Many foreigner teachers come to live and work in Thailand (or other foreign locations) primarily because of lifestyle; it would appear few educators go to work abroad in developing economies primarily for professional advancement and pay. Coming to Thailand for teachers usually involves tradeoffs. In order to enjoy the expatriate lifestyle and lower costs of living in this tropical land one normally expects lower pay and a different level of work-life than one would expect in a more developed economy.
Also, working in a foreign environment is quite different and often more difficult than living or visiting in a foreign land. The mai bpen rai attitude is appreciated in neighbors and friends, but can cause some friction when encountered in the workplace by individuals accustomed to different working styles and environments.
However many educational professionals in Thailand have chosen to give up some income, security and opportunity for professional advancement to live in such a charming country.
But what if one could have it both ways? Work in the West, live in the East. Get paid developed economy wages while spending on developing economy prices. Is this possible?
"Such is the changing nature of work that human resource activity is becoming increasingly time independent and the place of work is no longer fixed. The transition to the mobile and time-impendent workplace has advanced rapidly" (Symons and Stenzel 2007).
Advances in information technology reduce the limitation of having to only work within a specific geographic location near one's residence for many occupations. I suspect most of us are familiar with "outsourcing" and the overused example of call-centers in India. Writers, accountants, software engineers, and may other occupations can work anywhere in the world where they have access to a good internet connection and still be in touch with the home "office."
Due to advances in technology, education is moving away from the centuries old model of a single teacher being physically in the same classroom as students. There are growing opportunities for teachers to work in cyberspace. Some work requires synchronous interactions while other work does not.
Although the concept of "online education" might seem radical, it is actually part of the long evolution of distance education. Distance education began with the invention of writing. Before there was written language, one could only learn from one's immediate surroundings and individuals in which one was in physical proximity to. With the invention of written language, our abilities to learn expanded to include gaining access to knowledge of people who were not in our physical proximity as well as removing restrictions of time. Many are still learning from Shakespeare even centuries after his death. And of course, the printing press greatly expanded the availability of distance education. However, there has always been a limitation with "book learning" and that is the lack of interactivity.
There has also been formal distance education for long periods of time. Correspondence courses have been around for decades, and I even earned a few college credits towards my undergraduate degree using these "old-fashioned" types of courses as I was studying in a remote location where not all courses needed to complete my degree were available locally. I can also remember seeing courses being televised in Chicago and Detroit early in the mornings and late at night back in the early 80s for working students studying out of their homes. While there was interactivity in these forms of distance education, the time involved severely limited the richness of the interactions between teacher and student.
However, the internet and now broadband and voice-over internet are making the distance learning experience much richer and interactive than ever before.
There are some opportunities for online teachers at the primary and secondary level, Home-schooling has been growing in popularity in the USA resulting in many online programs becoming available. Also, there are a multitude of online tutoring services available although I am not personally familiar with how these work.
However it would appear most opportunities come for teachers and professors in higher education. Online education is growing and is taking different forms and is used by a wide variety of educational institutions. We see some online schools where there is no real campus. We also see schools that offer both traditional and online programs. And we also see traditional schools use distance educational technology. For example, the prestigious University of California at Berkeley creates podcasts of all the lectures in many of its classes allowing students the option to attend class or listen to their lectures while away from campus.
The use of the internet in education is here to stay and it is likely to continue to grow. There are now opportunities for teachers in Thailand that were not available in the past.
This increased use of internet technology also allows teachers in Thailand and other locations to become students in order to upgrade their qualifications and advance their professional lives without quitting their jobs and returning home.
I realize there is debate about the "quality" and acceptance of online education, but research does show online students perform on par with students learning in more traditional environments. However, one should also acknowledge that in the higher levels of academia there continues to be resistance to acceptance of online education. Therefore if one's career dreams include becoming a professor at Harvard or Oxford having education from or experience in online educational may not be helpful.
I am currently teaching at three different online universities, two in the USA and one in Europe, and occasionally working at another located in Tokyo, In addition, I do dissertation advising online. I teach some ‘face to face" courses as well. I enjoy teaching online and I also enjoy teaching face to face. I also did parts of my own formal studies as an online student. From personal experience, I would not say online education is better or worse than more traditional styles of education, but I do know it is different. I also know that teaching online for a university in the USA or the UK pays better than teaching at a Thai university.
Of course, there is the problem of visas and such. "Permanent" residents can probably work something out if working online, but for many teaching online can supplement and not replace their current work.
I do realize that many teachers in Thailand do not currently have the qualifications to teach at a Western university, but for those thinking of making teaching a career while continuing to live in Thailand, online teaching could become part of one's long-term career plans.
Symons, J. and Stenzel, C. (2007). Virtually borderless: An examination of culture in virtual teaming, Journal of General Management, 32 (3), 1-17.
Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,
as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics.