Thai students came almost bottom of the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Advancement) test scores for science, maths and reading, scoring even lower than in 2015.
The poor performance highlights failures in implementation and policy that the Education Ministry and schools continue to pursue.
Exacerbating this situation but going mostly unreported is the routine discrimination in Thai schools against foreign teachers, especially in English departments. Most of us are professional career educators, settled in Thai communities among friends and/or family, and trying hard to make a positive contribution to our students’ development. Yet the discriminatory polices in place at many schools make it seem like we are not really welcome.
Foreign teachers are, for example, only offered one-year non-renewable contracts. In spite of our experience and qualifications, we still are not guaranteed any job security, such as Thai teachers enjoy. Whether our contracts are renewed for another year is often based not on our professionalism and positive contributions to the school’s progress, but on whether you are liked by the students and admin.
Foreign teachers are NOT eligible for unemployment benefits. Neither is the Labour Department an option for severance compensation. Foreign teachers cannot apply for the same low-interest government loans that Thai teachers benefit from.
We work just as hard as Thai teachers but do not enjoy the same benefits. And to add insult to injury, on some English programmes the students evaluate the foreign teachers, effectively deciding whether or not their contract is extended. On the other hand, foreign teachers are TOLD to pass failing students. Strange logic.
Second, many Thai school administrators treat the contract as a document they can amend depending on their mood that day.
My partner and teacher colleagues, for example, have a contract until July 2018 but the school admin has told the entire 13-strong foreign teacher staff that their contracts will be terminated in February without renewal. The visas that the teachers paid for will also be terminated and the contract violated. Most of the foreign staff have taught at that school for several years. No explanation was given. Foreign teachers are even forced to pay for school expenses like electricity, food and parking – which are officially covered by a government budget. Why are we being extorted? When the issue was raised in a meeting, the admin replied it was not up for discussion and subsequently informed the foreign teachers that no contracts will be renewed.
If Thai schools and the Education Ministry want to retain career professional educators to help improve the education system, then they should offer us three- or five-year contracts with additional benefits. Quid pro quo.
We are tired of being used as scapegoats for the self-induced academic
failure that the Thai education system continues to foster.