When older generations criticize Millennials, they often mention the prevalence of “participation awards.” This describes the idea that every child should receive recognition, not just the students who are the best. That way, everyone goes home with a trophy and no one leaves with hurt feelings.

The concept of rewarding everyone regardless of their abilities is taken to a new level in Thailand. Public schools throughout the country must abide by a no-fail policy, meaning the students have be allowed to take tests over and over again until they achieve a passing grade. This results in many teachers simply handing out acceptable grades, even if the students have proved they don’t know the material. Perhaps the most harmful facet of this policy is the fact that students are well-aware of its existence. They know they can act out in class, ignore homework assignments and avoid studying for tests…but still advance to the next grade level.

A secondary school education without any learning

The no-fail policy results in a larger gap in skill levels than should exist. If a student in Basic English I is pushed to the next class without actually learning, how can he understand the material in Basic English II? Because he doesn’t have the foundational knowledge he needs to grasp more complex lessons, he will continue to fall behind the peers who earned their grades.

Unfortunately, some school systems that focus more on standardized tests in America abide by similar rules. Teachers aren’t allowed to give a grade below a D, no matter how much effort the student put into their #Education. When these students get to college, the struggle to maintain the necessary grades to remain in their programs. It’s pretty clear why that is.

Adjusting expectations for ESL teaching

As a new teacher, I can’t help but feel frustrated by this Thai policy. I want to help students become more proficient at English and improve their conversational skills so they have more options for higher education and careers. It’s difficult to feel as though you’re making an impact when a handful of students in every class feel no obligation to work. If you can’t use grades to motivate secondary school kids, what can you use to stimulate them? For many middle school and high school students, the idea of choosing a university or career is such an abstract idea, they can’t truly see the value in an English education. Games and other fun, relatable activities can add some inspiration to the classroom, but it’s often not enough for all of the students.

Fellow novice teacher Ian Rosen is similarly disappointed by the Thai school system’s design:

“Many of my co-teachers told me that I should just change a failing score to a passing one and that if I don’t, the main office will do it anyway come the end of the semester,” he said. “I think I would rather fail the students and have the office change it, instead of compromising my own morals.” Rosen wondered, “Then again, does it really make a difference in the long run?”