Despite Thailand’s increasing desperation to boost the quality of its education, authorities have decided that teacher trainees only need to be tested on one subject to get a license.

This new system will go into effect from March 15. Students and graduates of teacher-training programs who began higher education during the academic years of 2019 and 2022 will only be tested on the subject of Professional Teaching.

Before this, teacher trainees were required to test on four subjects: Thai Communication, English Communication, Digital Education and Professional Teaching.

“How can we have confidence in teachers’ quality if they are only tested on their professional techniques?” asked Asst Prof Athapol Anunthavorasakul, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education.

The changes come at a time when the standard of Thai education is under scrutiny following years of disappointing scores in international rankings.

Rationale behind the test

Education Minister Treenuch Thienthong said the decision to test aspiring teachers in just one subject was made because so many test takers were not able to get a passing grade in all four subjects.

After the four-subject requirement was imposed in 2021, more than half the test takers failed the test on English Communication.

“Some university graduates could not pass the test because they were just not good in English,” the minister said. “If we refuse them a teaching license just because their knowledge of English is not up to par, we will be depriving them of so many opportunities.”

Background of teaching license

Before 2021, graduates from certified teacher training programs did not need to take a test to be granted a teacher’s license. The test was introduced when the duration of the teaching program was reduced from five years to four.

The teacher training program had originally been increased from four years to five in 2004, in a bid to upgrade the quality of teachers and standards in the teaching profession.

However, the four-year program returned in 2019, prompting an outcry from those who had invested five years in completing their studies. The reduction also saw some voice concerns about the quality of teachers.

Hence, the four-subject test was introduced to screen aspiring teachers.

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Licensed to teach?

Like other professions in Thailand, teaching is regulated and licensed by a specialist agency.

The Teachers’ Council of Thailand is responsible for governing the profession and issuing teaching licenses. Now, it has decided to go ahead with the one-subject competency test for those who want to obtain a license to begin a career in teaching.

But that’s not the only change that budding teachers face.

The council has also decided to enforce a new three-tier license system. Under the new system, graduates of the four-year training program will get a Provisional Teaching Certificate. But they will need to take a test to get a B-license or Basic Professional Teaching Certificate. Then, if they accumulate enough experience to become a Professional Level Teacher (K-2 teacher), they can apply for an A-license or Advanced Professional Teaching Certificate.

“This system recognizes the ability of graduates in terms of their teacher training program and their internship hours. Since they have already practised teaching, they must be able to teach. That’s why they can automatically get a Provisional Teaching Certificate,” said Dr Ekachai Keesookpun, former chair of the council’s professional standards committee.

Holders of the Professional Teaching Certificate can apply for a teaching job under the supervision of an educational professional. This certificate is valid for two years. It can be renewed. But if holders have accumulated two years of teaching experience, they can use that experience to get a teaching license without taking a test.

All candidates for teaching posts at government-run educational institutes require a teaching license.

Confusion prevails

Authorities are just passing on the burden to others by changing rules regarding teacher training programs and requirements for teaching licenses, Athapol said.

No matter what tests are required, students or graduates from teacher training programs have no choice but to try to meet the requirements. Some have even taken tutorial classes. The tests are also held in just four provinces, namely Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima and Songkhla. So, those living or studying in other provinces have the added difficulty and expense of travel arrangements to take the test.

“I’ve heard that many of them take part-time jobs while studying to afford travel expenses. If they don’t pass the test the first time, they must go through this again until they do,” he said.

Asked about the move to reduce the number of subjects tested, Athapol said that teacher-training institutes should instead review their approach if their students or graduates are unable to pass the four-subject exam.

“Are you too focused on quantity that you forget about quality?” the academic asked pointedly.

In his view, if teachers lack proficiency in English, their chance of further improvement or expansion of their knowledge will be limited.

“My students have told me that the English questions in the test are in fact not that difficult,” Athapol said.

To add confusion, the one-subject test only applies to students/graduates who started higher education during the academic years 2019 and 2022. Students who began their studies in the academic year 2023 will sit a two-subject test. As well as knowledge of Professional Teaching, they will also have to demonstrate knowledge of the subject they majored in. For example, those who majored in Physics will be tested on Physics and Professional Teaching.

Quality teachers

Athapol said that as well as producing new, high-standard teachers, the country should also think about how to retain teaching talent.

“Many talents enter the teaching profession only to leave because they cannot put up with the current system,” he said.

He added that many quality teachers he knew could land teaching jobs but decided to quit because the current system did not allow them to devote their time to students and to their own development as teachers.

“Often, the system puts the right person in the wrong job. For example, those talented in teaching Physics could be assigned to teach all subjects for primary students.”

Social media is also full of complaints from teachers at government schools who say they have to spend too much time doing jobs not related to teaching, like welcoming education officials visiting their schools or handling administrative tasks.

By Thai PBS World

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