A few days ago we reported that Thailand is now tightening up the restrictions on expat teachers. Again. This time the regulations have been worded in such a way that only people with a Degree in Education will be able to apply in most cases. (Some may be able to get a “waiver” for up to 2 contracts if their degree is in another subject). This development has been greeted enthusiastically from some quarters, with some expat teachers saying that it was high time that the boozers and girlie-bar (flies) were shown the door. But the picture is far more complicated than that. In reality, there is far more wrong with Thai government schools than just the quality of expat they attract. This post aims to focus on two of the main problems with Thai schools. This will lead us to consider whether fully qualified Native Speaker teachers would really want to work in Thai schools full of overcrowded classrooms and the cruel use of corporal punishment.
Hitting Kids in Thai Schools
Before we get to the cane, we should point out one major difference between the teaching scene in Thailand and Indonesia. In Thailand government schools are free to hire Native Speaker teachers as part of their staff. The usual intake period is in April. At this time of year eager TEFLers hit the ground with their CVs and hope to get a position at their favored school. Bangkok, places near the beach and Chiang Mai are popular; the arid Northeast (known as Isaan) is far less popular and these remote country towns struggle to attract expats. The average wage is 30,000 baht (slightly less than $1000 a month). However, having found a job, many of these people will discover that Thai schools are not the “Land of Smiles” paradise they had hoped for. One of the main concerns has been corporal punishment in schools.
One teacher-traveller called Bradley Zazzara has written about his experiences in a Thai school. Here is what he says:
The last 10 minutes are sectioned off for daily punishment and disciplinary actions. A group of students get pulled to the side and are told to line up. One by one they must turn around while a teacher takes a cane, varying in size, and strikes them. The reasons vary from having too long of hair, to being late to class. Often they are uniform violations. Some kids will take the hit and bow in respect to the teacher, taking it like a “man”, if you will. Others cry. Others scream. Others run away and laugh it off with their friends.
At first I was in shock. Maybe I shouldn’t have been but I was not expecting to see that. To hear the young girls screaming in fear and pain was not pleasant.
This is not an unusual situation. I have spoken to several teachers with experience of Thai schools. All of them reported that public canings for minor rule violations is the norm in Thai schools. This kind of corporal punishment is actually 100% illegal under Thai law, but then again so is prostitution. The laws against corporal punishment are almost universally ignored and the cruel, sadistic mistreatment of children in Thai schools is a common complaint from expat teachers. The other huge complaint is overcrowded classrooms.
Quality Education in Thailand: 55 Kids to a Class
I have spoken to a number of teachers who worked with classes of up to 60 students per class. Most of them reported it as a frustrating experience. More than one teacher has described it as the worst gig they have had in a long TEFL career and said they would never consider it again. Classes are so large that Thai teachers use microphones. The typical Thai class consists of a teacher sitting at a microphone and mumbling on in a monotonous voice. Active or student-centred learning is almost unheard of. Corporal punishment is used to main control over these enormous classes. Not surprisingly, educational outcomes have been very poor in Thai schools, and there is a widespread acknowledgement that schools are poor. Typically, the response has been “blame the foreigner”, hence the new laws regarding expat teachers. The expat teacher view is markedly different, however. Here is what expat teacher Cassandra James has to say:
To a western teacher coming from a background where 20-25 students is the norm, 35 students seems too many. Imagine what it’s like then trying to teach 55-60 children all in one classroom, and maintain discipline while you do. Impossible hardly covers it.
Corporal punishment. Outdated teaching models. Horribly overcrowded classrooms. It hardly sounds like a dream job, does it? In the final part of our look at Thailand we will ask whether this is really likely to be an attractive job for well-qualified Western teachers.