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Views Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO)

Teaching in Thailand H

eather Card has taught in the UK and in Milan. Here she talks about the first days of her placement volunteering with VSO in northern Thailand, improving access to education for young migrant children.

“I have known about VSO for many years, and in fact considered doing it a long time ago when I was at a transition point in my life. I had started thinking about it again more recently, and then I was made redundant from my job, so it seemed like the perfect time to take the plunge. I have only recently arrived in Thailand, but recruitment and preparation for the placement began long before I boarded a plane. VSO provided a thorough training process, which included a lot of self-briefing as well as online and face-to-face training. I already knew a lot about the situation for migrants on the Thai/Burma border through my involvement with Amnesty International in the UK, so I was very excited about working there.

VSO take care of some of the really key issues such as medical insurance, visa applications and flight bookings, but there were lots of practical things to sort out before leaving – medicals, vaccinations, documentation, financial issues, and packing up my house and belongings.

Deciding what to take was a real challenge. It is difficult to know what you will need until you get here, and packing clothes for the hot season in Thailand in the middle of one of the coldest, longest winters the UK has seen was really difficult! VSO gives a recommended list of medical supplies to take, so I dutifully went and bought up half the local pharmacy, though it turns out that most things are very easily available here. Oh, and I got to learn to ride a motorbike. In theory, I can now be let loose on the roads of Thailand without being too much of a danger to myself or others, though I have discovered there is little in common between the driving conditions in Thailand and the roads around Kidderminster!

I spent my first four weeks here in orientation and language training, which felt like being in quite a protective bubble. I’m now based in Mae Sot, a very multi-cultural town on the Thai-Burmese border, so there are lots of Burmese people and a large population of western NGO workers. I certainly do not stand out as the only white person for miles around, but it means it is going to be quite a challenge for me to practise and improve my Thai, as for many people here it is not their first language, and so many people speak English.

I hope to be able to contribute a very small part towards improving the situation for migrant children and their families. Migrant communities are very marginalised and vulnerable, and their young children often miss out on basic Early Childhood services, including education, health and nutrition. I will be working with Thai schools that take migrant children, to help improve access and quality of Early Childhood education. By the end of my time abroad, I hope to have learnt some lessons about myself and to return at the end of the placement with some new perspectives.

I don’t know what I’m going to do when the placement finishes; a friend of mine has a wonderful saying: “Let things unfold!” At the moment, I am thinking that I will return to the UK after my two years. However, there are many people here who came for a year or two and have liked it so much they’ve never gone home, so who knows. To other teachers considering volunteering I would say: be prepared to step right out of everything that is familiar and comfortable, and to take on challenges that you would not have dreamt of. It will be whatever you make it, as I am finding out.”

uVSO urgently needs education professionals to volunteer in countries all over the world. Visit for more information.

May 2013 British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)

Leasing in schools: an update on current events


s reported in last November’s issue of

Education Today, the education sector’s trade association BESA has been working with a number of its member organisations to encourage the Government to change its policy on leasing in schools. Caroline Wright, Director, BESA, explains the impact this will have on schools and provides an update on its progress.

“Currently schools in England are wasting millions of pounds each year on expensive ICT leasing contracts because the Government’s leasing regulations are outdated.

The guidelines issued to schools are preventing head teachers from signing up for best value-for-money finance leases, and forcing them to opt for more expensive operating leases.

Therefore, this month we responded to the Department for Education’s consultation ‘Review of Efficiency in the Schools System’, and called on the Government to introduce new leasing guidance in time for the introduction of the new National Curriculum in September 2014. Working with our member organisations that operate in the leasing market, we estimate that schools are losing more than £10m per year purely because of overly complex and restrictive Department for Education guidance. As a result, many schools have been left with less money to spend on commonly leased products such as computers and other ICT resources.

Philip White, chief executive of one of our member organisations Syscap explains: “Leasing is becoming an important tool within schools to help secure and grow their IT infrastructure. We have been working with BESA to develop a cost effective approach to finance that gives schools the flexibility to maintain steady investment in their IT assets in order to bring improvements in teaching and student support. “The provision of a choice of leasing options will help to meet the improvement in IT education that both the Government and parents expect to be delivered.”

Quite simply, by limiting schools in their choice of leasing arrangements, the Government risks placing in jeopardy the successful adoption and introduction of its flagship new National Curriculum, which is due to be introduced in schools from September 2014. Over the coming year, many schools are likely to wish to refresh and purchase new ICT and science equipment to help them deliver the more rigorous curriculum programmes of study for computer science, science and design and technology. Yet if the Government fails to amend its current leasing guidance, schools will continue to be hamstrung into spending over-the-odds on the purchase of essential equipment. We have therefore called on the Government to work with us to update guidance to schools that clarifies industry best-practice and allows schools to use cost-effective industry standard finance leases. We would also like them to explore the potential for setting up an accredited kite-marking system for leasing companies operating in the education sector and develop best-practice guidelines for schools to cover selection of both suppliers and products.

By implementing a standard finance leasing template for schools, the Government will ensure schools are getting the best value from their leases.”

uA full copy of BESA’s response to the Government’s consultation is available at or by contacting BESA on 0207 537 4997 7

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