Teachers as Resource for Reform
This article explores how the motivate teacher nationally. Thai teachers and native-English speaking teachers can easily fall into a routine, thus halting their development and progression as an educator. How can they be inspired to keep learning and improving in the classroom? This article explores Thailand’s National Education Plan and what it has in store for the country’s teachers.
One common adage about teaching is that “teachers will teach the way that they have been taught”. In the past, Thai teaching methods have emphasized rote learning based on lecture, test-taking, and memorization. Therefore, how can Thai teachers make the transition toward pedagogy that they have never experienced before?
The pattern of education has already been set for most teachers, and naturally there is resistance to modern teacher-training techniques. Many teachers feel they acquired all the skills they need while still studying in school and resent any bureaucratic additions to their workload after graduation. Furthermore, the small Thai teaching salaries leads to low morale, so many instructors feel less incentive to develop professionally or conduct public research. In fact, teachers often spend extra energy on a second job or private lessons. They gradually lose the desire or will to try new things. Why not just deliver a linear lecture from a standard textbook? It saves time on lesson planning. Today page 16, tomorrow page 17, and so forth.
Luckily, there are two sides to this coin. Although it would surprise some native-English speaking teachers, there is a large and significant number of progressive reformists in Thailand’s educational system. They have made great strides in scholastic change. Many of these goals and policies have been set up by the 8th National Education Development Plan. The recent trend is to advocate pro-active planning, which cooperates with outside sectors of the community. The new student-centered classrooms are expected to experiment with hands on learning that transfers more responsibility onto the student. Young learners are supposed to get actively involved with group activities, as well as share reflective sessions.
Education is to take an interdisciplinary approach with an eye on global preparation. Moreover, in 1996, the Education Loan Fund was established to make money available for students to afford university tuition. Scholarships were given to teacher training colleges to train competent teachers. Finally, there was a push to decentralization education so that regional schools played a greater role in decision making. Many of these reforms have had their share of failures and controversies, but Thailand did demonstrate a sincere effort to implement new policies. It deserves credit for making progress.
According to the 8th National Education Development Plan, teachers were encouraged to strive for life long development. Teachers were expected to practice ongoing inductive thinking and apply that leaning to the classroom. The main idea was that teachers are learners as well as the students. Therefore, teachers shouldn’t just lecture about what they know, because the classroom itself was the learning environment for all parties involved. Teachers need to collect data, establish relationships, create alternatives, and retest them until the method worked. They had to actively experiment within a student-centered environment. University teachers were invited to publish and create an academic exchange with like-minded peers.
Of course, many Thai teachers just fell back to their usual routine, but others started to catch on. Nevertheless, the question remained: how can Thai teachers make the transition toward pedagogy that they have never experienced before?
To a degree, this is one reason why native-English speakers have been allowed into this country to teach. We are resources for the reform and understanding of English teaching. We are supposed to expose students and Thai colleagues to new student-centered methods already applied in the west. However, this isn’t always happening in practice. Many native-English speakers have adopted rote learning strategies in their classroom as well, simply because it is easier. Some EFL teachers feel they learned everything they needed to know while studying back in their homeland and resent any requirement not already stipulated in our contract.
The standard government teaching salary for foreigners, being far below the market price of other Asian countries, doesn’t create much incentive to develop professionally or to publish public research. Many native-English speaking teachers are too busy with private lessons and other money-making side projects. And to be quite frank, many foreigners teach straight out of textbooks, too, because it requires as little effort as possible.
There is an overlying dilemma: Why should Thai schools invest in teacher who may be fly-by-night or depart after only one year? Why should long-term foreign teacher put extra effort into being professional and progressive when it might never change their salary or make them more secure occupationally?
There is no clear answer. However, it is clear that reforms can be made in English programs that employ native-English speakers. There are many Thai educators who are very supportive of native-speaking English teachers. It turn, as guest in this country, we should at least try to understand the direction that Thailand’s education system is going. We can design our lessons better once we learn Thailand’s education goals, and the qualities stated for future reforms. In short, we can help show Thais the methodology that they need to experience. We can be the kind of teachers that they need us to be.
A good place to start is to review some of the transparent resources out there that help with reform and understanding. One of the best websites available about Thai education is produced by the Office of the National Education Commission (ONEC). This organization was established in 1959 to assist with policy planning at all basic levels. The website discusses government policies, educational law, and basic statistics. It provides many downloadable publications about education in Thailand (www.onec.go.th, or www.edthai.com for the English version).
A second website that can be beneficial for teachers is produced by the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT). This organization, also created in 1959, promotes local and international research; while providing the Thai government answers to technical, legal, and social issues. It showcases online some of the research being implemented in Thailand. The website also lists possible grants for foreigners who conduct research while teaching in Thailand (www.nrct.net/eng/).
There is also some useful information on the website for the Ministry of Education (MOE). For example, there are list of schools that may be advantageous for teachers seeking work in specific cities (www.moe.go.th/eng). Finally, for those who prefer to read information in book format, I recommend Education in Thailand: Policies and Practices in Schools by Somwung Pitiyanuwat and Siridej Sujiva. This book provides a comprehensive overview of Thai educational policies and how education has evolved over the years.
Enjoy the reading and the research!