Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Thai government schools

So you've decided that a holiday in Thailand was not enough. You like it so much you want to stay long term. You know people who work out here as English teachers, and they've told you it's easy. You've got your paperwork, you've got a lover waiting for you and you're all set to start work. What should you expect?

The first thing to remember is that many who say English teaching is easy are wrong. What they mean is, it's easy to get way with a lot. There are many "teachers" out here that I would not let near my son. Bear in mind that there's a difference between getting by and doing a job properly.

But of course a big part of your happiness and success will lie with your choice of employer and how they treat you. That in turn will depend on the type of institution that employs you. I've written before about the types of schools so I'll just re-cap here. Private schools are the educational equivalent of fast food chains. They have a high staff turn over, provide immediate - but often un-nutritious and unhelpful - gratification to the student and are easy to find.

International schools are different. I've never worked in one but I've given private tuition to many international students. The schools seem to be high on facilities, high on teacher discipline and meticulous on testing. However, they still contain some of the negative Thai educational traits which I will touch on later.

Government schools are a challenge. I worked in one for three years, three of the best years of my life yet the same three years that allowed me to witness shocking events. When I first entered the school, I had delusions. I believed that teachers would conduct themselves with the decorum their position afforded. I believed that teachers had students' needs at heart. I believed most teachers liked their job.

What I discovered was different.

Now, I about to say some very harsh comments about Thai government schools. I want to stress this is my own humble opinion based on experience. My harshness is based on dissapointment that students are not given the education that the wonderful young people of Thailand deserve. Of course
, not all teachers are like those I am about to describe. I've meet some teachers in government schools whom I greatly admire and aspire to copy , what's more there are many who enjoy foreign teachers with new methods and ideas and welcome us. Sadly, these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Most government English teachers cannot speak English. That is a fact. They are victims of a vicious cycle. They have been bought up to learn grammar over communication, and with an average age of about fifty they cannot change. So, fourteen year old students who cannot say "Hello, how are you?" will be passed a broadsheet newspaper and told to underline noun phrases (a group of words acting as a noun, e.g. The Bank of England) and transitive verbs (verbs that must take an object). Thus, students become proficient at grammar points and useless a holding a basic conversation.

Discipline is also rigorously enforced. In my old blog I told the story of teachers on "gate duty". 'Gate duty' is when teachers stand at the front of the school gates, ostensibly to welcome students. In reality, teachers will check each student to make sure his or her hair is not one centimetre over limit or their socks too dirty. I once saw a student get caned for having dirty socks. The girl was from a poor family - remember Thailand is still a developing country - and conducted herself politely as she apologised to the teacher. The teacher ignored the apology and hit her three times. After the student left the room, the teacher told her colleagues in Thai "I don't like her". She had used the dirty socks as an excuse to use violence on the student.

If that sounds shocking or at least very unprofessional to you, it was an everyday occurrence to me. The same teacher who hit this girl hated work, she would regularly arrive in class at least half way through her lessons and could not speak English. She would teach the entire lesson in Thai.

Once again, if that surprises you , you have never worked in a government school in Thailand.

The Thai smile is conspicuous by its absence in government schools. That's not to say you won't get smiles. Students will often flash a genuine smile at a teacher and that can be a great little lift. However, teachers often use a smile as camouflage. I've seen a teacher smile as she fails a student she doesn't like, or hits a pupil that arrived two minutes late. Many older teachers dislike their foreign counterparts. Old fashioned values rule in these institutions, including the idea that age begets rank. As most farang teachers are younger than their Thai colleagues, they are considered lower. A cynic like me would dare to suggest that older teachers sometimes feel threatened by our presence.

Administration in most of these places is non existent. I would often find out about meetings, holidays and cancellations from students.

Students don't like the system any more than we do, but they are powerless. Government schools are hellbent on enforcing rank and authority. Critical thinking or even questioning is unwelcome. Students have been punished heavily for asking the teacher a question the teacher couldn't answer.

So are these places a hell for foreign teachers? No.

One thing that makes these places worthwhile are the students. Government schools tend to offer very large classes with a great mix of personalities and types. Often the foreign teacher is a novelty for these students and they can make you feel like a celebrity, at least at first! Such large classes can be very challenging to bring under control, especially for inexperienced teachers. The belief that the foreign teacher is an hour of fun is - how can I put this? - not discouraged by some local teachers and this can make life difficult. Often a stern line of control is necessary at first. This can lead to some decent leaning and subsequently good rapport.

Anyone who knows me knows that I grew very close to my main class during my three years at government school. I'm still in touch with many of them now. Although it was difficult working with an antiquated and unwelcoming institution, the magic of seeing fifty smiling young faces each day, and the satisfaction of watching them grow in knowledge and confidence made it all worthwhile. Such experiences can be rarer at the other types of school, and I'm blessed to have received it.

It's no mistake that I missed bilingual schools out in this report. Watch this space.

Thanks to Sriwittayapaknam School for letting me use some of the pictures in this blog. They seem to be a big cut above many other government schools.


Anonymous said...

An interesting blog. You are welcome to use the picture from our school website, however, could you please do us a favor of linking back to our own blog beneath the picture?


Red and White said...

Yes, and thanks for your visit and your comments!

steppenwolf said...

Finally I found someone who is speaking "my language”. Thank you let me know that I am not alone in my thinking, observation about Thai educational system. I agree with each and every your word you made here...Many my friends, farang teachers, just told me:” Don’t try to teach them, just give some fun to them and all will be o.k. disagree and I see the problem is bigger and I see the kids here have no any benefit from teachers when giving them "FUN” to have. Not my style, not my understanding of duty in teaching, not my understanding of responsibility in doing this job and not my understanding of LIFE, at all and after all. So, the problem is REAL. Kids are in very bad position, thanks to way of teaching - Thai teachers (majority) but also to farang teachers. Same as you, I saw many of them teaching here but in their own countries, as personalities, I doubt they could be a night shift keeper in parking lot, even. But the problem about accepting farangs so easy to be a teachers, should to be observe in some higher place in Min of Education here IF anybody have any good will for this kids there...Way of their checking now is not useful at all. They don’t check criminal records, background of farangs, which would be normal...The problem is COMPLEX. Maybe some other time I will say more.
In the other hand -
I saw Thai teacher in elite gov. school,(whatever that mean here!?) - beating students.Same time she said some negative words,comments, about my way of teaching.I was in shock saw her to beat the students.By the way,that lady have a PRIVATE school,making a big money - as other Thai teachers told me and she is not interested to teach the students so much in gov school,because she is making them to be her PRIVATE students and parents DOING IT,exactly...So,the problem is really big.How someone who have a private school can teach i Gov school-have no idea...
I never touch my daughters, whatever bad or naughty the have done in life so I was shocked when I saw the teachers here used also sticks (bamboo) for to beat the students. Many ways of humiliating. Old style? I doubt. I saw also a young Thais, as a teachers, accepted that same "model" of teaching.
My way of teaching is based on IELTS method. Four modules: speaking, writing, reading, listening and I make my own lessons for students. About history, geography, social life in other countries and it's well accepted from students but it wasn't accepted from all Thai teachers. Some of them made me serious problems when I sent out a group of naughty students so I could work with others. Class had over 40 students. Right now, I made a model about too loud students. I sent them out for a while, same time taking 1 point from their general score. I let them to have a choice what they will do. To follow me or to go out and have 1 point less-for each and every time they are obstacle for other students to get new lesson. It works!
Also, I am giving them some extra points-for hard work so that is way they can make their general score to be better.
In this school, new one, also gov-my method is well accepted from Teacher's Council and Director but above all-from STUDENTS...I have noticed they are MORE interested about English then in time we started. Some of them improved their English but ALL OF THEM are not afraid to talk English now and I think that's the real benefit for them. To don't be shy to talk, even to make mistakes.
Don't mind me I tool a large space here now but YOUR FAULT...I like your blog, I like design very much...I hope you and good willing farangs, all of us, we will make a good things here for the kids because they DESERVE that. This nation deserved GOOD things to have and as much as I can do-I am going to help them about it.
English is not my mother language but I think you and all other can get my point here...Thanks for let me know I am not alone in my way of thinking and teaching here...
Milos from Yugoslavia, now Serbia...Regards...