AT LEAST 120,000 teachers could be forced back to university if Thailand's National Education Commission approves plans to introduce licences for primary and secondary school educators.
Many teachers would have to study for a bachelor's degree in education - the minimum requirement for a licence. Teachers without a degree would be given five years to complete a tertiary course or face dismissal. With a shortage of teachers and a heavy workload, it is feared that many teachers would find attending university after class difficult.
"We are particularly concerned that some of the older teachers would not be able to cope with the added stress," said an official from the largest teaching association.
Three types of licences have been proposed: a two-year temporary, a renewable five-year standard and a permanent licence. Teachers with two years' experience would be eligible for a temporary licence, while standard and permanent licences would depend on individual evaluation. But teachers with these licences would go on to a higher pay scale.
The introduction of licences, scheduled for 2002, is part of plans by authorities to improve the standard of teaching in Thai schools. Thai social activists, politicians and the business community have long lamented the poor training for many teachers.
While the commission has yet to announce whether the licence system will be extended to foreign teachers, many schools are concerned that it could become even harder to find native speakers for foreign language courses.
Well-qualified teachers are often put off coming to Thailand because of the low wages compared with other Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea. Also, obtaining work permits can be difficult. "Thailand does not need any more obstacles in attracting good, well-qualified teachers from overseas," said an overseas teacher working in a Chiang Mai primary school. "It is already a red-tape nightmare," he said.
Thai teaching unions, conceding that the new system has some merit, say that the proposed fees are too high and the evaluation process could lead to corruption and nepotism.
Detractors would like to see the authorities implement a proper evaluation process instead. There are calls to ensure that the body set up to approve licences should be independent and free of political interference.
Pornnipa Limpapayom, secretary-general of the teachers' Civil Service Commission, said the fees of up to 5,000 baht (about pound;80) were too high.