Bangkok Post

Right qual­i­fi­ca­tions, wrong colour skin

In­creas­ing num­bers of Filipinos are teach­ing English in Thai schools, but white col­leagues get paid more to do the same job, re­gard­less of skill

- By Nanchanok Wongsamuth

When Lyn­d­say Ca­bildo booked her ticket t o Thai­land in 2012, she had been promised 2,000 baht per day to work as a part-time English teacher sup­ply­ing cover to schools around the coun­try. Once she’d had enough of trav­el­ling to work in var­i­ous far-flung places, she ob­tained a full­time job teach­ing English at a public col­lege in the south­ern province of Phatthalun­g.

The salary she was ini­tially of­fered by her em­ploy­ment agency was 15,000 baht — the start­ing wage for state work­ers with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree. But for a white Euro­pean teacher from a non-English speak­ing coun­try, she learned that price would be dou­bled, to 30,000 baht.

“Our salary was dic­tated by our skin colour and not our abil­ity to de­liver, or the cre­den­tials we worked so hard for,” she said.

Ms Ca­bildo’s ex­pe­ri­ence is a com­mon one for the thou­sands of Filipinos who seek jobs as teach­ers in Thai­land each year.

Although their salaries are higher than what they might earn in the Philip­pines, as the in­crease in schools of­fer­ing English pro­grammes drives higher de­mand for teach­ers, they of­ten face dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The 33-year-old has a master’s de­gree in psy­chol­ogy, a cer­tifi­cate in teach­ing English as a for­eign lan­guage (TEFL) and can speak

Ital­ian, Ta­ga­log, a lit­tle Viet­namese and Thai. “White Euro­peans only have fair skin,” she said.

ON THE WHITE TRACK

The frus­tra­tion of Filipinos seek­ing teach­ing jobs in Thai­land can be seen in letters and blogs on ajarn.com, a web­site for for­eign teach­ers. There are in­ci­dents of Filipinos be­ing turned down for not be­ing na­tive speak­ers and of schools hang­ing up the phone as soon as an ap­pli­cant men­tions his or her na­tion­al­ity.

One Filipino even re­ported that a school re­placed qual­i­fied and ex­pe­ri­enced Filipinos in their English pro­gramme with less suit­able Western­ers, and tried to dis­guise Filipino staff as be­ing Thai.

Most top in­ter­na­tional and pres­ti­gious Thai schools that of­fer English pro­grammes or bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion hire only na­tive speak­ers, but even when a Filipino man­ages to se­cure a job, rarely does their pay come close to that of a white can­di­date.

“My Thai boss once ex­plained that he couldn’t do any­thing about the sit­u­a­tion since Thais like to see white peo­ple on school bill­boards, be­cause it’s more ap­peal­ing than some­one like me, who looks like ev­ery­one else in Thai­land,” Ms Ca­bildo said.

“I un­der­stand that ac­cent is very im­por­tant. How­ever, when a school ad­ver­tises that it wants na­tive English speak­ers, it means teach­ers with white skin.”

Filipino teach­ers are of­ten as pro­fi­cient in English as their na­tive-speak­ing coun­ter­parts, but a hi­er­ar­chy based on race and skin colour seems to dic­tate be­liefs about pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Ms Ca­bildo re­calls an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a teacher from Cameroon who had been teach­ing in Thai­land for 20 years.

De­spite be­ing much more ex­pe­ri­enced, the teacher was put un­der Ms Ca­bildo’s su­per­vi­sion “be­cause he was darker”.

Even at the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, the idea that white peo­ple are au­to­mat­i­cally na­tive English speak­ers, and there­fore su­pe­rior English lan­guage teach­ers, is preva­lent.

When dis­cussing the de­sir­able cre­den­tials for teach­ers who would be tasked with con­duct­ing English cour­ses for min­istry em­ploy­ees, some se­nior of­fi­cials went so far as to sug­gest that African-Amer­i­cans may not have the proper ac­cent, so should be avoided, ac­cord­ing to an Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry source who asked not to be named.

“It re­flects the Thai ob­ses­sion with the ‘stan­dard English ac­cent’, with­out even con­sid­er­ing the fact there are many English ac­cents, even within English-speak­ing coun­tries,” the source said.

THREE-TIER SYS­TEM

When Wood­ward Uy Vil­lalino started ap­ply­ing for jobs in Thai­land, he quickly got used to see­ing ads for na­tive English speak­ing teach­ers. He was ini­tially re­jected by two schools, while four failed to re­spond to his ap­pli­ca­tions.

He even­tu­ally got a job in May last year as a high school science teacher at Tri­a­mu­dom Suksa Nomk­lao Ut­tara­dit School, a state school in the north­ern province of Ut­tara­dit. He earns more than 20,000 baht per month, but less than the 30,000 baht salary of­fered to white teach­ers.

“I tell my­self I de­serve the 30,000 baht salary af­ter pass­ing the Toeic (Test of English for In­ter­na­tional Com­mu­ni­ca­tion) test with quite high scores, but con­sid­er­ing the low cost of liv­ing here, I be­lieve it’s nearly equiv­a­lent to earn­ing 30,000 baht in Bangkok,” the 25-year-old said.

Like many Filipinos work­ing abroad, Mr Vil­lalino al­lo­cates 5,000-10,000 baht of his monthly salary to send home to his fam­ily.

“But my other friends give more than 10,000 baht,” he said. “Some­times when our fam­i­lies have prob­lems, we send more than half of what we re­ceive.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Philip­pine Over­seas Em­ploy­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, more than 5,000 Filipinos trav­elled to Thai­land to work each year be­tween 2010 and 2014, with a to­tal of 6,653 last year.

Filipinos make up about one-third of all for­eign teach­ers in Thai­land, with sta­tis­tics from the Teach­ers’ Coun­cil of Thai­land show­ing more than 5,000 Filipinos ap­plied for tem­po­rary teach­ing li­cences in the 18 months to July this year, fol­lowed by 3,000 Amer­i­cans and 2,400 Bri­tish na­tion­als.

Schools of­ten have a three-tiered pay scale, with Filipinos at the lower end and Western­ers at the top. Non-na­tive white English speak­ers are gen­er­ally paid about the same as na­tive speak­ers.

White na­tive English speak­ing teach­ers earn an av­er­age of 35,000 baht teach­ing at a Thai school, while the rate for Thais is about 30,000 baht and Filipinos 20,000-25,000 baht.

“It’s con­sid­ered dis­crim­i­na­tion but em­ploy­ers see it as if they are buy­ing a prod­uct from Cen­tral as op­posed to Tesco Lo­tus. There are no Filipinos on the same salary as farang,” said Suthee Bu­ranacharu deputy man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Am­sam Aca­demic, a for­eign teacher re­cruit­ment agency.

“Filipinos are also will­ing to live in re­mote ar­eas, be­cause they are pa­tient, not so picky, and also nice and friendly.”

ECO­NOMIC RE­STRAINTS

The move­ment to­ward English pro­grammes in Thai schools has been grow­ing since 1995, when the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry ruled that schools could in­cor­po­rate sub­jects taught in English into their cur­ricu­lums.

Then, when de­mand for for­eign teach­ers was still low, newly es­tab­lished schools used na­tive English speak­ers with a back­ground in ed­u­ca­tion.

By 1998, the num­ber of English pro­grammes had mush­roomed and schools were com­pet­ing to hire na­tive speak­ers. The law at the time re­quired for­eign teach­ers to have a de­gree in

Salary was dic­tated by our skin colour and not abil­ity to de­liver, or the cre­den­tials we worked so hard for

LYN­D­SAY CA­BILDO FILIP­INA TEACHER

ed­u­ca­tion, but there was a lack of qual­i­fied can­di­dates, so schools be­gan poach­ing teach­ers from one another, of­fer­ing higher salaries to at­tract the best staff.

Now em­ploy­ment re­quire­ments have been eased to al­low any for­eigner with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree to ap­ply for a two-year teach­ing per­mit, find­ing teach­ers is much eas­ier. But that doesn’t mean re­cruit­ment prob­lems have been solved.

Thai­land has more than 230 public and pri­vate schools with English pro­grammes, and more than 80 in­ter­na­tional schools.

In­ter­na­tional schools can usu­ally af­ford to em­ploy a full fac­ulty of na­tive English speak­ers. At less ex­pen­sive bilin­gual schools, such as In­terkids Bilin­gual School — where tu­ition fees are half the price of an in­ter­na­tional school at 40,000 baht per se­mes­ter — re­cruit­ing a large num­ber of na­tive speak­ers is not eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble.

Par­ents, how­ever, want their chil­dren to be taught by white peo­ple.

“Par­ents like farang teach­ers, but we can’t af­ford for all our staff to be farang,” said IBS di­rec­tor Am­porn Wisetjung. “If we had na­tive speak­ers teach­ing all sub­jects, then we would have to bring in a dif­fer­ent grade of farang.”

In 1997, two years af­ter the school was es­tab­lished, IBS started hir­ing non-na­tive speak­ers to teach in their de­gree sub­jects. They ini­tially hired Viet­namese, Myan­mar, Filipinos and In­di­ans, but are now left with only Filipinos.

IBS now has 50 non-na­tive and 10 na­tive English speak­ing teach­ers at its three schools in Bangkok, which serve 1,000 stu­dents from pre-kinder­garten to Grade 12.

“When asked to choose be­tween In­di­ans and Filipinos, par­ents pre­fer Filipinos,” Ms Am­porn said. “Their cul­ture is sim­i­lar to Thais, and they are hard-work­ing. Farang teach­ers some­times think their only job is to teach, and not to mind the chil­dren.”

NO ASIANS

At Korn­pitack­suksa School, a pri­vate school with 6,300 stu­dents and 600 on its English pro­gramme, there is a strict pol­icy of not em­ploy­ing Asian teach­ers.

“If Thai chil­dren get used to an In­dian or Filipino ac­cent, it will be too late to fix at a later stage,” said Busakorn Korn­pitack, the school’s man­ager.

The school em­ploys 40 for­eign teach­ers, in­clud­ing a French na­tional who was ed­u­cated in the UK.

“Even if they pass lan­guage tests, we don’t ac­cept them if their ac­cent isn’t good and clear,” she said. “Even with teach­ers from the UK we need to be care­ful. Teach­ers from Scot­land, for in­stance, have a strong ac­cent.”

Sritham­marat Suksa School, a pri­vate Chris­tian school in Nakhon Si Tham­marat, also has a pol­icy of re­cruit­ing only na­tive speak­ers, with a salary start­ing at 30,000 baht per month. The ma­jor­ity of its 50 for­eign teach­ers work on the school’s English pro­gramme, which has about 1,000 stu­dents.

“We made an agree­ment with par­ents that we won’t use Filipino teach­ers. Filipinos aren’t bad teach­ers, but we need to keep our word,” said Siri­pat Tongliem­nak, head of the school’s English pro­gramme.

She added that the school does not em­ploy African-Amer­i­cans: “Not be­cause we are racist but we are con­cerned that the chil­dren might be scared of them.”

In the Philip­pines, English is taught widely from an early age. While Ta­ga­log is the na­tional lan­guage, all text­books from kinder­garten up­wards are writ­ten in English, ex­cept for sub­jects such as history and Filipino.

There are very few for­eign teach­ers in the Philip­pines, and teach­ers speak English most of the time — from giv­ing pupils sim­ple in­struc­tions in the cor­ri­dor to for­mal lessons.

In top pri­vate schools, “English only” poli­cies mean stu­dents are not al­lowed to speak Ta­ga­log within school grounds.

“In the Philip­pines, there is a large pop­u­la­tion of English speak­ers who grew up speak­ing only English, which makes it their na­tive lan­guage,” Ms Ca­bildo said. “The gen­eral stereo­type is that na­tive speak­ers are only white peo­ple, but that’s no longer the case in this mod­ern day and age.”

TAK­ING AD­VAN­TAGE

Schools and univer­si­ties of­ten use em­ploy­ment agen­cies to find both part-time and full­time teach­ers.

Agen­cies post job ads online, cit­ing the name of the school they’re work­ing for. The agen­cies then in­ter­view ap­pli­cants, ar­range the rel­e­vant doc­u­men­ta­tion and bring can­di­dates to the school where he or she is sta­tioned. The agen­cies, not the schools, are the ones who pay the teach­ers’ salaries.

While agen­cies are a con­ve­nient choice for for­eign­ers who are new to the coun­try, schools such as Sritham­marat Suksa refuse to use them be­cause of com­plaints they deduct a high per­cent­age of teach­ers’ salaries.

Korn­pitack­suksa School re­cruits half of its teach­ers through agen­cies, but Ms Busakorn ad­mits it can be prob­lem­atic.

“Some­times we pay the agen­cies at the start of the month, but they pay the teach­ers on the 15th or 20th,” she said.

Mrs Ca­bildo was em­ployed at a col­lege in Phatthalun­g through an agency that sends teach­ers to re­mote prov­inces.

Af­ter tak­ing the job, she found out the col­lege was pay­ing 25,000 baht a month to the agency for Filipino teach­ers, who were only paid 15,000 baht in turn.

Na­tive English speak­ers re­ceived 30,000 baht, while the school was pay­ing the agency 35,000 baht for their ser­vices.

THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH

Am­sam Aca­demic’s Mr Suthee be­lieves the dis­par­ity in pay for teach­ers comes down to the Thai ob­ses­sion with ac­cents.

He said he spent a decade back­ing the cause of English teach­ers from non-na­tive back­grounds, but toned down his ef­forts af­ter fail­ing to con­vince the public and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Since there is still a large de­mand for na­tive speak­ers, his com­pany only re­cruits teach­ers from the UK and the US.

“Thais be­lieve you have to learn English with a na­tive speaker in or­der to have a good ac­cent, but we do not pri­ori­tise the im­por­tance of com­mu­ni­cat­ing ef­fec­tively re­gard­less of ac­cent,” he said.

“Thais are very happy if an English teacher is from the UK, be­cause they con­sider the Bri­tish ac­cent clas­sic and orig­i­nal. It’s a valu­able thing.”

Mr Suthee be­lieves Filipinos have a right to be an­gry when their job ap­pli­ca­tions are turned down be­cause of their na­tion­al­ity.

“I have a place in my heart for Filipinos,” he said. “Their pas­sion for teach­ing is even stronger than na­tive speak­ers.”

Thais be­lieve you have to learn English with a na­tive speaker in or­der to have a good ac­cent

SUTHEE BU­RANACHARU AM­SAM ACA­DEMIC

 ??  ?? VALU­ABLE AS­SET: In­terkids Bilin­gual School, where fees are half that of an in­ter­na­tional school, can only af­ford to em­ploy 10 na­tive English speak­ing teach­ers, since they com­mand higher wages.
VALU­ABLE AS­SET: In­terkids Bilin­gual School, where fees are half that of an in­ter­na­tional school, can only af­ford to em­ploy 10 na­tive English speak­ing teach­ers, since they com­mand higher wages.
 ??  ?? CA­PA­BLE CAN­DI­DATE: Filip­ina teacher Lyn­d­say Ca­bildo has a master’s in psy­chol­ogy, teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions and can speak five lan­guages, but gets paid less than Euro­peans.
CA­PA­BLE CAN­DI­DATE: Filip­ina teacher Lyn­d­say Ca­bildo has a master’s in psy­chol­ogy, teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions and can speak five lan­guages, but gets paid less than Euro­peans.
 ??  ?? DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION: Filip­ina teacher Lyn­d­say Ca­bildo was paid 15,000 baht a month when she first started work­ing in Thai­land. Her white col­leagues were of­fered dou­ble to do the same job.
DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION: Filip­ina teacher Lyn­d­say Ca­bildo was paid 15,000 baht a month when she first started work­ing in Thai­land. Her white col­leagues were of­fered dou­ble to do the same job.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? DED­I­CA­TION: In­terkids Bilin­gual School di­rec­tor Am­porn Wisetjung says Filipino teach­ers work hard.
DED­I­CA­TION: In­terkids Bilin­gual School di­rec­tor Am­porn Wisetjung says Filipino teach­ers work hard.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? A FOR EF­FORT: In­terkids Bilin­gual School em­ploys 50 Filipino teach­ers. Par­ents like their car­ing ‘Thai-style’ ap­proach.
A FOR EF­FORT: In­terkids Bilin­gual School em­ploys 50 Filipino teach­ers. Par­ents like their car­ing ‘Thai-style’ ap­proach.

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