English as she is Spoked

Children's Day at the Aksorn Thepprasit Road School in south Pattaya

Children’s Day at the Aksorn Thepprasit Road School in south Pattaya

Two of the great rackets which used to flourish in Thailand in the early years of the 21st century were schools offering courses in teaching English as a foreign language, and the selling of forged teaching certificates and degrees in areas frequented by backpackers and itinerant travellers.

People armed with forged degrees from the university of scam-artists operating along the backpackers Mecca, Khao San Road, and those who forked out large wads of cash to do crash courses with the Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) schools then proliferating around the Kingdom, made a mockery of a purblind education system.

All these people, male and female, smitten with the Land of Smiles and dreading having to return to their dead-end job in the canning factory in Bilge Pump, Nova Scotia or the building sites of Featherington Snitherballs, Yorkshire, believed because they could speak English all they needed do was pay for a 120-hour course to brush up on the finer points of grammar and they’d be snapped up in no time by the plethora of International Schools queuing to hand over salaries of 50,000+ baht a month.

The average Thai national qualified pre-school teacher, for example, armed with an Arts degree from a Thai university, would start of with a salary ranging from 10,000-12,000 baht a month, maybe a little more. As one Thai school teacher said to me, “I don’t understand why foreign people should get paid more money than a Thai.”  She could easily have added, ‘especially if they are not properly qualified.’

Foreigners are not expected to accept a Thai-style salary and yet message boards on the Internet were full of high dudgeon as English teachers, many of them ‘graduates’ from the local TEFL courses, would decry the appallingly meagre wages they were asked to accept for imparting their knowledge to the locals.

An article in The Nation newspaper reported on the ridiculous situation in Khao San Road (and no doubt elsewhere) whereby a forged university degree could be bought for as little as 5,000 baht. Many of those who purchased the forgeries were not native English speakers.

The http://www.ajarn.com website offers information and feedback about the foreign teaching experience in Thailand. One person sensibly noted many English instructors had never gone beyond high school in their own countries and yet there are many ‘…highly educated Thais merely earning [up to] to 15,000 Baht per month for working 10 to 12 hours a day…I wonder how these English instructors can expect to make double or triple the…salaries of the educated and experienced Thais…’

The TEFL course graduates, told by some operators they can expect starting salaries of around 30,000 baht per month, present themselves at a school, are instead offered a meagre 20,000 baht, and complain about the poor pay.

There is also the issue of gender politics. A female respondent wrote: ‘Having lived and worked in Thailand for almost three years for lousy pay, and having now left to work in a country where the pay is much better, I have come to some conclusions about why Thailand can get away with paying such bad wages to teachers. I think it’s because of the dearth of sleazy, flea-bag western men who are willing to put with the wages because they are not qualified…’

This person purports to be a qualified teacher yet misuses the word ‘dearth’. The dictionary defines ‘dearth’ thus: ‘a scarce supply; a lack.’ Therefore, her tirade actually complains about the lack of ‘sleazy, flea-bag western men…’ Maybe it’s lucky for the Thais she went elsewhere to ply her trade.

Another female unleashed a torrent of venom, stating she would refuse an ‘insulting 220-baht per hour…but some unshaven, uncouth sex tourist with a degree from the university of koh sarn [sic] road will…get there before me…’

She claimed she couldn’t get into the lucrative adult or corporate market because ‘I’m too young, too pretty…I am even considering dodgy jobs for a bit…cos it’s better paid and I can still justify it…the situation will never change so long as there are farang…desperate to stay here, doing anything to stay here…’ To me she seemed just as desperate as those she sought to deride.

Reputable overseas TEFL establishments do not just accept anyone into their classes. Applicants must pass a written evaluation test first before they are permitted to hand over a wad of cash and begin to learn how to teach. The written test is designed to weed out those who do not have the ability to become English teachers.

Yet in Thailand it seems as though all one has to do is have enough money to pay for the course, make certain to attend the lessons, receive a certificate, and look for employment. No wonder so many Thais have a poor opinion of English teachers.

It appears many of these pseudo-teachers have an over-inflated sense of self worth. As a Developing nation the cost of living and concomitantly, wages, are far cheaper than in the West. For a fully qualified teacher to leave his or her homeland to teach in Thailand and expect to receive the sort of salary commensurate with the wage scale they left behind is flying in the face of logic.

It’s a totally different matter if they have been headhunted by a school or learning institution in Thailand. Then, to coin a phrase, the chalk is on the other blackboard, and the recruiter must offer sufficient incentives to entice a signature on a contract.

The bottom line is English teachers, genuinely qualified or otherwise, are not compelled to remain in Thailand. They can return to their homeland at any time or travel elsewhere in search of gainful teaching employment. That’s a choice not available to the vast majority of educated Thais.

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