#8: The Importance of Failure

I am tired. This teaching fandango is cream-crackering as it is, but all the frilly bits that come with the teaching especially have been taking it out of us all here! Thailand is renowned for having celebrations and ACN has once more been throwing props, music and glitter here there and everywhere.

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ACN Night

Last week of teaching was again shortened to just four days to make way for the yearly parent-student party called ACN Night. In previous years, ACN Night has been over the course of just one Saturday – this year, it was spread over both Friday and Saturday evening, showcasing dances from every class in school. After some quick maths, we realised that was about 70 or 80 classes who’s be performing (there are 15 in Kindergarten alone!)… The opening of each night went off with a bang (hur hur) as fireworks blazed across the sky from the sports field where hundreds of proud parents could ogle. Unlike a lot of the other foreign teachers, I had classes performing on both nights, so I had a sweet time getting to watch them in their gladrags. Even the jokers and noisy boys of the classes seemed ‘lost in the dance’ and were taking it very seriously. Shame I can’t get them to feel the same way about learning English…

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Both nights ended with some famous Thai musicians taking to the stage, one being the winner of a Thai music competition called The Star, Bie (the star). I haven’t really warmed to much Thai music, especially pop, but he was actually pretty good! Most importantly the students seemed to love it but by the time he came on with all his dancers, I was ready for my slippers and hot cocoa. All these parties really take it out of you.

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Failure is not an option. (No, really)

I struggle to believe that I’ve been here for over three months now, and yet, the end of the academic year is already and undeniably in sight! The papers for the Finals exams were due this Monday but due to the (rather typical) three day notice before, we managed to push the deadline a little.

Here is my ongoing issue with Thai education: Due to the concept of face, students cannot be failed here. Even if a student only puts their name on a paper and doesn’t answer a single question, we are still obliged to give them a 60% pass mark. An initial positive side to this is that on the official paper, no one can do badly as a result of your teaching. The landslide of a problem with this is that in the classroom (especially with older kids) they realise that they’ll pass regardless of how much they actually know; the threat of failure disappears, and just like that – one of the most powerful tools of motivation does too.

Besides this, my own experience of failure has taught me so much in and out of the realms of education; how can telling children they’re right when they’re wrong be good for them when they go into the bid wide world – which doesn’t give a flying monkey about face? And how does it reward the students who DO try if they’re getting marks similar to the ones who don’t? I’ve managed to find ways around this, but it still feels a disheartening. Seems ironic that just this week I found this in a stationary store in Korat… the concept of failure is visible and yet no student truly gets to succeed from it.

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