Freitag, 21. Juli 2006

The teacher's role in Thailand

Like in any other Asian society, the Thai teacher who is called “khru” (from the Sanskrit “guru”) is not esteemed on account of his professional abilities but because of his personality (“baramee”, meaning charisma).

Thais like using word-pairs beginning or ending with the term “heart”, called “chai”. These word-pairs only make sense in a specific composition. They very often are applied in situations of teaching and learning and characterize the relationship between teachers and students excellently. For example, a teacher should have a cool heart (chai-yen) that means he should not be impatient (chai-ron).
The relationship between teacher and student is deeply determined by these expectations. Teachers are claimed to be broad-minded (chai-kwang, having an open heart) and to have cultivated manners (chai-soong, high heart). The most important con-cept of behaviour in Thai society is called “kreng-chai”, meaning that the heart is contracting of fear. It is a traditional virtue to be considerate and not to do anything that other people could dislike. If one behaves this way, one shows respect and good manners (cf. LUTHER 1990, p.48-49). For instance, a teacher offers a student to give him a lift to the next bus station, but the student of course refuses. The reason for this is his “kreng-chai”, meaning that he does not want the teacher to be forced to stop the car in the running traffic. But the teacher insists on his offer – and now the student is too “kreng-chai” to decline it although he would prefer to go to the library with his friends. During the ride the student solely talks if he is asked and this reveals the respect towards his teacher.
An educator must not dishearten his students (tor-chai, leaving the heart) if they only prac-tice rote learning (kheun-chai, getting into the heart) without understanding the context sufficiently. The students should concentrate completely on what the teacher announces. This kind of learning is typical of Asian cultures, the Thai one included. The student owes his teacher lifelong gratitude for his trouble and understanding and he pays tribute to him. In this case he is “tid-chai” (pasting heart), praising the teacher with all his heart (cf. LUTHER 1990, p. 50).

In recent years there has been an interesting phenomenon in reputable upper schools. Young teachers who have just started their “career” at these schools are sometimes in-spected and scrutinized by the senior classes. The students want to test if the teacher is really an expert and consequently a legitimate authority. For example, they regularly inquire in class which is not customary because the teacher is nearly unimpeachable. If the young teacher stays calm and self-confident and proves that he is the expected expert, the students will respect him as an authority. Incidentally, the students would never dare doing this with senior teachers who are settled higher in the hierarchy than the younger ones.

“Playing the network” is another typical Thai element in the field of schooling. If one plays the network it means building up relations of utmost importance, especially for those who want to be successful in the Thai society. If one sets up relations in Thailand he establishes contact not only with the person concerned but also with the group to which the corre-sponding person belongs. Such cliquism is very common in Thai society among scientists and professors. The principle of seniority and hierarchical order is almost omnipresent (cf. LUTHER 1990, p. 74). This represents huge problems for young university-leavers because their development is hampered. Everything depends on a possible personal relationship (called “sen” in Thai) to the dean of the educational institution or somebody else having a high position in this hierarchical system. New colleagues are expected to adjust harmonically to it, therefore adaptability and adequate manners are inalienable. They must neither practice technical criticism of another colleague nor give suggestions for improvement. The colleague would be annoyed and feel insulted because of this lack of respect. The dean has the first and the final say in department meetings and not the colleague being knowledgeable. In Thai society one pays respect to the power-holder and not to the expert like in Western cultures. A person’s status usually bases on rank or ancestry: on how one is sup-posed to be, independent of how one got there (cf. GTZ 1989, p.26). Like in society, everyone knows his position and status and behaves correspondingly.

In earlier times, teachers in Thailand were often monks. The temples were schools where the students were educated. Families used to send their children to these temples. The monks were the crucial authority for moral education and they decided subjectively what should be considered as “good” and “evil”, as merit (bun) and sin (barb).

Today students are usually not educated by monks any more, but they still hold a very high position in Thai society. Although teachers enjoy a good reputation and social status they are not paid very well. Their salary is not sufficient to support the family and therefore they often give classes at several schools to raise their pay. This can be traced back to the old tradition of the “travelling monks” (cf. LUTHER 1990, p. 37).


Red and White 3. März 2007 um 04:42  

Nice prose, very fluent.

I would mention that the theory and practice of teaching in Thailand is very different.
However, this was not the point you were making, you were clearly focusing on the theological aspects of teaching and you did a fine job. Very educational!

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