1 August 2009

The school where everyone passes exams

In the school where I now work the students are not allowed to fail. This is not just an aspiration; this is school policy. Not only that, but every student in the bilingual programme is expected to get the equivalent of a high B or A in every subject. Our academic department has decided this. The school believes that if a student isn’t doing well then it is the teacher’s fault and it is up to the teacher to remedy the situation. The implication being that you either just give them a high mark or keep on testing the students until they get it themselves. Most teachers just wind up rewarding marks for no effort. This is because it would be impossible for some of these students to achieve this mark. This is not meant as a slight to them. Where in the world do all the students in a school get top marks all the time?

This way of doing things probably all sounds completely crazy to anyone outside the Thai teaching profession, but this is common practice here. If you don’t like it your choice is to either move to one of the few schools where it doesn’t happen or just put up with it. If we complain to Thai colleagues the usual response is to claim that we just don’t understand Thai culture and we should stop worrying about it so much. If we complain to the management about it the usual response is silence.

I quit teaching full-time a few years back because I felt like a bit of a fraud in front of the students. I didn’t have any proper teaching credentials so what right have I to be teaching them anything? In order to rectify this I spent a lot of money and a lot of time studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education while teaching voluntarily in a Thai village school. Four years later with my bona fide credentials in pedagogy I returned to full-time teaching. Yet, here I am a couple of years later feeling again like a fraud.

I spend a lot of my time trying to convince students that studying and learning is important. I try to tell them that exams are important. Yet, all they have to do is look at their classmates how don’t do any work and still come out with high marks. Why should anyone make the effort? The usual way I deal with this is by telling myself that it is the knowledge that is important and not the exam marks, but sometimes it is hard not to feel like a clown. I ask myself the question. If I was a student in my school would I study? The honest answer is no. Why work for something that is going to be given to you anyway.


  1. In my opinion, schools have such policy because they want to upgrade the "rank" and try to make other parents/students see that they are high-quality schools.

    I don't think the schools care that much, though. As long as they "look" good, everything is ok. Could be called as another act of saving faces...

  2. One of my friends used to teach a creative writing class at Thammasat University. He used to receive over twenty copies of the same essay back from all his students. They would just pay someone to write it for them. In class he would ask individual students what they meant by this or that passage. They would get flustered (since they hadn't read it in the first place) and refuse to answer his questions. Eventually, they all went to the principal and he was fired. They said he was putting undue pressure on students by asking them to explain what they had written.