Tim Cornwall

Insights into the 20-hour Thai Culture and Ethics course

What's this controversial course about and why is it needed?

The educators and administrators at Thailand Educators Network's Wednesday, 8 September meeting were taken on an informative journey into the history and present state of the Thai Culture and Ethics course by Dr Nikolaus Mische responsible for providing one of the more professional options in Thailand.

Why is the course needed?

For a number of years, reports became increasingly prevalent concerning non-Thais employed as teachers in Thai government schools breaking rules of etiquette, demonstrating poor behaviour, lacking in professionalism and creating highly embarrassing situations for Thai schools, their teachers, students and administrators.

Placing immense pressure on the MoE to address the situation quickly and thoroughly, they replied with Clause 5 Section 2 of BE 2547 Teacher Council regulation stating that any non-Thai seeking to obtain a Thai teaching license is required to pass an examination and assessment procedure set by the Thai Teacher Council.

The now ‘famous' 20-hour Thai Language, Culture and Professional Ethics course was arranged to fulfil this requirement.

Reactions by teachers

While there have been numerous complaints from non-Thai teachers in Thailand, Thai schools continue to be plagued by many unresolved issues with non-Thais hired as teachers.

However, concerns about the course continue to surface, perhaps recycled, about the fact that an immense amount of money has been generated by organizations teaching the course to hundreds of participants at a time.

However, a closer examination of the objectives behind the course and its mandated content, if conducted properly, would appear to offer non-Thai teachers a solid, albeit short introduction to important aspects of Thai culture in which they are or will soon be teaching.

Course objectives

The objective of the course is to train non-Thais in various aspects of Thai society and instructional ethics to be better equipped with the knowledge and experience needed to work effectively in Thailand.

The mandated syllabus structure includes Thai Society (four hours), Thai Language and Culture (six hours), Thai Manners (two hours), Thai Arts and Music (two hours) and finally, to round out the 20 hours, Professional Ethics (six hours).

Mandated content

Although, many stories still circulate about teachers spending 20 hours learning Thai dancing, the proposed content includes some interesting topics I would want a teacher to know about my culture (Canadian) before they started to teach young, impressionable minds.

A more in-depth overview of the five modules clearly identifies areas that, to varying degrees, should be beneficial to any one teaching in Thailand.

Thai Society includes the state of Thai society in the past and at present including social structures, way of life and Thai wisdom.

Thai Language and Culture, consists of Thai language needed in daily life along with beliefs, values and characteristics of Thai people, dress codes for various occasions, the food and Buddhist life styles.

Thai manners, perhaps the most important if taught correctly, involves standing postures for formal and informal occasions, walking, sitting and how to rise from a seated position, how to Wai to individuals of different social strata, and encountering, receiving from and handing articles to higher-ranking individuals.

Thai Arts and Music examines Thai art, values and beauty, along with the uniqueness of Thai art in each region, characteristics and features of Thai musical instruments, Thai dramatic arts, literature, sports and games.

Professional Ethics places its central focus on The Association and Educational Personnel Act, which includes the significance of professional ethics, personal behaviour along with ethical standards towards service recipients and colleagues and social ethics.

And in October...

► Basic First Aid in the Classroom
Thailand Educators Network
Chayada Klinpongsa
Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital
Tuesday, 12 October - 18.00-20.30
Roadhouse Barbecue, Surawong/Rama IV

► Knowing basic first aid is extremely important for anybody, especially for teachers. Knowing what to do if a child suddenly vomits, passes out or goes into an epileptic fit are just a few of the different scenarios we need to expect and should be ready for at all times.

During her talk, Khun Chayada, former nurse and International Affairs Coordinator with Samitivej Hospital will

1. offer some basic tips about first aid teachers should know,
2. introduce the various first-aid courses her hospital can provide to groups of teachers and students and
3. discuss her role at the hospital in helping Thai and non-Thai visitors feel more comfortable when undergoing medical tests, ill or injured

An interesting and informative evening, Thailand Educators Network's Tuesday, 12 October meeting will introduce teachers and guests to the world of first aid training and practice in Thailand and one of the leading hospitals, Samitivej, and its efforts to provide first-class, international medical treatment.

Meeting Details

TEN events start at 6.00 pm; mini-lecture at 6.40 pm
Non-member - THB 380, Members - THB 280, Includes one drink and snacks
TEN Meets at the Roadhouse Barbecue, Surawong at Rama IV

For more information visit the website or send an e-mail:
Tim Cornwall, PhD, DTM: 081 834 8982


If you hire a falang, don't expect him to act Thai. If they wanted same, same they should just hire another Thai teacher.What they really want is a Thai teacher that is a native English speaker. Good luck with that.

By Ron Miller, UbonRatchathani (25th October 2010)

Be a cold day in hell after 11 years in Thailand before I pay this tea money scam. Thai culture my a**.

By Seven, Bangkok (20th October 2010)

I've thought since the beginning that this course is potentially a good idea - I've witnessed first-hand many Western teachers making cultural faux-pas and inadvertantly creating awkward situations.

BUT... why are we allowed to work legally for 2 full years before this course becomes mandatory? If it's to be any use at all, it should be compulsory before a foreigner is even given a job. (Of course, who funds it is then another issue...)

Equally, why is someone like myself, who has been in Thailand for 14 years and speaks fluent Thai, still required to study the course? As I said, I'm not against it - I'm just against the pointless way it's being used.

By Lucie, Ubon Ratchatani (13th October 2010)

Amusing account of one teacher's time on "the course" is at this link--
Speaks for itself.....

By pauleddy, bangkok (8th October 2010)

Jimmy, you are promoting TEFL courses. This isn't the place for that. The Thai government is obviously aware they aren't important therefore don't require them. In addition, Work Permits are being renewed all the time without the "culture" course despite a few claims otherwise such as yours. If enough foreigners refuse to pay and/or waste a weekend it will go away. No teachers equals no funding/income. School Directors prefer having teachers and income to enriching course (both TEFL and Culture) operators. The idea is great, reads like a thesis on how to improve Thai education. In reality and on the school grounds, impossible as long as they continue to keep the wages on a third world standard. Why would I/we waste more than we can save in a year on a TEFL and Culture course?

By BruceMangosteen, Sout East Thailand (5th October 2010)

Eric, I agree that it's a sham, but it's not an option. All foreign teachers working in government or international schools must take this course or they will not get their WP renewed. This applies to short term TEFL teachers as well as professional teachers who have been here for years!

By Jimmy, Bangkok (4th October 2010)

Funny. Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Maylasia, China, Japan, Korea, and Russia cultures are all different. Yet, they don't require a culture course.

By charlie, Thailand (4th October 2010)

An ex-colleague told me many tales of woe re his time on the 20 hour culture course. Initially, he was given the wrong location by his Thai co-ordinator. He waited 90 minutes in the heat until he was able to make some kind of tenuous link via the mobile of the wife of another course member in order to get a taxi 10km to the correct location.

There was, indeed, a demonstration of Thai dancing which went on for two hours (yawn!) In addition, there was a demonstration of Thai cookery, with the results being sampled. Great to have free pork skin bits (etc.) but not his idea of a worthwhile weekend.

I think that the cost was something like 12,000b each person. This was paid by the school, but (of course, TIT )the course had been set up so that someone distantly involved with the school could cream off a fat pile. Connections.

Yes, there was a one-hour introduction to basic Thai (talking to taxi-drivers). I once had a one-hour lesson in basic Swedish. Without follow-up, reinforcement, practice etc. all pointless.

The colleague was quite pleased to escape class on Friday, but he had to give up his weekend (including grading, plus shopping and housework) for two more days of this drivel.

Wake up! This is another scheme drawn up by Thai 'educators' as a scam. If you are qualified,experienced, polite and well-educated, you will make few mistakes (and will quickly learn from those you do make). If you are a drunken bum with a Kaosan Rd CELTA, you will soon show yourself as such.

All another waste of time in Disneyland.

By pauleddy, Bangkok (3rd October 2010)

Although I see the Thai culture course as essential for foreign teachers (most new arrivals are extremely ignorant) why does the MoE still not recognise the value of a good TEFL course?

Knowing about Thai culture and etiquette is one thing, but knowing a thing or two about lesson planning, classroom management, establishing rapport, classroom discipline, correction techniques, evaluation & testing and so on... might also come in handy! The focus seems to be on teachers conforming to the Thai way of doing things, and little about actually teaching the students how to speak English!

For example under the new rules, anyone with a BA degree in engineering, and this new TCT course under their belt, can legally teach English in Thailand, and be totally clueless about lesson planning etc. Virtually all employers demand to see a TEFL, so why not the MoE?

By Jimmy, Bangkok (3rd October 2010)

Haven't done it, and haven't been asked to do it. I did a Thai culture course at university anyway so I don't see why that would not qualify.

By Dave, BKK (2nd October 2010)

What a joke.
If a member of staff acts inappropriately they simply need to be told that they've done so. If they repeat the action, the school ought to follow a course of action that is documented. Should the action in question happen again, well then, it's time for termination. Problem solved. I've seen it work for Thai and foreign staff at the school I used to work at; unfortunately no one can profit from this simple solution.

The course is a money-making scam, plain and simple. If it weren't, why wouldn't the TCT allow long-term expats to simply take a test that assesses their knowledge of Thai culture? Many of us do not need such a course. We act professionally and are fully aware of the culture in which we've chosen live. All foreigners supporting this course are taking participants for a ride. They ought to be ashamed. If anything, the course should be used for those who've proven themselves in need of it.

By Eric Haeg, Phuket (2nd October 2010)

I spoke to one teacher recently who told me that taking the course had really helped him connect with his students. He now dances into the classroom giving it all the long fingers and everything and his class are all wetting themselves. Three cheers for the culture course!

By philip, (2nd October 2010)

You fail to mention that in many if not all schools outside Bangkok(maybe even there) Thai teachers continue to whip/cane students with administration of the schools condoning it. This sometimes goes on in public view in instances of the student being tardy/late. It can also occur in a shared office with other teachers.

How can a "westerner" take a culture course on "manners" such has you outline briefly seriously when he/she is repulsed by this child abuse and it isn't mentioned in the course?

Thank you for an even and balanced approach and article, however, I fail to see how it's going to create good behavior from the foreigners who are habitually late and not prepared for class. There is a lack of management when this occurs, not a lack of understanding how to be a good employee.

By Bruce Mangosteen, South East Thailand (2nd October 2010)

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