A tough lesson for Thailand’s English teachers

While hundreds of thousands of foreigners – some stranded tourists and others who are working without visas – hold their breath as they wait for the next amnesty from the Thai government or on the opening of borders, another issue has surfaced. 

On September 23, Thailand was jolted by the news that teachers at the Sarasas Witaed Ratchaphruek School in Nonthaburi had been caught on camera “harshly pulling and pushing” kindergarten children.

This prompted officials to launch an investigation into all 42 Sarasas private schools across Thailand to check on the allegedly harsh discipline and whether foreign teachers were working legally. 

Thanks to social media, the incident at the school was highlighted because it involved a foreign teacher, a Filipino. The teacher denied the allegations.

He was charged with teaching without a work permit, an offense under Section 51 of the Aliens Act of Thailand, which is punishable either with imprisonment, fines or deportation. 

The Filipino teacher’s problems also exposed the issues hounding thousands of workers who have yet to be issued with visas or who have expired documents. They cannot renew because of immigration problems and the closure of borders.

Before the pandemic, foreigners seeking work in Thailand had to have a visa issued either in their home countries or by Thai embassies in neighboring countries.

The visa amnesty ended on September 26. It is estimated that there are about 150,000 foreigners in Thailand who are not able to leave because of the cancellation of flights to their home countries. Another round of amnesties was given until October 31.

On the popular Facebook page of Richard Barrow in Thailand, a British blogger and teacher with more than 100,000 followers, the news attracted racist remarks from other nationalities. These included questioning the qualifications of Filipino teachers, their “weird accents” and more.

This was not the first time a foreigner and a Thai school have become involved in an untoward incident. Do an Internet search for foreign teachers in Thailand and the chances are you will read about pedophiles, criminals, scammers and people who are wanted in their home countries being caught teaching in schools around the country.

Thailand’s demand for English teachers is like a pie. Each English-speaking person wants to have the largest slice because of a perceived lucrative salary. The country’s low English proficiency prompted the education sector to hire people – not necessarily teachers – to teach English and allied subjects at all levels.

In the past, anyone who could speak passable English and was “white” was hired to teach.

In 1999, when the Teachers’ Council of Thailand (Khurusapa) was formed, foreigners had to secure a teaching license, provided they qualified for the requirements. These requirements included not being younger than 20, possessing academic qualifications like a degree in education or its equivalent, having a teaching license from their country of origin or another country, having a graduate diploma in the teaching profession and, of course, no criminal record, as that might “bring dishonor upon the profession.”  

A foreigner could acquire a temporary teaching license for two years that could be renewed three times. To be able to obtain a five-year teaching license, a foreigner must have a degree in education or have a diploma in teaching. This license is renewable every five years.

In universities, foreign lecturers must hold a master’s degree or a doctorate. Publications in reputable academic journals are also required for the applicant.

In 2019, in a survey done by Education First (EF), the Philippines scored high with an English Proficiency Index at 60.14. It ranked No 20 out of 100 countries.

English is used in the official correspondence in the Philippine government and the academe. That is not surprising, because the country was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946. This English-language skill made Filipinos in demand abroad. To date, about 10 million Filipinos are working overseas in various professions.

According to a 2017 report by the Department of Employment of Thailand, 14,830 Filipinos were working in Thailand, doing jobs in teaching, management, engineering, architecture, hospitality and business. The Philippine Embassy estimated there were 17,921 Filipinos in Thailand. That means at least 4,000 were working in irregular sectors.

Filipinos in Thailand have long been subjected to discrimination when it comes to teaching English. On a popular website recruiting teachers – – there were advertisements specifically mentioning “non-NES” need not apply, which meant no Filipinos, please.

But the trend has been turning against both sides – the Filipinos and other nationalities sharing the English teaching pie. The Khurusapa’s requirements for teaching are getting stricter by the day. Some schools may want to hire “whites,” but they must possess the necessary qualifications to obtain a teaching license.

According to Jaycee Dilan, the teachers’ coordinator of the Chulalongkorn University Nonthaburi Project, it only hires teachers with an education degree. The Nonthaburi Project provides teachers to 88 schools in Nonthaburi province. At present, it has 163 Filipinos, 92 Chinese and an American.

Saint Robert’s Global Education, a Bangkok-based Filipino-owned company recognized by Thailand’s Office of Civil Service Commission, provides transnational education to foreign workers who do not have degrees in education, master’s and doctoral degrees or diplomas in teaching.

Today, it has about 700 students of various nationalities taking online classes provided by the Ifugao State University (IFSU) and Far Eastern University-Roosevelt (FEU) in the Philippines. 

Instead of pitting one against the other, foreign English teachers should recognize their contributions to the betterment of their host country’s educational system – they are all here because their home countries could not provide them with stable jobs, let alone decent salaries. 

About the writer

Writer Eunice Barbara C Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. She is also a lecturer at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima. Her articles have appeared on Asian Correspondent, America Media, and The Nation. She is also a contributor to the Bangkok Post and Thai Enquirer and a stringer to’s US Bureau. She won a Plaridel Award from the Philippine American Press Club. Novio is also writing for PinoyThaiyo.

This article was originally published on Asia Times