When you start teaching in Thailand, you will probably notice that the work might be very different from what you had anticipated. Especially when it comes to exams and grading.
We have exams here twice a year. There is the mid-term and end of term exam. Both last one week but students don’t need to come to school every day. The exams are clustered so when they do come to school they have multiple exams in one day. The younger ones have shorter days and the older pupils can have longer ones. There is always a break in between, at least 15 minutes, and the lunch break is about 90 minutes.
Some classrooms are better equipped for this arduous task as they have air-con. Others have only fans and that’s not always enough, in my opinion. It can get hot and stuffy, especially in the afternoon when the Sun pays a visit.
Multiple choice exam
This is the preferred method. I made the questions and believe me, it does take creativity to come up with 3 false, yet plausible choices. So it’s from A to D the students get to choose from. Exams range from around 25-40 questions. Because now it is the end of the term exam, the questions can be a little bit more challenging and hence, measure student’s ability to problem solving and/or creative thinking. For the older students who attend Mathayom 6, I got to plan one open question (which my Thai co-teacher changed a little bit, though). The good thing about multiple choice exams is that we don’t need to correct them, a machine does all the work. If you have open questions, then you need to make the corrections and grading yourself.
Open question answers
They don’t talk much about politics in Thailand but I was still a bit disappointed with the open question answers. We had at least 4-5 lessons around political ideologies. 5 months ago I would’ve blamed myself, failing miserably as a teacher. Now I know that this is the Thai style. Many students don’t take their work too seriously or they can be a bit lazy. Plus the older students already know which university they have gotten into, so the grade they are getting is not that important to them. Anyway, about the exam. Many had not answered the question at all, a few mixed up Left and Right wing ideologies and some just blabbered off topic. A few of the students had studied overseas as exchange students and that was very recognisable from their answers and class behaviour. Their English was obviously much better, they had more self-confidence but most of all, they seemed to be better equipped for creative thinking and speaking up.
Some of you might have heard it that Thailand is notoriously well-known for students that cheat. It is true, it does happen, but of course not all of them do it. Us teachers proctor, and make sure no cheating happens during examination. Sometimes this is enough to deter the students from doing it, other times not. I caught one first-handed during a smaller test a while ago. The second time was when 4 girls were sitting next to each other and came up with near identical answers. It took me a long time to decide what to do with them. I announced it in class what had happened, without giving any names. I was hoping the students themselves would’ve admitted it but had zero luck with this tactic. I wanted to do a re-test to weed out this nasty habit and give them a lesson, but in the end, decided not to go for it. We were already short of time and making them sit the test again, there would’ve been one lesson less. I didn’t want to give any names this time either, so the students wouldn’t lose their faces. I gave a big lecture on cheating to the whole class, so I thought it would’ve been quite embarrassing for the “cheaters”.
Cheating or “helping” others
Some of my colleagues have been working in different schools all round Thailand, and they said to me that if students used the same energy to actual studying, than what they use for coming up with new ways to cheat, they would do well in tests. Moreover, sometimes apparently some Thai teachers also turn a blind eye during an examination. Perhaps this is to help the less advanced students, who might need to hand in extra assignments anyway, in order to pass. I also heard stories in which farang teachers weren’t allowed to proctor anymore because they were too strict in their job and thus possibly inhibiting students from cheating or “helping others”.
I’m here to work, not change it
For us, these things are very hard to understand but they have been part of Thai culture a long time. I still don’t approve of the way things are done but I didn’t come here to change the system. You better accept it if you want to work as a teacher in Thailand.
People were very interested here when they learned that I’m from Finland, the country with the best education system in the world. Yet, no-one has actually asked me if there would be anything to learn from the Finnish curriculum. Thais have their own ways which they are proud of, and this is how they want to do things.
Grading and (non-) failing
Some of the students struggle with exams and assignments. Some of them don’t speak nor understand too much English which makes the whole thing impossible in the first place. But it’s not their fault that they need to attend a class that is too demanding for them. It’s the system.
If the students don’t pass they can do a re-test or be given extra assignments until they pass. You see, there is no such thing as failing, in Thai education system. Everyone will pass. Less time-consuming approach on teacher’s behalf would be to have this already on his/her mind when giving grades, and rounding up numbers nicely. Western teachers can actually be told off if they are about to fail a student or give low scores. It is better to be liberal with numbers and give extra points to students!
One of my colleagues said that he had gotten nasty remarks from few parents, complaining the low score their child had had. Furthermore, he had also experienced the: “Don’t you know who I am?” and “Who are you to tell me…” from some parents. That’s just horrible. One reason for this might be that our school has got a very good reputation and the parents are paying a lot of money for the education of their offspring. This implies that the parents also have a healthy bank account balance and in Thailand, this means you belong to the privileged class, or the elite. Many of them are used to being treated as such and this can reflect in their behaviour. But I’m getting sidetracked now. The social stratification and status would be another topic in itself.
You still want to work in Thailand as a teacher? Hang on. I’ve got a few posts coming up.