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Thailand looks for locals

Matt Salusbury describes a Thai government initiative to reduce the country’s reliance on overseas English language teachers.

A total of 500 Thai English teachers, all of whom will ‘have to be very good in English’, are to be selected by the ministry of education to undergo six weeks of intensive training in new methodology and teaching techniques and how to teach both written and spoken English. The aim of this upskilling initiative is to reduce Thai state schools’ reliance on ‘expensive’ foreign English teachers, with ‘almost all schools … hiring foreign teachers for evening classes’, in the words of deputy education minister Teerakiat Charoensethasilpa at the launch of the project in November.

The intensive training programme for Thailand’s state EFL teachers, to start in April, is supported by the British embassy and the British Council Thailand (which is providing English specialists), reports the Bangkok Post. The Nation newspaper reported Michael David Selby, adviser to the deputy minister, as saying that the British Council is supplying fifty mentors and trainers for the programme and that, following these courses, the teachers are to be ‘studied and assessed’ during the 2016 school year to determine whether their teaching is any better than their peers who have not undergone training.

Deputy education minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin said that teachers have already been selected for training, based on CEFR English tests administered by the Office of Basic Education Commission. The announcement came after its survey of 43,000 Thai English teachers found that very few achieved a level close to native-speaker English (C2 on the CEFR) – just six teachers according to the Post. Some 900 teachers scored a B2 or C1.

The fifty top-scoring teachers who have been through this upskilling will be expected to cascade their training down to ‘the next generation of teachers’, according to The Nation. Phuket News added that the trainees must become ‘role models and trainers for other English teachers in their schools or schools near their area’.

Thailand ‘cannot rely on foreign teachers to improve our English learning forever’, according to Teerakiat, who told the Post that many schools currently spend millions of bhat every year hiring foreign English teachers, mostly expatriate native speakers. This includes ‘even cash-strapped schools that can’t afford to hire native speakers’ who still hire what he described as ‘non-native speakers like Pakistanis or Filipinos’ (although we should point out that English is an official language and a medium of education in both countries, and is spoken at home by a minority of families there). It is hoped that if Thai students have among their compatriots ‘good examples to follow, they will have a positive attitude towards learning English’, said the minister, who pledged that ultimately Thailand will ‘use foreign English teachers only as much as necessary’.

A standardised English test for Thai students and teachers is also in development, with assistance from the British embassy, the British Council and Cambridge English Assessment. The ministry of education expects to have concluded a partnership deal with leading Thai media conglomerates GMM Grammy and Poly Plus Entertainment to make use of popstars who speak fluent English to work to promote this learning among young Thais.

The chief of the Crime Suppression Division of Thailand’s national police force warned the nation’s English language schools of another hazard of hiring expatriate native speaker English teachers back in November 2014.

Police colonel Thiradet Thamsuthi alerted school principals, students and parents to the ‘perils’ of ‘hiring a native English tutor’ after the arrest of  US national and EFL teacher Thomas Andrew Erickson. Erickson, wanted in both Thailand and the US for alleged multiple rapes, had taught in several Thai schools and set up his own language school there. He was able to evade detection for so long by applying under false names using forged US and British passports, and by only holding down any teaching job for a short time (see the February 2015 Gazette).

And late last summer Minister Teerakiat urged Thailand’s school administrators to perform ‘vigilant’ background checks on all foreigners applying for work after the British embassy informed Thai authorities that some UK nationals with known criminal records for child abuse crimes had arrived in Thailand to work as teachers.

The British embassy then advised schools, which traditionally have responsibility for background checks but often lack the resources to do them, to check the backgrounds of British nationals on the UK police’s Acro website. Some Thai embassies overseas appear to have already tightened their requirements for background checks from applicants for work visas as a result of the tip-off (see September 2015 Gazette, p3).