your treatment, but 'welcome to Thailand' where the rules change every day, and so does the salary! Not only do they not see whats infront of their future in Thailand, they are blind to the truth. "A no fail policy' how will they ever get anywhere! Now you know why they have the lowest level of English in ASEAN. I think they believe ASEAN should be in Thai! They need to address the problem, not blame everyone else. In a country of No Fail Policy you can understand why A Degree is important, its all in the name and not in the ability.You want Real Good Dedicated Teachers, you need to give! And give the students are reason to learn! So domaway with the no fail policy, give credit to teachers ability where its due and pay more than the inflation rate since 2004, when I first started here in 2004 I started on 32,000! Now again in 2013 they want us to start on 30,000 ? Way down below inflation? You get what you pay for!

By ThorKhan, Bangbuathong (18th November 2013)

Sorry Kylie, you are a bad match for this particular job. If you want to do yourself a favor, get out of there and into another environment and leaves your three managers to hire a nice cheap filipino or south African for your job.

By Guy, Bkk (17th November 2013)

I had taught in the land of smiles for over 15 years. Since then, I had taught 4 years in China ( university level ) and I came home ( Canada ) just under 1 year. It is very clear that Thailand will always boast about UPGRADING and new and IMPROVED guidelines. However, the facts are clear. Nothing will ever change just more BS to blind side everyone.

By Johnny, Ontario Canada (17th November 2013)


From experience in multiple countries, industries and positions with varying levels of responsibility, hearing people complain about the incompetence of their bosses and the system appears to be a universal human trait.

But having said that, English teachers in Thailand seem to take it to a whole new level of whining :).

But since the majority of English teacher have never mastered another language, have little experience and education in educational management with the exception of getting a teaching job which only requires one to know one’s mother tongue, and have little interest in taking cultural and historical differences into consideration when making recommendations, it is surprising the Thai government and Thai educators don’t follow every suggestion for improvement made by posters on Ajarn.

Maybe I am looking at it all wrong, but I have not seen many successful educators in foreign countries who consider everyone with a different approach or cultural background as the enemy. I suspect being a bit more open minded is useful when working across cultures.

Would the entire Thai educational system be greatly improved if a few English teachers, who don’t speak Thai or any other foreign language but who have 3 or 4 weeks of TEFL training as their main qualification, were put in charge?

Since it is not going to happen, I guess we will never know.

By Jack, Next to a cup of coffee (13th November 2013)

I still think it's down to the school and from what you say, they seem rather insular.

I fully support your experience as a youth worker (one of my friends does this in UK) and that does indeed qualify you more than many, in particular those with irrelivant, non-educational qualifications.

It must be understood and eventually accepted, that whatever the approach to English in Thailand previously done, it has been a failure. The statistics you quoted confirm this. Change must come but for Thais this will be a painful process. I'm fortunate that my director and head teachers ask for my advice, and this has resulted in a different approach that the teachers and students enjoy.

It's difficult to suggest or comment when we don't know the real reasons or motivation behind their approach. All I can suggest is try to reason, be subtle and look for another job just in case. If they think they can replace you with someone better, they will. But better is a relative term in Thailand.

By Jamie, Buriram (13th November 2013)

I work alongside Kylie and can stand up and say she is not a 'happy clapping' teacher (may I correct your use of English language as there is no such word as clappy). She is 100% dedicated to helping her students feel more confident using the English they know whilst trying to improve their range of vocabulary and grammar usage, yet she is being told her ways are not the right ways, yet her students adore her.
The root of the problem in the Thai education system is the people who will not look for a change and want the students to learn in the same fashion they did, after all, one two tree work-ed for they say. Why should the students of this generation actually have fun learning? Another part of the problem is the use of the backpackers who want o be in paradise for a few months and willing to work for peanuts and the schools that feel it's OK to employ them.
To Phil, I've been doing this job over here for over ten years and love what I'm doing. You cannot expect miracles over night and the rewards of teaching take a long time. This year some of my students will graduate from the top universities in the country that I taught in my first year and they still remember the lessons I taught.
If you want ten fantastic reasons why love this job; then that can come at a later date. Peace

By stephan cannon, hat yai (13th November 2013)

Thanks for the comments guys!

I just wanted to say I am certainly not 'happy ' and I'm under no illusion that singing songs is going to go down well with a group of Matthayom students. I am simply trying to create lessons that encourage the students to (try to) think for themselves, to explore the language and have fun with it, being free to make mistakes and experiment. Most importantly, I want to make learning English a fun and enjoyable experience by offering a range of engaging activities outside of the traditional A-B memorised conversation about 'at the doctors' or other enthralling teenage-friendly topics.

A three week TEFL may not have taught me what is effective in engaging young minds in learning activities but six years as a youth worker in the UK working with young people excluded from mainstream eduation certainly helps. I am again under no illusion and am aware that y TEFL is merely a piece of paper, a hoop I had to jump through, not a license to tell people how to teach in their own country.

My problem is mainly with the inability to identify and resolve an issue because of the importance of keeping up appearances, rather than simply being a moaner about the 'state of the Thai education system...'; I am a guest in this country, and I choose to be, but sometimes it can be very frustrating.

By Kylie, Hat Yai (13th November 2013)

"It’s ok to take a swipe at the Thai educational system, it is what this site appears to be mainly for"

Apart from the competitions, the region guides, the FAQs, the hot seats, the job ads and the hundreds of blogs that have nothing to do with that topic aside of course"

It's because it's a hot topic Jack. If someone wants to send a letter to the ajarn Postbox and change the record, then I'm all over it.

If someone wants to send a letter and say "I love my job and here's ten reasons why" or "my students are making fantastic progress because....." then I'm all over it.

But no one does. Is it human nature?

By philip, (13th November 2013)

It's ok to take a swipe at the Thai educational system, it is what this site appears to be mainly for.

Amazing how a 4 week wonder certification and the ability to speak one's mother tongue (English) makes one an instant expert on education and educational reforms in foreign lands.

Yet, the Thais educators seem reluctant to follow each and every piece of sage advice from all of these instant experts.

I wonder why?

By Jack, In my chair (13th November 2013)

Outdated and old fashioned they may be but it pays to judge the mood of the school beforehand. Perhaps they found your style of teaching a little too 'happy clappy' for their liking.

By Timbo, Bangkok (12th November 2013)

All valid and well-known points. My school does not like the TEFL method either and neither do I. There is a multitude of reasons why Thailand lags in English, one of the is the lack of exposure after and beyond school.

My director has informed me that there has been a massive improvement in speaking and pronunciation through conversation. This has to be done properly or it won't achieve the wired effect. I see no point in dancing and prancing unless it's to under six students. We need to hear the as individuals using selected words and phrases, not singing songs.

By Jamie, Buriram (12th November 2013)

Thailand has already failed the ASEAN initiative. (past tense) This program is already opening the borders for English speaking workers from surrounding countries to take premium jobs and that trend will continue.

By Ted, Bangkok (12th November 2013)

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