Thailand, Indonesia and the Writing on the TEFL Wall

In recent days we have shown that since 2009-2010 both Thailand and Indonesia have been on similar trajectories in terms of TEFL teachers. Formerly free-wheeling TEFL industries that employed people without anything more than a TEFL certificate (often fake) have now markedly tightened up. Indonesia now requires teachers to have a Degree in English (whatever that means) and Thailand, as of 2014, is now requiring people to have 24 units of Education subjects in their degree.The days when they legally employed any old White face as a teacher and just required them to “have a yarn” are receding into the past. Yes, some teachers manage to work illegally (especially in Indonesia) but they do it at their own risk, and the amount of time they spend in the country is surely going to be less on average. There are also statistics indicating the number of expat teachers in these countries has fallen sharply from just a few years ago.

ASEAN 2015

One of the impetuses behind the changes has surely been the massive illegality and fraud which marred the TEFL industry in the good /bad old days (depending on your viewpoint). Ibu Mariam, the disgraced former director of TBI, once told a story that several Russian prostitutes had been caught in Medan, Sumatra working on teacher visas. When the system was being abused to that extent, a crackdown was surely due to come. Similarly, Thailand was once infamous for employing “Pattaya” English teachers who did countless visa runs to Cambodia and Laos and stayed on endlessly in beach resorts working as TEFL teachers on tourist visas. Yet as important as illegal practices were in bringing on a crackdown, another factor was the proposed ASEAN common market for 2015.

In 2015 ASEAN members have agreed to freedom of movement between countries for workers. This change has been looming in the minds of ASEAN -member governments for several years now and forms part of the background of tightening regulations on other foreign workers. It has been remarked in several forums that Indonesian local governments are scared that a flood of hardworking Filipinos will arrive in their country and take jobs off locals. In Thailand and Cambodia, there are already hundreds of Filipino English teachers who are working in jobs formerly done by Thais, Khmers and “Native Speaker” teachers. It is increasingly common to see job ads in Thailand which offer TEFL jobs, paying 30,000 baht for Native Speakers and 15,000 – 20,000 baht for Filipinos. It is hardly surprising that just as a wave of Filipino teachers are expected, xenophobic local officials are seeking to send some of these pesky Native Speakers home.

  TBI and the Writing on the Wall

This blog has recently branched out to address broader issues of interest to the TEFL community, especially in Indonesia, but our focus remains on The British Institute- a slow-motion train wreck of a language school. How does all this relate to TBI?

As recently as three years ago, it was a significant player in the Indonesian TEFL industry, but it has now been eclipsed at the top end by Wall Street, a new arrival who have steam-rolled them at the top end of the market. In 2014 Wall Street Indonesia is due to move into a high-profile premises in Bandung- TBI’s home town- and based on projected earnings, it will soon become market leader in TBI’s last real stronghold. A proliferation of smaller operators are also steadily nibbling away at their market share. How did things go so wrong?

Apart from the sociopathic back-stabbing, the visa scams, the sexual harassment and even porn-in-school scandals, TBI badly misread the changing socio-political climate. If TBI had looked around Asia, from Korea to Thailand, they would have seen that tighter regulation of the TEFL industry was on its way. Whereas Wall Street invested a lot of time and money into recruiting teachers who met the stringent new conditions and EF cultivated “contacts” in the government who could get teachers through without the right degrees, TBI started trying to con teachers that it was legal for them to work on VKU visas- business consultant visas, despite having had a high-profile deportation scandal in 2007 at TBI Bogor which involved just these visas. They decided to ignore the signs of change and try and con the Indonesian government and lie to expat teachers. It was a PR nightmare in the making, concocted by Aussie con-man, Luke Preece.

 In their arrogance and conceit, they damaged their reputation permanently. They are now a 3rd-rate player who can’t get teachers with the right degrees (they all go to Wall Street). They are left trying to offload unqualified TEFL teachers on unsuspecting students who haven’t cottoned on yet. 4 years into the new regulations and their recruitment crisis is unresolved. It could only have happened to a school stupid enough to believe that they could flout the law forever without facing any consequences. Their hubris has been of mythical proportions.

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