After many years of wondering about this large continent that lies so far to the south, I finally had the opportunity to travel to Australia. It was a business trip on behalf of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). The CCT desperately needs teachers for the 27 private K-12 Christian schools that operate throughout Thailand. Most of the schools were established by Protestant missionaries many decades ago and some are over 100 years old. Those Protestant missionaries are credited with bringing Western education to Thailand and for educating women, as well as men. Back in the day, these schools were known throughout Thailand for teaching the English language, as well as math, science and the fundamentals of Christian character.
Today, the schools of the CCT are being hit with a loss of enrollment due to two major factors: a declining birthrate in Thailand, as educated Thai women enter the workforce and delay starting families, and intense competition from both government schools and private, for-profit international schools. At the same time, young university graduates are coming into the workforce with a higher debt load than ever before in history. This is making it difficult for Christian Volunteers in Thailand to recruit the teachers that are needed in these Christian schools. In fact, more than half of the volunteers now serving are retirees who believe they still have something to contribute.
So, I traveled to Australia to see whether there might be university graduates closer at hand and to explore the best methods for spreading the word that teachers are needed here in Thailand. I also wanted to discover what Australia had to offer to Thai teachers and administrators who wished to further their education. What I learned over the course of six days and many meetings with various individuals and groups was both sobering and hopeful.
The meetings that were the most hopeful were those at the Uniting World office on Pitt Street in Sydney on Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon. The first time, I met with Dr. Sureka Goringe (left in the photo), the National Director of Uniting World and responsible for international partnerships. And I also met with Dr. Sureka Goringe and Ms. Jane Kennedy (right in the photo), the Associate Director for International Programs of Uniting World. Both were delighted that I had come and that they could renew their ties with the Church of Christ in Thailand as both recognized that it had been many years since the two church organizations had been in contact with one another. While the conversations wandered through many different dimensions of international church ministries and partnerships, I was able to share the critical need for teachers in the Christian schools of the CCT and to obtain a commitment from them to share that information with Uniting Church congregations throughout Australia. I promised to send them the link to a new video recruitment ad that Daniel Pappas made for the CVT Program (https://vimeo.com/320997466/7c262aff56) and to send the new brochures when they have been printed. The two ladies shared with me that they have an annual gathering of Uniting Church international partners that is usually held in Bali or in Fiji every year. They promised to send an invitation to Rev. Sayam Muangsak for the Church of Christ in Thailand to send someone from the CCT to this gathering in July of 2019 in Fiji. This conference is called the Uniting Church President’s Conference and, this year, the focus is on climate change. While other subjects were broached during the meeting, everyone agreed that we need to begin by re-establishing relationships and including the missing partners in our dialog and discussion of regional issues.
The conversations that were the most sobering were those I had with educational leaders at Wollongong University and Western Sydney University. Both of these fine institutions are known for the quality of teachers that they produce. I met with Robyn Lumby, Senior Business Manager of the School of Education and Joanna Hoetzer, Careers Consultant for the Faculty of Social Sciences, at Wollongong University on Monday morning and, later, with Dr. Christine Johnston, Director of Engagement and International, School of Education (center in photo) and Dr. Kumara Ward, Director of Academic Programs, Early Childhood (right in photo) at Western Sydney University, on Monday afternoon. While everyone was sincere in their offer to assist me in my quest for teachers, they were frank in pointing out that their graduates 1) could command much higher salaries in Australia (more than double what the CCT schools could pay foreign teachers), 2) would not gain any advantage in the job market by teaching in Thailand and, when they returned to Australia, would have to begin at the bottom of the employment ladder, even with several years of experience teaching in Thailand, and 3) due to the recent changes in teacher requirements in Australia, would be more highly educated and skilled than teachers from most other nations. While these things allow Australia to produce highly skilled instructors, it may also cause those instructors to be less patient with organizations that do not measure up to their high standards. At the same time, everyone was willing to help me understand ways in which I could post available openings in CCT schools and help to spread the word among their own students. They were also eager to share ways in which they might collaborate with the administrators of the CCT schools to bring state-of-the-art teaching techniques and educational trends to Thailand through seminars or conferences where their educators might travel to Bangkok to present or to teach. While the CCT might send administrators or talented faculty to Australia to study, recent changes in Australian law require the universities to screen carefully for English language proficiency. Most graduate programs require an IELTS score of 8, which is very high proficiency in English.
There was one last visit and series of meetings that was both hopeful and sobering. Those were the meetings that I had at Australian Catholic University on Thursday morning. Here I met with Dr. Shakri Sanber, Head of the School of Education (right in the photo), and Ms. Diana Stevens, Associate Director for International Marketing and Recruitment (left in the photo). Both of them were very warm and welcoming. It became very clear during the time we spent together that Australian Catholic University is very familiar with the world of private schools affiliated with the church. Australian Catholic University is ranked No. 1 for Teacher Education in Australia and it produces many of the teachers that teach in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran schools that are scattered throughout Australia. One of things that impressed me the most about their graduate programs for educational leadership is how they require graduate students to reflect upon the role of faith and of religion in education – something that CCT educational administrators would not have been exposed to in a Thai university graduate studies program. While all of them acknowledge the difficulties that graduate students coming from Thailand would have with the English language proficiency requirement, they also shared their willingness to work with cohorts of students. Having a cohort of 15-18 students would allow the university to adapt the language requirement, as it would benefit all students in the class – not just one individual. They were also eager to talk about the possibility of having a cohort in Thailand and sending a member of the faculty to meet with that cohort from time to time as they progressed through the curriculum, studying some things online and some face-to-face. All-in-all, there were many opportunities for partnership and collaboration, for they also shared that Australian Catholic University had much to learn from Thailand as well.
While I met with many other educational administrators at other universities in and near Sydney, most of the other meetings did not result in anything new or open the door to possibilities that were not evident from their information online. However, the meetings I attended (above) encouraged me that there were ways to partner both with the church and with educational institutions to bring teachers and leadership practices to the schools of the CCT in Thailand. I look forward to sharing this information with them and formulating a plan for future partnerships with our colleagues in Australia.