What to Expect on the Thai Culture Course For Foreign English Teachers in Thailand

Is being forced to learn about Thai dancing going to help you be a better English teacher in Thailand? Of course it isn’t.

Three years ago, the Ministry of Education, decided in order to certify foreign teachers in Thailand and as a requirements for a teachers’ license, foreign teachers would have to take a course called the “Thai Culture Course”.

This course consists of two days training (usually on a weekend from 9am to 6pm both Saturday and Sunday) and at a cost of between 4,000 and 8,000 baht ($125-250). If you are one of those foreign teachers in Thailand who have to take this course, here’s what to expect for your time and money.

Who Pays For The Thai Culture Course? – Even though the Thai Culture Course is a mandatory course, at most schools the foreign teacher is expected to pay for the course and not the school. The foreign teacher is also expected to do this course on his own time (namely a weekend) and then arrive back at school bright and early on a Monday morning, having had no weekend and no relaxation time.

If you are lucky and are working at a good school, they may pay for some of the cost of the course. But, I’ve yet to hear of any school in Thailand paying the entire cost. When you factor in, an average teacher salary per month in Thailand is 35,000 baht ($1,100) being expected to fork over up to 8,000 baht ($250) for the Thai Culture Course is a bit much.

What Should You Expect on the Thai Culture Course? – Over the last two years, I’ve spoken to many foreign teachers in Thailand who have taken the Thai Culture Course and every single one of them has been in agreement – the Thai Culture Course is a complete waste of time – because here is what you learn (or don’t, as is actually more accurate):

Day One:

Introduction.… (often by someone who only speaks Thai, even though most foreign teachers don’t).

Thai Language Segment.….usually several hours simply repeating words and phrases that the teacher on the stage shouts into a microphone. This covers most of the Saturday morning.

Break for Lunch

Thai Food Segment.….depending on where you take your Thai Culture Course, this differs. Some teachers reported having a cooking class, some learned about ingredients in Thai food. One teacher sat through a segment where the ‘lecturer’ dragged in a traditional rice cart (oh yes, she did!) and proceeded to talk about “white people working in offices in Bangkok while black people (what Thais often call darker skinned Thais) grow rice for our country”.

How this segment is supposed to make anyone a better teacher in Thailand has yet to be explained or understood by any teacher I met.

Day Two

Thai Ethics.…..This segment of the Thai Culture Course is on Thai ethics which, as any foreign teacher will tell you, are sometimes not ‘ethical’ at all, at least by western standards. The segment lasts around two hours. But, the main surprise with this section is it’s where they break it to you the Thai Culture Course is not the only requirement for a teachers’ license and work permit in Thailand.

You will also have to take a year’s teacher training course (evenings and weekends) at the cost of around 60,000 baht ($1,900) and you have two years in which to complete the course. Or, you can take four exams covering the material, at a cost of 2,000 baht ($65) for each exam and, if you pass, you are exempt from taking the course. As less than 10% of teachers taking these exams are passing them, you can only imagine how many will have to take the 60,000 baht course.

Break for Lunch

Thai Dancing……All the foreign teachers I interviewed could say about this one was it requires putting on traditional Thai clothing and hopping around the room looking like “total prats”.

Can Foreign Teachers Be Exempt From The Thai Culture Course – No, every foreign teacher has to take it. Regardless that you might have lived in Thailand for 30 years, speak fluent Thai and have a Thai family, you will still be expected to take this course and waste your free time (and money!)

What’s Happening as a Result of the Thai Culture Course? – Taking into consideration the cost of this course plus the cost of the one-year teacher training course is two months salary for your average teacher in Thailand, is at any wonder many foreign teachers are now leaving Thailand to go teach in Korea, Japan and Malaysia?

Some teachers, the ones with Thai families and roots in Thailand, are stuck taking the course. Those of us who aren’t stuck here are leaving Thailand or choosing another line of work. For most of the foreign teachers, they will find better jobs and better paying jobs in other south east Asian countries.

The real people who are losing with the Thai Ministry of Education’s insistence on these new requirements are Thai students. As more and more qualified western teachers leave Thailand and others decide not to come, more Thai students will be unable to find a foreign teacher to teach them English.

The Thai students suffer and, eventually, the country suffers as its level of English, which is already poor, will continue to go down.

On a final note, most of the foreign teachers do understand exactly why the Thai Ministry of Education is implementing these new teacher requirements. To weed out the ‘teachers’ who are not qualified, should not be hired at any school and, quite frankly, should not even be in Thailand.

However, punishing the many for the few is not the way to go about it and, long term, Thailand is who will lose here. Not the foreign teacher.