An interview with Koh Samui Language School
Founder and Director, Dave Belcher, talks about Koh Samui, schools, and ED visas
“When did you first open the school?”
We opened the school in 2003 in Chaweng, Koh Samui. We were working in Samui’s first international school. We opened a Saturday school for children and ran summer camps for 2 years. We ran children’s classes on Saturdays and on week days. At that time there was no other international school or foreign language programmes in Samui. These classes were very popular. Particularly with children studying at the government schools in Samui, for example St Joseph’s and Tipparat.
“Where did you run these classes?”
Originally we used the classrooms and campus at Bencaja school in Chaweng. We used the classrooms on Saturdays and after school on week days. We built up a base of children and return students during this time.
“What was your next step?”
In 2005 we rented a building in Maenam and opened the school where it still is today. We applied for and received Ministry of Education licenses to teach both Thai and English language curriculums.
“What is the most important demand, ED visas or education?”
Well, there is a demand in Samui for language lessons. Especially for foreigners, for example Italians, German, and French people. But the most popular thing is to get an education visa and study at the same time. So I would say that most people who come to the school are looking for an education visa and then they choose to learn Thai or English. Of these, English is probably the most popular especially with the Russian community. The majority of our students are Russian, as Russian people seem to want to learn English more than other nationalities and are most interested in an education visa.
“How important is the quality of education on Samui?”
Education visas are a great way to stay in Thailand over the long term, up to one year and then longer than one year. An Education visa is easier, less hassle, and better than tourist visas over the long term. The quality of language lessons to support education visas is important. Of course when people spend their money to come and learn they are looking for the best quality classes and teachers they can find. Since there are a number of language schools in Samui which offer classes and education visas, it is important to provide the highest standards, the best course, the best teachers, and the best facilities.
“How do you find teachers? How often do they change? How do you assess their suitability for the job?”
Firstly, we advertise for positions on websites for example ajarn.com. We find teachers who want to come to Thailand or that are already in Thailand, for example in Bangkok, and would be interested in coming to Samui. Secondly, by word of mouth; a lot of people write us emails or call us or come into the school because they heard from other people that we hire teachers. We have a good reputation and people know that we are a good school to work for.
Teachers do change quite a lot, it is the nature of the island that most people do not live here for a long time or permanently. Most people will stay here 6 months to one year, possibly a little longer. The nature of teachers who come to Thailand is that they want to move around and travel and see the world and different places. So it is a challenge to get teachers to stay. We have been fortunate and had a few teachers who have stayed long term, for example 2 to 3 years is not uncommon. But it is a challenge and we have to address it by trying to make a good team and a good working environment and paying a competitive salary. For example our Headteacher for corporate lessons has already been with us 3 years. In the past we were lucky to have a teacher called Rose who also stayed with us 2 or 3 years, and several teachers before that also stayed more than 3 years.
We always hire native speakers, even though they are more expensive, so most of our teachers come from the UK, USA, South Africa, and Canada. We look for people with degrees and qualifications in education; the best is a degree in linguistics or a diploma in teaching English as a second language, or another kind of degree in education. But other than that we also always look for a recognized TEFL certificate, for example Cambridge Certificate of English Language teaching to adults is the best in the world, or something of similar quality. At the moment we are lucky enough to have a Headteacher who has a degree in education.
“Who are your students? Why does someone want to come to learn English in Thailand?”
As mentioned most of our students are Europeans and Russians. I think that most people want to study English in Thailand because they want to live in a beautiful tropical island with a great lifestyle and beautiful place to live. And after that it’s a good opportunity to learn English or Thai. The prices here are very competitive and much cheaper than back home in Europe or Russia. And obtaining an education visa and studying is a very convenient way to stay in Thailand.
“There are 8 language schools on Samui, why someone should come to KSTVS? What are you doing to improve your school and ensure you are the best school available?”
We were the first school here, of course, but that does not mean that we don’t try to keep ahead of the competition and continually improve. We have the most experience and the best reputation. We’ve been here the longest and the reason for that is we’ve always been successful in supplying high quality language courses that customers are interested in. We are always looking to reinvest our profit in hiring better teachers and staff to improve the quality of our classes. We invest in our classrooms and resources, for example this year we have invested in projectors and tablets for providing eteaching material in the classroom, using a DVD version of our textbooks. We are now delivering lessons using an interactive format. In addition we are embracing technology by buying Active Teach student packages from the publisher Longmans, so that our students can complete workbook assignments online in their own time. We also invest a lot in our textbooks and research them carefully to ensure we get the best available. Our Thai text books come from England and are probably the best Thai text books you can find anywhere in the world. Our English textbooks are either Cutting Edge or New English File by Oxford University Press and Speak Out which we use for our conversation classes. In addition, we try to keep prices low and competitive as we believe it is better to have a wide range of students and a large body of students who are happy with the service and the value they receive than to charge people a lot of money and have unhappy customers.
“Do you have any plans for the future?”
Yes, we want to make online classes that would use the Longmans Active Teach online material and Microsoft learning tools like OneNote class notebooks. This would allow students to have an online tutor, use the same material, but study remotely from home and still have their work graded and reviewed by a teacher.
We would also like to arrange live internet sessions with the teacher using Skype and stream our classes live on the net for people to watch remotely.
We are planning to open a school in Krabi and Phuket, and possibly another branch here on Samui, perhaps in the south of the island in Lamai.
In the corporate world of teaching, we are working on our hospitality and hotels programs, which we are currently turning into e-learning material; both blended solutions for the classroom and apps that students can use by themselves if they are working in hotels.
Finally, we want to start Chinese classes in the school with ED visas.