Yesterday was D.’s third birthday, and a small party was held in
her honour. Friends of the family and the neighbours came around
bearing gifts to mark her special day. There was a small cake with
candles, soft drinks and nibbles for the children and beer for the
adults. B. had also made a pot of spaghetti sauce to ladle over
plates of pasta.

So, we sat around for a couple of hours on the house’s small veranda
whilst D. unwrapped her presents – almost all of which seemed to
be made of pink plastic and made in China. On a telegraph pole
opposite the house squatted a white owl, calling into the night.

The party started at 9 p.m., when her father got home from work. To
make ends meet he has two jobs. He teaches English in a state school
about 30 km away. He rides there every morning on his motorbike to
start work at 8 a.m., and finishes work at 4:30 p.m.. He then just
has enough time quickly to shower and change clothes before he starts
his second teaching job from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.. That’s Monday to
Friday. At the weekend he works a further 12 hours. That’s a 67 hour
working week, working 7 days a week, just to be able to support his

It’s not that farang English teachers are paid badly here – they’re
paid about double what their Thai counterparts earn. It’s just that
there are some things it’s difficult to live without, such as the
occasional western-style meal, English DVDs and English language
television. The costs mount quickly. Plus the average farang wants
to have a car, rather then take the family on public transport. And
then there’s the farang surcharge upon almost everything you buy: one
price for the Thais, and one for people with long noses. You can buy
food fresher and cheaper in the market than in Tesco-Lotus, but only
if you’re Thai.

English teachers in other parts of Asia – particularly Vietnam, China
and Japan – are paid vastly more than those working in Thailand. The
real problem is that the Thai government isn’t committed to good
quality education (in any field), and there’s an endless supply of
unqualified backpackers, sex tourists, drug fiends and alcoholics who
will work for very little just to be able to stay here longer term,
and this keeps pay for even well qualified English teachers low.

Of course, if the government rigorously enforced the law requiring all
teachers to have a university degree and a teaching qualification,
standards and pay would go up, but there would be too few teachers

One recent trend, though, has been increasing numbers of Philippine
teachers. English isn’t their native language, but many of them speak
it reasonably well (and infinitely better than the vast majority of
Thai teachers of English). And why this trend? It’s because they’re
cheap – willing to undercut all but the most desperate backpacker.

There’s nothing like a good quality education. And in Thailand, what
the vast majority of students gets is nothing like a good quality


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