Are Parents Being Blackmailed by Thai Teachers?

My reluctance to send my son to for extra classes outside of normal school hours may mean he ends up with lower grades and receives less attention from his teacher. This has nothing to do with his intelligence or level of knowledge – it is all financially driven. It feels like blackmail, and I kind of resent it because of the implications it could have for my son’s future.

First day at school Thailand 1

Rian Piset is Another Name for Blackmail

They call these extra classes rian piset (เรียนพิเศษ) or ‘special learning’ here in Thailand. At the end of the normal school day, the teachers charge money for students to stay on for extra tuition. These classes are also available on Saturdays. If children want to do well in school, they are expected to attend these extra classes.

I remember feeling shocked the first time a Thai teacher told me that she always gave higher marks to her rian piset students. I didn’t have my own child back then, but it still seemed incredibly unfair. She didn’t seem to comprehend my concern. This teacher patiently explained that it would be unfair to the students who attended the extra classes to be given lower marks than the students who didn’t pay for this extra tuition.

During my teaching career I got to occasionally facilitate these rian piset classes – always because the regular teacher was off sick. The instructions were usually to just tell the kids to do their homework, and if they got noisy to give them some worksheets. Maybe these were the exception to the rule, but there didn’t seem to be much in way of special learning going on.

My Reasons for Not Wanting to Pay for Extra Classes for My Son

I don’t care about the money, but I don’t want to send my son to any extra classes. He is only six years old, and he already spends eight hours in school as it is. If his teacher can’t fit in enough material during this time, it isn’t saying very much for the quality of lessons.

I’d be more willing to consider sending my son to extra classes if I believed it would actually benefit him. I don’t believe it would. I’ve purchased text books for his age level from Ireland, and I’m using these to help him develop his English skills – I believe this is going to help him more than any rian piset class.

It bugs the shit out of me to think that despite all the effort my wife and I make to help my son to learn while he is at home, he is still likely to end up with lower grades because we are not handing over sufficient blackmail money.

I dislike the way my son’s teacher makes him feel different because he doesn’t attend the special class. When I picked him up from school today, his teacher had told him to talk me into to sending him for extra tuition tomorrow (Saturday). I said “no way”. I worry about his future, and I suppose eventually I’ll need to cave into the blackmail – just like the Thai parents who want their kids to get good grades.

I understand that Thai teachers need to make some extra money, but I think it is wrong for them to be able to recruit students from the schools where they teach. The system is too ripe for abuse, and it is completely unfair.

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25 thoughts on “Are Parents Being Blackmailed by Thai Teachers?

  1. welcome to just another Thai scam.
    If only they would be a bit interested in actually educating children they would get off the bottom of every education survey, Grades are meaningless in Thailand. High grades only mean one pays more not one learns more. Disgusting. When do parents get the chance to test the teachers qualifications
    tom recently posted..Forest Buddhism in Northeast Thailand

  2. Hi,

    I understand your pi-set reluctance, am just offering an opinion here.

    First and foremost the marks offered by Thai teachers (and Farang teachers in the Thai system) are meaningless anyway. I have had less engagement with Thai education than you but probably have far more experience in fixing grades as it is often a requirement globally especially for those students who feed into the US system. I regularly give vocab tests to the kids I teach English, and some have scores of 1 or 2 out of 20 whilst others have 20 out of 20. When I give grades for these kids their percentages lie between 50 and 100 as per instructions. Teachers are not allowed to give less than 50% so they have to retest, why retest when the kids are not working – you are only wasting your time, so I moderate the marks.

    The grades the teachers give are therefore meaningless unless you understand the context in which the teachers have given their own grades ie explaining any moderating of the marks they have given. But in Thailand such information is rarely asked for or given out as far as I know.

    But the real issue for schools outside of Bangkok is how well are the kids going to do in terms of their university exam. I understood from a Thai teacher of English I trusted here in Trat province that her students needed to take the pi-set she gave to have any chance of competing with the Bangkok kids for entry into the better universities such as Chulalongkorn – because she wasn’t able to cover enough of the higher level syllabus in normal classes. I understand that at 6 university is a long long way off for you. But as far as I can see in Thailand the only thing that differs for the type of education you are getting is that if you have a degree from Chula you can get a good job. If you get a degree from some of the less reputed universities you don’t get jobs – even though it still costs you a lot to send them there. I was quite shocked when in my local restaurant my friend the manager told me that all her waitresses – many over the years I had been going there – all had degrees.

    So how does this fit for you? If you plan for your boy to stay in Thai education until adulthood, at some stage you will probably have to send him to pi-set. Before that I would consider some form of home tuition such as personally teaching him English – if a writer can do that 🙂

    Whilst as a parent I can see why you perceive pi-set as blackmail. As a trade unionist I look at it differently. The salaries are shite. OK many schools can throw in accommodation but are the salaries the Thai teachers suitable recompense for educated people? I have limited respect for all education systems as I see their purpose as providing a workforce and not providing more than a minimal education. Thailand has an additional component – ensuring respect for the King and a promotion of Thailand as the best place in the world to be and the best working conditions for its people despite evidence to the contrary. All education systems provide the requisites of “being educated” ie numerate literate etc. but Educated – not much.

    Ultimately parents have to always be pro-active in terms of education, and never trust the education system they are forced to use.

    What about the rain for November yesterday and today?

    1. Hi Bill, you make some very valid points. I do appreciate that the grades are useless, but I’m worried about how this might impact my son’s confidence. I can also see how students in maythom might benefit from extra tuition – I just don’t see how it benefits six year olds. As far as I can see, it is just a unrequested child-minding service.

      As I mentioned above, I am helping my son work with some of the textbooks that are used for his age-group in Ireland. As he gets older, I might even try to get him to take the Irish or UK exams.

      I don’t begrudge Thai teachers earning a bit of extra cash. I just don’t think it’s fair that they should be poaching students from their regular classes.

      Yeah – I thought the rain was over, but it looks like rainy season 2 🙂

  3. Sorry Paul, missed your bit about home tuition.

    Perhaps you should go to school and say that as you are a qualified teacher the only time you can give him home tuition is at the pi-set times so would s/he please not discuss pi-set with your boy?

    Self-confidence – provide it at home, why trust an education system designed not to give confidence with giving confidence?

    I don’t understand the poaching – thought it was after school?

    Hope you are keeping well,

    All the Best,

    BillZ

    1. I’m worried that the effort I put into making him confident will be undone at school. I’m teaching him that he can achieve things by putting in the right effort – I want him to be confident enough to go after the things he wants in life – this message is not being supported by the school where paying for extra classes seems to be the key to success.

      The teachers are being paid to provide classroom tuition – the fact that they are using this time to promote extra classes sounds to me like poaching.

  4. Hopefully you can pave the way for other parents who feel the same way as you do. The best way to stop feeling blackmailed or powerless is to simply stop feeling powerless.

    Of course, I’m not in your shoes, and I wish I could offer something tangible, as I do agree w/ you – this is utter bullshit.

    Would a petition help? Or educating/spreading the word that making their kids feel “stupid” is NOT the way to go? Just throwing out ideas…tho’ I agree w/ the above comments, it’s a flawed system and educating at the home is valuable too.

    Good luck, and thanks for letting us know…
    Lani recently posted..Why expats (outsiders) are good for a community

  5. I understand your use of the word poaching now.

    There is a great deal of alternative education discussion along the lines that schooling is designed to fail the vast majority of students, and significant in this culture of failure is the process of undermining self-confidence. Forewarned is forearmed, and promoting your own child’s self-confidence despite what happens at school is a significant parenting role within current school systems.

    To me this pi-set issue is part of Thailand’s version of a global education “failure” problem – part of a wider issue. Whilst on the front end it is the teachers who are trying to earn the extra money – and with the poaching – dishonourably, it is really the prevailing system that is creating the issue.

    I was often involved with extra maths classes. In view of the discipline problems in UK schools and elsewhere I would always advise parents and students to attend these extra classes to seek support. In some schools those extra classes were part of a paid after-school curriculum programme and other times they were voluntary – and sometimes voluntary but not by choice. My approach was the same with all – some could argue that when I was paid I should not have promoted the class, and the administration would argue that such classes ought to have been part of a teacher’s duty and should not have been paid. My point – teachers whether motivated by reward or otherwise try to make up for the deficiency of the system. And always the teacher is on the front end and is perceived as the problem. But they don’t make the decisions – the admin does. And these heads become the admin because they are willing to do what their bosses tell them.

    When you start to analyse deeply what happens in education there is only one way through as a parent, and that is to take as much control as possible for yourself – without creating an adversarial situation with the teacher as that is never beneficial to the child/student. This adversary is pushed on you by the system, and it cannot be avoided. Just because it is more obvious with pi-set and blatant grade-rigging here doesn’t make the necessary approach any different, it is just that when it is not so blatant parents don’t always recognise it.

  6. Paul, I do have one thought. Students who are perceived as “different” in terms of a different racial group, or who can’t speak the local language as well as locals, or who don’t participate in what the locals are, are often bullied, especially by Grades 2-3, and on up. I understand totally what you are saying, but I think your son is old enough to be involved in the decision. Why don’t you ask him if it is something he wants to do, or not? If he is not sure, let him try it for a short time (a week or a month, whatever the minimum payment is). If he wants to continue to attend, let him. If not, then help him by making up an excuse. Sometimes children actually want to participate in these things so that they don’t get singled out as being different.

    Best regards, Lynne

    1. Thanks Lynne – his two best friends in the class don’t go either, so he is not that keen. The only reason he asked yesterday was that his teacher told him to. He still has a couple of years before he gets to grade 2 and maybe by that time he will want to attend.

  7. It looks like you are doing your best, Paul, and you’re a good dad. Timmy’s still young yet. He will get his values and confidence from home, as another commenter said. I like how you got extra materials from Ireland to complement his English studies. Best of luck, I don’t know what else to say here except that as a parent, I feel your concern and would have the same concern if Aidan were immersed in the Thai education system.
    Amy recently posted..Giving Takes Practice

    1. Thanks Amy, I do worry about my parenting skills, and it is sometimes hard to know what to do for the best. I suppose if we were educating him back in Ireland, we’d just have a different set of problems.

  8. Hi, thank your for you story. We run a small language center outside Bangkok and most of term 1 we were very successful until the Thai teachers introduced classes at the local schools. Our number dropped to the stage we only had a couple of students. My Thai teaching partner contacted some of the parents and was told that their son/daughter had to study at school of the Thai teacher would fail them. These special classes at schools have 40 or 50 students and the teachers are covering the same work as normal class time. The Thai teachers always complain that they don’t get paid enough money Hmmmmmm!!!!

    1. Hi Paul – the Thai teachers have a nice little monopoly. They don’t have to worry about providing quality tuition in these extra classes because they can blackmail parents into sending their kids.

      1. Yes that is true Paul. The Thai teachers have to make all their students study special because they don’t teach them during normal class times at school. My supervisor (Thai) asked me to set up a special class and then 1 week later started her own classes in direct opposition to mine. She then had the hide to ask me to go and teach her students. I declined .

        It looks like this a usual activity for the Thai teachers to show the students failing at mid term and then offer extra tuition either at school or at their homes

        Luckily I have a regular teaching position and the business is a little on the side so if we don’t have students it give us the weekend free to enjoy the great attractions of southern Thailand and Malaysia.

        1. It’s good that you are not depending on that other business too much Paul. One thing I don’t miss about teaching in Thailand is the politics. I’d love to have my weekends off, so I do evny you that.

  9. well T.I.T this is Thailand. i used to teach in an MEP and MP students where as these students should get higher grades than in a normal class both english and thai subjects…….they must have. why?????yeaaahhhh because of fuckin mo***

  10. Hello Paul! Looks like everybody already beat me to it. In any case, all I wanted to add here is to keep your lines of communication open to your son. I know he may be too young to understand the politics of the Thai education system (and it may not be in his best interest to introduce him to the ugly truth) but I’ve done the same with my first child. I’ve told him the ugly truth, only because I’ll soon be offering him a better life with a better education here in the USA.

    A decade in Thailand and engaging in a PGCE has taught me that the Thai education is geared for only one thing: population control. The corruption and other nasties are simply Thais making ends meet.

    Meanwhile I always encourage my kids to do their best, be good, and have fun. My first sons’ classmates copy from him and steal his ideas all the time. His teacher doesn’t give a shit (I’ve asked him) and they also refuse to talk to me — they prefer to talk to my wife, who they know they can sucker because of the kreng-jai bullshit — which is what every Thai is brainwashed into submitting to. Kudos to you for standing on top of the bullshit.

    I left Thailand half a year ago and I’m currently working to get my petition papers in order so I can bring my family over and raise my kids here. When they’ve got the education they deserve and I’m all old and scraggly, we can can retire back to Thailand if the kids want. Seems all the hype is true — Thailand is only good for people looking to spend the rest of their lives cheaply and with overrated whores. If you want to live the simple, quiet, mai-ben-rai-because-mai-loo life it’s perfect — but if you want to try and change the world for the better, Thailand’s not the place for that.

    We can go on and on but eventually we must accept that nothing will change. Accept it and make that choice. There have been great people raised in Thailand — who eventually settle overseas. Accept what the education system is and you can make a difference to those that you inspire. But beyond that, Thailand is going to keep it’s people under the thumb. Since time immemorial, quality education has always been a privilege, not a right, in Thailand.

    1. Hi Steve, I agree that trying to change the system would be like banging my head against the break wall. I’m going to help him with his education as much as possible. If he can enjoy his school days that will at least be something. I got kicked out of school at age fifteen, so my view of education in the west isn’t all rosy either. I’ve also got a PGCE, but I don’t think it has made me any better at making decisions about my son’s education.

  11. Hey Paul,

    I saw this when I was briefly a teacher, and put it down to the Thai approach to quantitative education: in other words, the more time my kid spends at school the more he/she will learn. As well, of course, providing additional cash for teachers, as you mention.

    I honestly don’t know the solution — interested to hear how you get on. Fwiw, I think you are right to help educate your son at home. Best of luck as ever!

    1. Nice to hear from you Jon. I hope you had a nice Christmas.
      I’m going to put more effort into his home-studies.
      At the moment I’m going to say no to the extra classes, but if he wants to go in a year or two, I’ll just let him.

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