Problems with the Thai public education system
A list of almost twenty issues that certainly need looking at
In my last blog I described my intention to compile a list of problems with the Thai public education system.
Some of the people who responded to that article incorrectly assumed that I'm trying to fix the entire Thai education system. If I had as much money and energy as Bill Gates I might try to do that, but I don't. My short-term goals are quite a bit more modest and can be achieved in a few months.
First, as I said earlier, I simply want to compile a list of problems with the current system from the perspective of foreign teachers. The first iteration of this list is almost finished and shown below. Second, I want to propose possible solutions to each of the problems in the list. This will take a few more weeks and will evolve into an ongoing activity.
Some of the problems, like lack of air-conditioning, have obvious solutions but require huge amounts of money. I could buy one air-conditioner and see if it makes a difference in one classroom but I'm not sure that's an effective use of my limited resources. The point is that I'm not trying to fix anything right now, I just want to list some of the more egregious problems and describe reasonable solutions. Testing and implementing the solutions on a small scale will come later, if at all.
The reason I'm describing this project to the gentle folks who read this website is to politely and sincerely ask for your suggestions. The comments directed to my last article on this forum were more critical than constructive, however even the negative comments reflect the feelings of some members of this community.
I want to thank Greg Nunn for providing some interesting reference links which I've added to my website. Brad Michaelis took the time to write a thoughtful list of problems which I've included below. I also want to say that on an emotional level I completely agree with Mark Newman who said we should basically abandon the poor preforming students and focus our efforts on the small percentage of students who actually want to learn English.
Last semester as I was struggling to teach M3 and M6 I had the exact same thought on many occasions. I'm going to include that suggestion as a possible solution to Problem #4 below. I don't know how realistic that is and I don't think it will be well-received, but I'm going to list it as one of the possible solutions. And a special thanks to Tracy who defended my attempt to do something slightly noble even when the chances of success are miniscule.
So here's the list. Again, please send your feedback, corrections, and criticism to email@example.com. I'll maintain a more complete version of this list on my website
1. Students in most classes have a very wide range of abilities, with high-performing students sitting next to low-performing students. This makes it almost impossible to design curriculum or teach either group without short-changing the other. The bright students become bored and the slower students stop trying. One contributor estimates that total student participation is about 45%. He also said "There are students that are so advanced they belong two grades higher. They are not given the chance to be separated from their classmates for an English class."
2. Related to #1, students are promoted from one grade to the next even when they clearly should be held back or directed to remedial programs. There is a tradition in Thai culture that all students must advance to the next grade regardless of their performance. This means that low-performing students will be further mismatched with the curriculum in subsequent grades. This effect is compounded each year until some students in M6 have similar performance to students in P6 or even lower.
3. Cheating is endemic throughout all levels of public education. Students routinely cheat on all tests and exams. This contaminates performance assessments which are vital to improving curriculum and determining remediation.
4. Discipline is a constant issue in almost all classes. This problem seems to get worse as students progress through the system, until by the time they're in high school they're almost impossible to control. Students are often late for class. They talk freely with each other and move around the classroom as if they were at a social function. They use their cellphones or work do their homework from other classes. This is very discouraging to all teachers and it's clearly detrimental to the minority of students who are well-behaved.
5. Foreign teachers feel like they are superficial and disconnected from the rest of their department. They often complain that they were hired merely for appearances and serve only as "window dressing". They are almost never solicited for input into curriculum. They are often ignored by the other teachers. Some of the perceived separation between Thai and foreign teachers may be a result of shyness or even embarrassment on the part of the Thai teachers, but in an English department this is not a viable excuse.
6. Related to #5, the overall scores or grades that foreign teachers assign to their students are discounted or even ignored by Thai teachers to assign grades at the end of each semester. It's common for the grades given by foreign teachers to account for only 10% of students' final grades. This increases the perception of foreign teachers that they efforts are largely superficial. Thai teachers assign grades based on cultural expectations rather than performance.
7. The Thai education system is not a meritocracy, it's an oligarchy. Good teachers, even good Thai teachers, are not evaluated and rewarded for their accomplishments or the accomplishments of their students. This is another factor which makes it very discouraging to work for a school in Thailand. Professional advancement in the Thai education system seems to be based on certificates or degrees regardless of the effectiveness of a teacher's ability to teach. The result is that Thai teachers work hard to get these degrees even by cheating or short-cutting their way through the program just so they can get the piece of paper which is needed to get a better salary.
8. The classrooms in many up-country schools are dirty and un-air-conditioned. The floors are filthy. The widows are broken. The desks and chairs are falling apart. Maintenance and janitorial services are inadequate. The classrooms are equipped with chalkboards instead of whiteboards. These unpleasant working conditions contribute to a sense of working in a menial job. The poor state of classroom facilities probably contributes to the general lack of respect on the part of the students. Considering how much money the Thai government spends on education you would think they could afford air conditioners in all classrooms, even in rural areas.
9. There is a ridiculous number of holidays and extra-curricular activities which result in fewer productive teaching days. These distractions include Buddhist holidays, sporting events, various competitive events, and all-day teacher meetings. A substantial amount of effort and apparently money is directed to these activities which, although they may impart critical aspects of Thai culture, do very little to advance core academic achievements and disrupt the continuity of the curriculum. Classes that meet in the first or last periods of the day are often cancelled due to competing activities.
10. Academic tests like ONET seemed to be used mainly as a way for schools to qualify for additional funding and have little impact on remediation for poor-performing students. Test questions are often completely mismatched to the average student's abilities which results in them being disappointed and further disengaged from their future education. Even worse, some of the English language test questions contain grammatical errors or examples which don't make sense to a native speaker. In addition to being a filter that determines which students can advance to college, performance tests should be used as a tool to identify students who should be enrolled in remedial programs.
11. There doesn't seem to be any standard curriculum. Foreign teachers aren't given any teaching materials and are allowed to select text books and develop teaching materials as they see fit. Even Thai teachers are given huge freedom to do whatever they want in the classroom with little or no guidance from their department, let alone Thai educational organizations at the national level. While this lack of standardization may be considered a blessing and foreign teachers take advantage of this, it's symptomatic of a disorganized system as a whole.
12. Textbooks used for teaching English are written by English authors and targeted for English children. Books from Oxford Press are examples of this. The covers and first page of have been translated into Thai but there isn't a single word of Thai in the entire rest of the book. No attempt is made to translate English into Thai because that isn't necessary in England. Examples and vocabulary are obviously England-centric. Fruits, vegetables, and animals mentioned in these books don't occur naturally in Thailand. Idioms and nursery rhymes are England-centric.
Here are some additional comments I received in response to my last blog article. I've made some minor edits.
13. Schools should put the students first. Not the teachers.
14. Most Thai teachers think the school is there for them, that they are the most important part of it. They're not!
15. Teach the students how to think, not just copy and follow the instructions.
16. School staff and above should listen to those with more experience, rather than saying "I've taught 'this', in this way for many years, you can't show me a better way".
17. If you're going to teach someone a subject, the teacher should have the basic knowledge of that subject. I.e. the ability to speak English, if that's what you teach. You don't see an art teacher who can't draw, or a P.E teacher who can't run.
18. Forget complex grammar until you have some ability to speak and understand the language.
19. Teach the students how to talk with constant practice, increase vocabulary, and lots of praise, not criticism.
California Accent offers free training materials (courseware) which can be used to teach English to Thai students. These training materials are free for parents and teachers to use as long as they are not resold or used for commerical purposes. New materials are being added to this site every week as they are developed and tested by the author.
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This view that Thai teachers are poorly paid, isn't quite true. Yes, new /junior teachers start with a lower salary, once they become government contracted, they then have a career for life, with annual increases, options for low-interest loans, extra funds for work-related trips, and extra work. Many teachers with 10 or more years of teaching have cars, houses and other businesses on the side, including some who rent out snack bar spaces outside the schools, own shops or accommodation that is rented to the NES teachers. Some are as crooked as some police officers, the sooner they are retired, the sooner a cleaner more student-focused group of teachers will prevail.
By Phetpeter, Central Thailand (23rd November 2021)
I understand the people who say it is wrong to change the system or to want to change it and that you should just go with it or that it's wrong for him (a westerner) to try to impose something on a developing Asian country. Thai people do not like confrontation or causing trouble and to make changes to something as big as the educational system would cause them to do a lot of both. I am not a Thai teacher but I would think those two things, along with their low salaries, would cause them to not want or care enough to change the status quo and the politicians working in the education department are probably not the best people for the job. However, there are some Thai supporters to overhauling the education system. They just haven't gotten enough support to create any change yet. https://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/clg/living/education-schools/discussing-thai-education-with-associate-professor-prathoomporn-vajarasthira/ https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/thai-students-turn-agitators-educational-reform-72811932
By CS, in front of my computer (28th February 2021)
This is a very honest and revealing review of what it's like to Teach in a Thai Government School. I have noticed many of the things listed here in my own experience as well.
I think it takes some deep thought and an honest look at Cultural Expectations to level with all these issues. We have to understand that the majority of Native Speaking Teachers come from Progressive, Developed and Economically Robust countries. How do you think these economies came to be? We weren't fortunate enough to stumble upon massive oil reserves (or some other lucrative resource), we developed and earned that wealth ourselves. Our cultures valued progress and personal responsibility.
Most of these countries are also 4 season countries. There's nothing like an inevitable, yearly winter to put a fire under your "you know what" that motives you to be productive. Being unprepared for winter would kill you in our culture in the past, this ingrained the values of Organization and Opportunism into our culture and is why we "sweat the small stuff". Have we noticed life in Thailand is very chill in comparison?
I think the bottom line here is you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Thai people do not want the same things we want and that is reflective in the Education System(Not only there, but in most parts of life). I have had the most success with my students when I've put a smile on my face (a real one) and actually enjoyed joking with them and actually trying to have fun. It's still a long shot from what you would find back home, but that's just the nature of the beast.
That being said a real Education is very very hard to find anywhere, not just in Thailand. I've worked for Int'l Schools all over the world, and well funded ones at that, and there are still the same basic issues there too. People have to actually value something in order for it it be meaningful and worthwhile, there's no way around that. And there have been very, very few posts where I've felt I was really able to teach. That's just Education.
In light of all this, if we're able to just relax and enjoy life, I find the Thais will respond much, much better! And the good news is we'd be all the happier too.
I hope this doesn't come across negatively, just what's worked for me here so far.
By GT, USA (13th August 2020)
Very good article, thank you for sharing.
I am a 27 year old Thai man, was fortunated enough to be educated by hardworking Filipino, British, & American teachers during 90s-2010s.
I am recently very stressed out with the newer generation because it does seems like something went wrong with the educational system. I used to be fed up with my own generation, but it seems like Thailand are getting worse every year with the newer generations.
I know it has been a while since you wrote this, but it is good to remind myself once in a while that I am not the only ones who recognize the issue of horrible education among the society here in Thailand.
Nowadays, I can't even have a normal intellectual conversation anymore because according to the local Thais my ideas is too "westernized" or "farang culture". Super weird. I never thought that knowledge or proper education has anything to do with culture.
By ค่อม, Bangkok, Thailand (17th May 2020)
All so very true!
How about class size besides differing ability levels?
By Etienne Vorster, Hatyai University (18th December 2018)
All of what you said is true.The classrooms are chaotic most of the time.
Students walk around freely, girls sit on the classroom floor getting their hair done by their friends. Students play with telephones and get angry when they are told to put it away. We as foreigners cannot change their behavior or discipline. 3 Months left before the school holidays and I am out of here for good.
By Dawie, Trang (4th December 2018)
This article is dead on. Bravo.
By Jay, Southern Thailand (14th November 2018)
You are 100 % correct on all of your statements. I just worked 3 months at a Issan province secondary school teaching M3 and M5 classes. Everything you stated I have seen personally. I was laughing out loud reading this article. The very first thing that I did as a teacher was to take control of the class. This meant no cell phones, no running around, and be in class on time. The students in the M3s, M5/ 9, and M5/10 classes started to skip the classes. I was told by the Thai co-teachers that I was being to strict and should be more "fun" in the class. So yea, the english teachers are hired as window dressing and not to teach.
By Dean, Thailand (24th August 2018)
Apologies for any mistake I might make later on, say, I am not an educator here. In fact, I am a high school student who has never studied anywhere outside of Bangkok. Knowing a friend who is studying in a government school in Isan, what upsets me so much is the fact that she cannot even understand the sentence “good morning, how are you?” She also said that English is her favourite subject, but how did this happen? I will never know, because I will never have a chance to observe her school.
I do agree with the list of the problems you pointed out, but I feel like there is another major problem. Oh well, it is with the government itself. A professor in a famous university once told me that the Ministry of Education is governed by those politicians who do not involve in teaching, and they do not even listen to teachers and professors. How ridiculous is this? Anyway, I really hope that my country’s educational system would improve, yet I still cannot see the light. Thank you to all of the educators who are/were trying to make my country develop. One day, sooner or later, it will.
By Pam, Bangkok (21st August 2018)
Today I'm feeling particularly demoralized from two years of teaching in the same government secondary school. Everything listed as a problem here I agree ten fold. I'm putting my soul into trying to reach the kids that have been written, which is a great majority at my school. A Thai teacher who has been absent for the first half of the semester actually came to class. I was trying to explain that this upper class of students still couldn't write their names in English and that very basic vocabulary escaped them. The teacher took the time to look up from her telephone video to tell me, " you need to let them go."
By PSB, Thailand (15th August 2018)
Average Thai IQ is the low 90s, teachers less. To expect better from them is absurd.
By Somchai, Middle Thailand (4th July 2018)
I am not a teacher here.
I am curious about some hearsay. Is it true that a student can NOT FAIL any grade in middle and high school? All about saving face and therefore could finish being educated at 15? 16? years of age? yet be a thick as a brick?
What about university, can a med student fail a class or an exam??
By John F, Chiang Mai (19th June 2018)
Hello fellow educators.
I have been teaching with Thailand for over 10 years. Mostly in Bkk with language academies and private, corporate tutoring. I eventually got tired of the Bkk rat race lifestyle and accepted an offer with a Thai government school in a rural area.
HUGE mistake. I was a teacher in my native country in a public school as well, but what I encountered in Thai schools is absolute rubbish and a waste of my skills, time and dedication as a career educator. I read the previous comments and agree with just about everything that has been written.
But one other aspect I'd like to point out is how Foreign teachers are discriminated against in the public school systems here. I'll give you newbies some examples to contemplate before you decide to accept that job:
1. One year non renewable contracts. We relocate thousands of miles to come here to teach, incur loads of expenses, and the best they can offer us is a 1 year contract whose renewal is based on the admin's whims or whether they like your shirt color. Nothing to do with your experience, contributions to the school, professional conduct and playing by the rules.
2.Verbal, not written amendments to the contract are always being done on the sly by the admin to favor them, not you the teacher. My partner's school has been extorting several hundred baht per month from the foreign teachers to pay for the school's electricity, food and parking!
When they questioned this policy, the admin replied in two ways. First it's not up for discussion and second, all their contracts will not be renewed next year. Doesn't matter that my partner's contract expires for July 2018. Several years teaching there and then you're out!
3. Foreign teachers are not eligible for unemployment insurance, benefits or even any kind of severance package. I hired a Thai lawyer to work on my case of wrongful termination. He decided after several months that he was not gonna go up against the M.O.E. Ironically the same lawyer did represent me against a teaching agency operated by an American a few years prior. We won with the Ministry of Labor.. Another thing, STAY AWAY FROM ANY AGENCY THAT SEEMS DODGY, DISHONEST AND UNPROFESSIONAL.
4. To add insult to injury, the government school I taught at, the admin allowed the English program students to EVALUATE the foreign teachers! If I had been able to do that when I was in high school, I would have written anything to get rid of the teachers I did not like.
Nothing is based on fact, just whether you allowed the students to use their mobiles in class or if I had to exert any discipline in the course of my teaching duties.
It's all rubbish and a face saving gimmick to avoid any responsibility on the admin's or student's failures. Thai students don't mind being hit with a bamboo stick by Thai teachers, but no way will they tolerate a foreign teacher telling them to be quiet and pay attention, or fail them.
5. I could go on but you get the picture. There's a lot wrong with the Thai educational system and the way foreign teachers are treated.
I will NEVER waste my time in a Thai classroom again. I did have some good hard working Thai students, but those were the exceptions. The rest were just wasting time and space.
Now the students I work with are NOT Thai and their English skills for a 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 year old is way beyond what any Mathayom level Thai government student is capable of doing.
So, I will take my experience elsewhere, where I can earn a decent wage and be able to teach instead of baby sitting a bunch of brainwashed monkeys.
Cheers and a Happy Healthy New Year to all
By John Morales, Prachuap Kirrikhan (28th December 2017)
I see Mark has posted his list of rants and unsolicited advice to his website. Due to Mark’s work, should we start to see a major overhaul of Thai government policies and a transformation of Thai culture and values to reflect Mark’s views starting at the beginning of the new year?
While I understand his desire to be more than a part-time English teacher in Isan and therefore has tried to set himself the goal of becoming a recognized guru on education in Thailand (despite his total lack of education, experience or basic knowledge of the subject). I suspect he has as much chance of leading the overhaul of both the Thai educational system and cultural values as does a 7th grade science student who watches Star Trek has in changing NASA’s views on in its further space exploration projects by posting opinions on an obscure online blog.
But we will see.
Maybe in gratitude for sharing his years of in-depth research into the topic and his amazing wisdom the people of the country will change the name of the country to Markland.
By Jack, Close to a bottle of spirits (27th December 2017)
Thank you Jack and Cha for your interesting comments! And of course for Mark for starting the conversation. I'm sure no foreigner wants to assume they know how to fix the system. It would be nice if our input was respected but any suggestion is met with fear and loathing. Learning a language is a skill. It's a very human interaction as it entails a desire to communicate a message. In the ideal world it would be great with the advances in technology and smart phones to make it as painless as possible but unfortunately the people who set the curriculum and write the exams are university instructors with little confidence in their own mastery of the language so from their fear results the horror of Onet, GAT and whatever other nonsense they come up with to ensure the control of the gates to academia remains in the hands of the elite. They rely on multiple choice questions that are for want of realistic questions on a short passage .. a total artificial mishmash of doggerel English , illogical formulations and mind -numbing contortions that even a native speaker will have trouble working out. This is the reality. After 12 years of english study you are expected to jump through this miasama. No wonder most Thais can't utter a simple sentence or panic if they are asked " what are you going to do when you graduate"? I asked this of very intelligent students studying in Trium Udom Suksa next door to Chula where they all assume they will get to. They will.
Anyway .. Best of luck ., the Thai people are lovely. They have survived without learning a foreign language. The ones who need English to survive will get there .. the others will find ways to get by without it. It's not that important.
By Kevin, Bkk (19th December 2017)
While I might not take quite as pessimistic a view as Kevin, I do generally agree with his comments.
It would seem to be impossible to separate an educational system from the external environment the students find themselves in every day.
In my home country (USA) we have extremely different outcomes in schools in suburban and wealthier areas where most of the parents are highly educated as opposed to schools found in inner city and some rural areas which are poorer and where most of the population is less educated.
For the past 100 plus years, problems have been identified and countless numbers of attempts at solutions have been implemented, none have been very effective.
Thailand is a very hierarchal society, as are most non-Western societies, and the Buddhist belief in Karma and birth into a particular social status being the result of past good deeds seems to moderate the disruption and dissatisfaction from the extremely high levels of inequality in society. The belief that this is a bad aspect of Thai society (a belief I hold) is purely subjective, but one of the first things that is taught in expatriate training is the need to adjust to the local culture and do not expect you will be able to change the local culture to fit your own personal and cultural values and beliefs.
And we cannot also separate the political system from the educational system. Teaching English to rural Thai children is far down the list of priorities the current political leadership has in its educational policies. The first priority is to teach values and beliefs which create unquestionable support for the existing social hierarchy for obvious reasons, therefore critical thinking is not strongly encouraged.
Criticizing governments for using educational policies for political advantage could be aimed at governments around the world and is not something uniquely to be found in Thailand.
If we want to make long lists of aspects of living in Thailand which we don’t like, I suspect I could make a list as long as anyone else.
But are these simplistic complaints useful to the average teacher in Thailand?
I am not implying teachers should not try to do what they can to help the students and try to make small incremental improvements. But presenting lists of everything one thinks is wrong with Thailand is not going to be received well by Thai educators and government officials and will likely have a negative effect. I have had a few conversations with administrators at Thai schools about the difficulties of working with “farang” teachers. The complaints I have heard usually have nothing to do with actual teaching, but about disagreements over the school or government policies. If you were hired to teach English, do not be surprised if your attempts to change school or governmental policies will not be looked upon as helpful extra duties carried out with no pay.
These types of simplistic lists of how bad everything is in Thailand seem quite popular on Ajarn,com and gather a lot of views and support from like-minded ethnocentric individuals, but over my time working and living in Thailand I have seen no proof engaging in anti-Thai rants is of any actual help to real teachers working in Thai schools.
So Mark, how many Thai government officials have contacted you to help redesign the educational system in Thailand after reading your list?
By Jack, Not where I want to be (19th December 2017)
@KevinDempsey spot on! However I do disagree with the English national tests like the O-Net. The answers are obvious, the questions are dumb but I think it's a matter of leveling between a rural student and a BKK one.
-social care is medieval! - epic! Haven't been to a public hospital, near my house but it looks like "I don't want to go in there" so I opted for a smaller, new, private hospital for a check up with meds (pharyngitis) only 700 Bht.
I think that the Ministry of Ed should have an overhaul, not a politician as its head, but teachers. However, let's not get started on Thai teachers teaching English.
By Cha, Trang (18th December 2017)
Very interesting to read the article and even more so the comments. I began working as an English teacher in Thailand 30 years ago.
Not a lot has changed since then except for the growth of the international schools and English programs in some of the better schools. There parents feel confident that their children will get a better education but at a great financial outlay. So money is a huge factor.
There are some successful Thai system schools like the Triudom Suksa or University Demonstation schools where the Thai elite send their children. They have to pay a lot and have influence to get into theses establishments but once in their futures are assured. These schools have a high success rate in getting their students into the top universities as it's a constant exam preparation process. The students will usually attend tutorial schools in English and science after school where they learn to navigate the absurdities of the Thai exams. So it's important to live in Bangkok.
In the English test it's mastering the Chinese puzzle complexity of multiple choice tests . it's the ability to hold 5 deliberately confusing choices in ones head without going insane so as to make an informed guess as to the corrrct answer. It's an IQ test in effect or a test in knuckling down to put up with a failed system because your parents and grandparents put up with it and in turn you will subject the mental torture on your own children.
To reform the system would mean changing the funtamentals of Thai culture and only an upheaval like communist revolution will bring that into existence. It's probably not education as we think in the west but it reflects the culture of a self- perpetuating elite in Asia. There is not much chance for a rural student to get into the prized careers of engineering, medicine, dentistry and business.
Once you accept this you realize tinkering with the system won't work and the farang contribution is only to make it look good on the outside like planting some flowers outside a state run orphanage for mental or disabled children to make it look nice while inside the neglect and suffering is ignored. A situation which is all too common here. If you think education is badly managed, social care and welfare is medieval!
Try your best with the Thai students who respond to your efforts to help them master the skills of English. Maybe your contribution won't be wasted and with sheer ability and hard work one of your students will make it to a good college and into a well- paying job at the end of it.
By Kevin Dempsey, Bangkok (18th December 2017)
Wow! You just hit every nail on the head touché!!!!
By Jaronald, Khon Kaen (11th December 2017)
I do agree with most of your list. I’m really passionate about #15. Majority of the classes I teach are once a week(so my grade is only 10%); which is pointless both for teaching new content and establishing discipline... but it’s been frustrating on having the kids think for themselves. They sometimes feel like robots, there’s no independence... I work with groups in class and each class is broken into 4 parts that students need to complete in order to move to the next (think of a puzzle) answer keys are provided so they all can work independently and at their own pace... but somehow they just can’t do it, so I get the “Teacher teacher teacher teacher teacher” —because A. According to them I didn’t hear the first time B. I’m not at their table... and it’s until I arrive at their table, they are ready to work... It’s like they are trained not to think for themselves and expect the teacher to tell them what to do next, instead of trying to figure it out by themselves...don’t even get me started with students who respond “I don’t have a pencil” (when their neighbor has a huge pencil case) when I ask them why they aren’t writing after 15 mins of class...
I also think there’s lack of support that helps with their confidence in trying to even speak/learn the language... I think both language fluency and accuracy is important, but I think maybe focusing more on fluency than accuracy can help build their confidence... I mean even when I speak Thai, I care more about them understanding what I’m trying to say as opposed to saying it correctly.
Now if the students want to be English teachers... that’s a whole different story
By Marie, Phuket (5th December 2017)
"opinions don't change facts"
Sometimes, if we can actually determine what is and what is not a "fact" but I would say it is almost equally true facts rarely change opinions.
By Jack, In a chaid (4th December 2017)
"Something we like to say in science is, "opinions don't change facts".
Ouch... you wouldn't get a job in any Western educational establishment with a weird approach like that! I think 'facts' are some kind of racism or bigotry in the West these days.
Getting Thai kids to ask questions is a challenge. Many of them in a lot of schools aren't really 'involved' in their classes in any practical sense. This makes asking them to come out of themselves something of a mnission.
And getting them to answer any question that starts with 'Why... ?' is also a frustrating excerise!
We soldier on, though!
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (4th December 2017)
Ha ha, Mark. I was actually referring to having ideas and an approach on how to improve your lessons and teaching. I only really have an opinion on the science department at my school. I'm the head science teacher. We use the British curriculum and students have to pass a language proficiency test in order to attend science classes taught in English. Our students can and do fail. I wouldn't have it any other way.
When I first started at my school, we were missing certain funds. Several months later a very important and powerful lady at the school retired early. She was asked to leave because she had embezzled a ridiculous amount of money over a long period of time. More and more details keep creeping out, and it's very upsetting that she could have stolen so much for so long and seemingly get away with it. It remains a huge black eye for our school and rightly so. Let's hope it doesn't happen again. The school is doing their best to make amends. This woman should be in prison, but what can you do?
The great thing about teaching science is that we deal with facts and what we know. My students are always encouraged to ask questions. There are no stupid questions. One of my students not so long ago asked me about a movement of people who think the world is flat. Other students sniggered and we talked about it at length. I've conditioned my kids to always ask questions in my science classes. They can do what they like in other classes, but in my class we use the scientific approach.
I didn't have any support when I started so I had to learn as I went along. Trial and error. Which I guess is true for a lot of teachers. Now I have lots of support and I'm studying more. I can afford it and my school pay towards my studies. I'm lucky. I know that.
Something we like to say in science is, "opinions don't change facts". We're all entitled to our opinions, but that's all they are; opinions. But let's move away from misrepresenting others' opinions which I'm witnessing more and more on here (and in life). It's an ugly trend within people to want to be right. Let's use goodwill to understand each other's positions and arguments.
Let's not regress into a state where people are forced into using disclaimers that they're not racist, sexist, homophobic baby eaters.
By Simon, Bangkok (4th December 2017)
Blimey, Simon... If you think that's a 'positive perspective' of Thai education, you must qualify as one of the most 'glass half full' people I have ever met!
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (3rd December 2017)
Great article and great read. Good to see a positive perspective from a teacher who's in the field. As a teacher who actually teaches within the Thai education system, there's a lot I agree with.
We need to hear more from people who are teachers in Thailand. Their experiences and thoughts can prove to be very beneficial to others who are new or who simply don't know because they don't actually teach here.
By Simon, Bangkok (3rd December 2017)
OECD UNESCO hired a team of experts to do an analysis of the Thai educational system, identified many problems, and offered suggestions for improvement.
If a person can read Thai, there are also many reports produced by local experts analysing the current situation and problems found in the Thai educational system while making recommendations for improvement.
For an example, see https://www.m-society.go.th/article_attach/19341/20693.pdf
What these reports have in common are they are based on actual evidence, statistical comparisons of outcomes, academic theories and an attempt at understanding the context found in the Thai environment.
Quality education is a very complex and contextual concept which is extremely difficult to identify or measure. If there easy solutions, the world would have much better educational systems than we do.
I think almost everyone involved in education in Thailand (Thai and foreigners) agrees the country could do better than it is currently doing and there are some agreements about changes in principles, but it is difficult to develop a consensus over specific practices and to actually implement the changes.
These reports listed above, were developed using evidence, research, statistics and an attempt to understand the Thai context.
Mark’s “report” is not based on any research, statistical analysis, theoretical foundation, supporting evidence or consideration of the Thai context. Instead it was straight up subjective opinion of a single person without any specialized training in education and very limited experience and apparently little appreciation for the cultural, economic, religious or political environment.
While I have no doubt those ESL teachers who take every opportunity possible to express their disdain for everything Thai will love Mark’s work, but does anyone in reality think the policy makers of education in Thailand will take Mark’s internet rant seriously?
Mark’s work will probably get him a couple of slaps on the back from fellow ESL teachers who have a similar negative opinion of the country and its culture, but I cannot see it being taken seriously by anyone with responsibility for making changes and having an actual concern for improvements in the educational system.
If the goal is to get a few atta boys from like-minded and xenophobic individuals and an opportunity to express his dislike of Thai culture publically, it has a good chance at success, if the goal is to produce ideas that might actually be useful in reforming the system this extremely amateurish report will a major failure.
Just the way I see it
By Jack, Sitting down (3rd December 2017)
Farang and their opinions that don't matter because the farang are hired as people for the kids to practice their English with at best and window dressing at worst.
By John, Bangkok (2nd December 2017)
Oh wow, a list of what is wrong with Thailand and the entire Thai educational system and instead of being founded on some type of quantitative survey which takes into account the viewpoints of a wide range of people involved in education in Thailand, it is based on the opinions of a single foreign English teacher who has a couple of years of experience. This list must be a first for ajarn.com (or maybe not). What brilliant analysis (Thailand and it educational systems are bad) based on the results produced using the most appropriate and sophisicated research methodology possible! I predict this list will help convince everyone in Thailand their culture is really bad and now, finally, everything in the country and educational system will start to change and become just like Mark would like it to be.
Or maybe not.
By Jack, Nearer than you think (1st December 2017)
Completely agree. It’s the pay that put me off and the housing I was given. Paid out of my own pocket for sensible accommodations
By Faiza, Bangkok (1st December 2017)
There's no point in trying to fix anything in the Thai education system. You'll get no thanks whatsoever and if you are successful in coming up with a solution the Thai administration will feel threatened by it and will punish you one way or another.
This is a country that spends 24% of its government budget on education, yet where is that money going? Hey, check out the new alloys on the directors A5! As has been rightly pointed out, many schools are falling apart and don't even have a curriculum or glass in the windows. There's always money in the pot for the odd jolly or some ritualistic nonsense, though.
Based on the way that I've seen foreign teachers being treated in schools in Bangkok, by Thai teachers and administration, I think it's sensible to say that it's not our place to bother trying.
The old saying 'Not my circus, not my monkeys' springs to mind.
Ego is what matters most here, which is kind of ironic considering it's a Buddhist country. It will take one hell of a humbling before anything changes that. Until then, the ridiculous concept of 'Thia-centrism' will prevail and I, and many others shall continue to teach online until a point at which I can leave for a country that is willing to show gratitude, rather than resentment, towards foreign teachers. Perhaps a country that's put the salaries up in the last 10-20 years.
By Steve, Bangkok (1st December 2017)
#1 - Agree 100%.
This year my school tried something new... they mixed the abilities of all the students. The idea was that the brighter ones would help the duller ones.
This progressive lunacy just screws up the smart kids and ends up hurting all students. I'll bet that next year we'll be back to streaming the kids!
#2 - Oops!
"There is a tradition in Thai culture that all students must advance to the next grade regardless of their performance."
What you meant to say is...
There is a tradition in America that all students must be held back from the next grade if they don't perform well.
#3 - Everybody cheats everywhere and in every level of life. Get used to it.
#4 - Student discipline in Thailand is a reflection of your capability as a teacher and is very rarely to do with the kids. If you are serious about this contention, try teaching in any school in the UK or North America and you'll soon change your tune! The answer to discipline issues is to be a better more engaging and interesting teacher.
#5 & #6 - You're not that important in the grand scheme of things. Get over yourself.
#7 - Teachers - regardless of ability - are paid the same. Yes, this happens in every country on earth!
#8 - The classrooms are shite and in poor condition. So what? In the sixties when I went to school the classrooms were appalling... much worse than in Thailand. Still managed to muscle through the freezing temperatures and come away with something.
#9 - "There is a ridiculous number of holidays and extra-curricular activities which result in fewer productive teaching days."
What you meant to say is...
The West could learn a thing or two about how children spend their time in school. It's NOT about being academically hardwired for 8 hours a day. For one thing, it makes kids hate school and for another, it simply doesn't work.
Adjust your priorities and adapt to the easier going and less rigid Thai school system. This is actually something that Thailand does right.
#10 - Agree 100%. ONET is a national embarrassment and should have been scrapped decades ago. It's an absolute failure on every level. Parents should do more about getting something done about this.
#11 - Agree 100%. The curriculum seems to be very haphazard in all the subjects and left to the schools and teachers just to muddle through. Again, parents should be making something happen about this.
#12 - Agree 100%. Every single English language textbook I have ever seen is absolutely SHIT. There has been no effort to localize the books for individual countries.
#13 & #14 - Platitudes.
#15 - Rote learning has its place... so half agree on that one.
#16 - "School staff and above should listen to those with more experience."
A definite maybe... but it ain't happening so don't sweat it!
#17 - "You don't see an art teacher who can't draw or a P.E. teacher who can't run."
Yes, you do... well, at least I do! The English language isn't the only subject riddled with incompetent and ineffective teachers. Poor training and oversight of teachers is one of the biggest problems that is missing off this list.
#18 - Agree 100%. Grammar is just a waste of time. Social media has pretty much destroyed any value it ever had in English language communication. This should only be taught at the university level.
#19 - Agree somewhat... contextual use of vocab is essential if the students are going to remember what they are taught. Phrases and sentences are as important as learning words.
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (1st December 2017)
Employ teachers based on skills, knowledge and experience... NOT COLOUR...RACE!!!
By Sedick , Saudi Arabia (1st December 2017)
Mark, what you said is very true. So, like you, I'm finishing out my contract in an EP public school or even better, I will go when there's a compelling offer.
Honestly, I feel my English knowledge and skills has been dumb down.
Seriously, how can Thai teachers in English teach when they are worse than the students? They can't even get the TOEIC right, definitely sink on the IELTS.
For Thais, it's all about appearance. Just watch their Miss Earth Thailand and Miss Universe Thailand. Their answers were whooosh! Then tell me where is improvement. To add, those ladies are half-Thais, lived and studied abroad.
By Cha, Trang (1st December 2017)
You know Mark after being in Thailand for over 8 years, I will tell you what I think. You cannot change the system. Do not even try. It will win you no friends and you will lose your job. Accept it for what it is, make it fun and leave the rest to someone else. There is cheating and it is different from Western systems but they say that Finland has the best education system in the world. Is the US perfect? In an inner city school in New York do you get the respect you deserve or think you deserve? It all depends where you teach. Some schools do have air conditioning and in my school I have my own separate subject which gets reported on the report card with no or little interference from anyone.
After year in the Government schools I moved out of it due to low pay, rampant corruption by agencies, and been told what to do and where. But I did get some satisfaction out of it and found there to real appreciation by the Thai students. They would smile and greet me in the corridors and I got along well with them. Now it appears all you need is a 3 week TEFL course to get you going and you are off into the wonderful world of TEFL. After 6 months in some grimy school you wonder why you came. But it is up to you. I did not do it for anyone else but the kids – not the administrators or anyone else, and I got a sense of reward that way.
You will not change much. In the private schools the same problems are there – kids not listening, rampant cheating. We recently had our exams and most “helped each other”. When you think of it that way it does not seem so bad. Thai education is not really improving because they got rid of the real experience and replaced it with young good-looking foreigners who do not know how to teach and have no experience. That is something they have to fix. You would be better off getting back into IT because this does not really have any good long-term prospects and sounds like you are going to go mad. Little will change until they want it to. Or maybe you should be teaching IT to Thai kids. Over and out.
By Jonny Jon, Bangkok (1st December 2017)