I started as a teacher in 1987. I began as a high school Maths teacher in Jamaica, then worked as an EFL instructor to teenagers and adults in Poland, South Korea and Thailand. I trained as a primary class teacher in the UK and France, taught primary from Year 4-6 in the UK, France, Thailand and China, and then home-schooled my own children through IGCSEs and A-Levels.
Gary John Ilines
BA Honours, CTEFLA, PGCE Modern Languages, MA International Education
The question I ask is: Is all (private) education a rip-off?
'Private' is in brackets because it is mostly private education I am thinking about specifically, but really even free or public education is paid for by someone (the tax payer). So the broader question becomes: Is education ever really worth the money? This question is even more specifically not directed at those few people for whom money is no object, but rather at the masses of us reasonably well-off people for whom there is an opportunity cost of sending our children to private schools or paying taxes to have them go to public schools. So, is it worth it, or would we be better off spending the money differently, perhaps investing it for our children in other ways?
William Deresiewicz wrote a book, which is linked from this website, called 'Excellent Sheep' where he outlines how even the most elite of elite educations is a poor effort at creating exceptional human beings. Of course, with his "handful of Ivy league degrees" as he describes his own qualifications, and best-selling books, and outstanding career, it's easy for him to stand there and criticize. Nevertheless, he makes a good case.
Then there are those of us not so privileged, who pay the extra to get our children into a class of 20 rather than a class of 30-50. This is a significant financial sacrifice for hard-working people and many parents wonder if it is worth it. How much time is wasted at school, many are asking? One old friend supportively said to me recently: "I don't blame you for home-schooling. Education in Thailand is expensive and it just produces zombies with a burnout who don't know anything."
Many parents reading this will agree, most will at least sympathise with this perspective. But I will go one further. I would like to suggest that what I am currently doing is also a rip-off, even though it is pracucially charity.
I am teaching Thai village children to read and write .English. In terms of my experience, professional qualifications and knowledge of the indigenous culture, few people could match my ability. I am charging 50 Baht an hour per child. 50 baht is less than $US 1.50. It's a ridiculously good deal and I am obviously not trying to get rich. So why do I still wonder if I am ripping people off? Superficially, the parents are paying me to teach their children to read and write English and this will be successful. The children who stick with my program for a couple of years will learn to read and write English; no question. But there is a deeper question which must be asked: Why do the parents want their children to learn this skill, and also why have the children come to believe that this is a skill worth having?
Without researching, I cannot know for sure the answer to that question, but I suspect that ultimately the reason is that they think it will help the child to have a better life. Or they perhaps reason that the English skill will enable them to get into a better college, thus enabling them to have a better life. But it's the same thing.
Perhaps, I am thinking, these village children and their parents and grandparents would be better off focusing on sustaining and improving their life here in the village rather than in trying to send their children off into this mythical better life which probably doesn't exist. One child, a girl of eleven, wanted to come and study with me and was very upset that her parents refused to pay the money. But, honestly, I have a lot of sympathy for their view that it is a waste of money.
I don't know for sure. Maybe I am ultimately helping these kids, maybe I am not. I will do my best to provide the best service I can. But in my heart of hearts I wonder if, even at $1.50 an hour, I am still a selfish and self-serving parasite. And if I am, what does that say about the rest of them?© Copyright Gary John Ilines.