Every year, thousands of footloose university graduates cross the
Pacific to try their luck at teaching English in Asia. Some quit
after a few semesters; others make it their career, and hop from
school to school, and country to country.
But the arrest here last week of John Mark Karr for the murder of
JonBenet Ramsey spotlights the dark side of the international school
circuit, and has prompted calls for stricter controls on teacher
Campaigners against child abuse in Asia warn that a troubled
minority lurks among the ranks of foreign teachers. Pedophiles have
also worked in orphanages and Thai child aid projects. Mr. Karr lost
his California teaching license after being jailed in 2001 for
possessing child pornography. He later left the US and taught in
several countries, including Thailand, where he was hired earlier
this year to teach elementary classes at two private schools in
Bangkok. His arrest came two days after he had started at another
Karr is not accused of any offenses in Thailand. In May another
American teacher was deported to face charges in the US after
spending a year in a Thai jail for sexually abusing teenage boys at
his school. Earlier this month, an Australian teacher was charged in
Jakarta, Indonesia, with molesting street children.
"Private schools say they have high standards, but they're not
checking the backgrounds of foreign teachers," says Wanchai
Roujamawong, a former public prosecutor who heads the probation
department at the Thai Ministry of Justice. Schools must "make sure
all teachers have a license and clean records."
International schools have mushroomed across Thailand over the
last five years, as well as English-language immersion programs in
Thai public schools. While some international schools cater to
expatriates and recruit teachers in their home country, others serve
Thai parents who want their children to become bilingual. Some 7,000
foreign teachers work in Thailand.
The rising demand for native speakers means even inexperienced
applicants find jobs. Thai authorities say some teachers are not
properly screened, and want stricter enforcement of regulations.
"It's a question of standards. We shouldn't lower our standards
for the sake of opening more schools," says Jakrapop Penkair, a
member of a government committee on private-sector education. "We
have enough laws in Thailand, but we disregard them."
Education officials say some international schools have
complained that background checks take too long, such as verifying
overseas university degrees. Uncovering criminal records is even
more cumbersome, unless the applicant shows up on an international
police watch-list at immigration. …