After reading some submissions about the still sorry state of the Thai educational system I decided to write about my experiences from years ago.
I came to Thailand for the first time in '74 to visit my friends who had been teaching at a technical college in Songkla. They finished an apprenticeship as mechanics and a 3-year education at a German technical college, a crash course in teaching and an extensive Thai course, but they where far superior to the Thai teachers. The local teachers had no practical knowledge at all, just repeated the nonsense from Thai books, which mostly were very bad translation from some English books.
There were a few derelict lathes without tools and some equally derelict milling machines, which the teachers didn't know how to operate. The director of the college managed somehow to get $100,000, I think from the USA. My friends tried to persuade him to buy some basic tools and machines to teach the students some practical skills, but the director decided to buy a fully automatic 8 spindle lathe, but forgot to order the tools necessary to operate the machine. The $100,000 was gone, the lathe was a useless showpiece in the main entrance hall, covered with a tarp and uncovered when visitors came to impress them with modern equipment!
In the mid '80s I got a job with a German development agency at a university in Bangkok, which started as a vocational school and was gradually upgraded to an university. I was to support about 20 of the young local staff, who had partially studied in Germany, to develop teaching aids for technical colleges nationwide.
The first thing I noticed was that one of the older staff members of the institute was almost always absent. I found out he was busy translating German vocational books into Thai and selling them to technical colleges, even though he had no rights on the books! He was highly regarded throughout the institute and beyond. I was suspicious because it was almost impossible to communicate in German with him and I still remembered the lousy books from Songkla. I got a part of one of his books retranslated into German by a qualified translator and the output was utter garbage. Later I found out that my staff knew all about it but as he was much older and respected, they couldn't speak out.
My Thai counterpart was half Chinese, one of the few intelligent staff I had. He accompanied me to the various colleges and was my interpreter because my Thai was very limited and the English of the teachers non-existent. One day he couldn't come along and when I suggested the local English teacher could help out, he started laughing. In the evening after a few beers with the hardcore of my male staff they started opening up and explained that the English teacher of the vocational school couldn't speak English, likewise the teachers at most schools. Later an American, who helped out in the English department, confirmed this.
Our institute worked with a technical college in Nongkhai on a project on small engines which are widely used on boats or in agriculture. When we first visited the college, the local staff showed us how they trained the students. A perfectly working motor was dismantled without bothering much to drain the oil and gas first and of course it was done the traditional Thai way on the ground. It was then assembled again, a total mess! When they where lucky, the engine worked. Later I found out that many Thai mechanics work the same way, dismantling the faulty machine, and if nothing obviously broken could be found, they put it back together and hope for the best. The concept of troubleshooting was absolutely new to them.
One of my tasks was to supervise the development of a proper training courses for this topic. I was tied to do the most work by myself because the input of my Thai staff was minimal and asked them to do part of it. They soon asked me about the newest ignition system of small Japanese engines. When I replied that I didn't know, they where absolutely baffled and an uneasy silence fell. I had to explain them that there is nobody who knows everything and it is no shame to admit when you don't know something. I told them to contact the local office of this brand and make an appointment. A few days later they came back with more material then they needed and were very happy about finding out a good way to gain information! The way then would have been to write some paper containing utter rubbish and this rubbish then would have been multiplied by the teachers! I am quite sure they went back to their way of doing things soon after I left the institute.
I just wonder how they managed to build the modern Thailand. From my experience I never would have guessed they could do it, but still today the vast majority of teachers can't speak proper English and instead of asking the next English speaking tourist to correct the spelling, the restaurant owner happily puts up a sign: FRIED KRAP FOR SALE!
I can relate to everything you say. In my first job in Thailand at a language institute that charged sky high fees all of the course materials were copied. They literally copied 300 or 400-page TOEFL or IELTS course books. What was strange was that the publisher priced the original books at only a small amount more than the copies sold for – and the copies were far from being "perfect copies"!