My Fears about the Thai Education System and How it Will Affect My Son

Next year my son will be starting school but I have many concerns about the Thai education system. I worked as a teacher here for seven years in a number of schools and have seen what goes on firsthand. I can’t afford the high prices of the international schools, but even they attract the occasional bad press from disgruntled parents. We recently moved house to an area on the outskirts of Bangkok where there are affordable private schools. We have found one that seems promising; although I still worry though about what type of education he will get here.

My comments here are from my personal experience and not meant to insult anyone. I know that there are some good things about the Thai education system; I also know that there are some excellent Thai and foreign teachers. The following is just the views of a concerned parent who wants to do the best for his son.

Why I Worry about the Thai Education System

My main worry is the fact that the Thai education system does not seem to value quality; instead it seems dedicated to decoration and keeping people happy. For instance, the school where I last worked insisted that all students be given at least 70% no matter how badly the students performed. From talking to other teachers over the years I know that this type of unfair marking is widespread. This is not just the schools at fault; parents who pay for private education will move their child elsewhere if they don’t get good marks in exams. In the government schools the teacher is viewed as a failure if all their students don’t get great marks – so they just give top marks without merit. Another worry is that cheating is rampant in Thai schools; something I’ve discussed here.

The people who suffer most are the good students and caring teachers. The ones who work their asses off for nothing; believe me there are quite a few of these. Thai kids are in no way dumb; they are just sometimes being failed by a flawed system that is showing no real signs of improving. There is no recognition that a percentage of students doing less well than others is a sign that the system is working and has merit. Not every student can be getting top marks in every subject – that is just silly and demeans the whole system.

The Thai education system is not all bad of course. The students are among the best in the world, and if given the chance more of these young people could do amazing things. The ones who do go on to do great things at the moment seem to manage it despite the system and not because of it. The people of Thailand are not unaware of the problem either; some fine students are just as baffled and disillusioned.

I am sure that there are some schools in Thailand that get it right. The problem is that it only takes a few to tarnish the rest. That is just the way it is. When too many people are getting 70% it makes that mark mean practically nothing. When no attempt is made to control cheating it makes all marks mean less.

My Son’s Future in the Thai Education System

So I’m worried about my son’s future here in Thailand. The obvious answer would be to take him away from Thailand altogether. I don’t want to do this though; this is his home. I also feel that Thailand has so many other great things going it its favour in regards to raising children – no place is perfect. I can also see that there are flaws in the education systems elsewhere in the world; the system in my own country is far from perfect. Some children do manage to thrive in the Thailand education system and I just hope that my son is one of them.

What do you think?

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23 thoughts on “My Fears about the Thai Education System and How it Will Affect My Son

    1. Thanks Elizabeth, I do hope that my wife and I can make a difference. My wife already sits down with him every day to work on his ABCs and Gaw Gai (Thai alphabet). I think many Thai kids are overworked as well; there are a lot of classes after school and at the weekends. There is a lot of pressure on parents to send their kids to these extra classes.

  1. Hi Paul,

    I’m with you in being concerned having spent some time as a teacher. It has always been our intention to have our son (and soon to be arriving daughter) spend the majority of their education in the UK: but currently live in Thailand is suiting us best so there will be decision to be made either way in due course.

    I found motivation an issue in Thai schools, yet I do know a number of very bright individuals who have come the system successfully so there is cause for optimism.

    We’re currently transition the fella to a soon to be identified Bangkok nursery, from the one he attended in Saraburi – has your son been to nursery yet?

    In terms of schooling, we are looking at private Thai schools which we believe to offer a better level of education without being as expensive as international schools: which frankly I believe to be overrated anyway.

    1. Hi Jon, we didn’t bother with a nursery. I just think that he is going to be spending enough time in school already without an additional year – I’m probably just being selfish because I’d miss him around the house.

  2. Hi Paul,

    It seems that I’m in a similar situation, I can’t really afford international schools (not that I think that they’re that great) and I have my doubts about the Thai schools. Nonetheless, our daughter, who’s 7 and a half is now in her first year of Prathom school. My problem with the Thai schools is that it’s all root (or is it rote?) learning and individuality is not greatly encouraged.
    Our son is in Ayubaan 2. He’s having a ball!

    Long story short, right now we opt for Thai schools, the foundation is in Thai for the rest of their, where they probably spend most of their lives, their speaking, reading ans writing will be good and English they pick up at home and hopefully later I can afford to send them to an international school when they’re older.
    Camille recently posted..Camilles Samui Info blog- Koh Samui- Thailand daily weather update 20th October- 2010 delicious

  3. Hi Camille, it is difficult. I too hope to have more money later on to invest in my son’s education. I think that there are some reasonably priced private schools; the one we are looking at now is 30,000 THB a term.

    1. Hi Paul

      Can you tell the names of some good Private schools which charge less than the int’l schools ? Their websites etc. will be helpful as well.

      Thanks
      Ashish

    2. 30,000 baht per term? I have a PhD and I earn just under that amount per month. Spending that kind of money is actually, in Thailand, quite elite. I teach at a government university and we have the problems you cite, although our students are very enthusiastic.

      But bear in mind that the numbers you are talking are elite and most people in this Kingdom cannot afford it.

        1. 10,000 baht bilingual programme? Not too bad! I wouldn’t worry about your kids too much. Many low ability Bangkok kids get good jobs on family connections alone. If your kids actually have real qualifications they cannot be refused entry into good jobs. A lot of corruption takes place when students (or even Thai teachers) lack the qualifications to get in and we know what happens then!

          One of the advantages you may have is that your kids may be able to get jobs that actually sustain themselves. Its amazing to me how reliant adults are on their parents until they are broke. When you see the salaries most Thais are on then its easy to see how it can happen.

          Saw your books, I will try to pick up some copies as I want to write academic books that actually (might!) make people want to read them.

          Cheers for your reply

          Craig

          1. Thanks for that Dr Craig, I left school with no qualifications, but I managed to later make up for this by returning to education. I know that it is possible to do well despite not going to a high quality school, but I just want my son to have the best possible chance in life.

  4. Paul I’m almost a 100% with you on this one(not sure Thai students are the best in the world). The private school Doy attends is OK but its typically Thai even though it is a Christian missionary school.Rote learning and large classes are the order of the day after the morning parade.

    I also think students especially young ones are pushed too hard by their carers, besides school Duen usually gives Doy 2 hours homework each week day, no point me arguing, but the kid is 7!

    On the other hand, I give her no home work (for English)but include lots of experiential things to help her speak the language….bingo guess what, it works great and she has fun doing it.

    I met a young lad at a temple the other day, he could hardly speak to me in English BUT when he picked up my Rough Guide he could read pages of the book but with no understanding, says it all for me. A bit like learning your tables when I was a kid.

    Perhaps if teachers were not seen as demi-gods in Thailand and students could actually ask questions them the system might work a bit better.

    Sorry for the rant but as an ex educator(do we ever retire) the Thai system needs to try a bit harder and grade people on their ability not their social standing.
    Mike recently posted..Thailand Private Van

  5. Hi Mike, I remember when our department head decided that we should introduce critical thinking to the students. I thought this was a great idea until I realised she had no clue about what critical thinking actually meant. For her it was just a buzz word to add to the school brochure; otherwise business as usual. Mind you, it may turn out that the current educational paradigm used in many western countries will be later viewed as a bit of a failure too.

  6. Paul, you may be right about the current educational model in the UK for example. It doesn’t seem too long ago that there were calls for a return to a more rigid system.

    Mind you at least qualifications gained there still carry value.
    Mike recently posted..Thailand Private Van

  7. Hi Mike, I do think that qualifications in places like the UK carry more weight abroad. As I’m sure you know though, each year there is an outcry when the GCSE results come out with many people claiming that the exams are way too easy. There are also those who wouldn’t put much value on degrees obtained at the ‘new universities’ (the former polytechnics).

    1. On the former polytechnics, as far as I know, the students tend to be weaker (my brother went to one) but they often offer 1 year of work experience and my brother has got a full-time marketing job when others at top universities have not.

      The courses are often assessed by external examiners from other universities so generally they are not dishing out low quality degrees – quality is generally being maintained.

      Craig

  8. Hi Paul,
    In the U.S. there is also a trend in some school districts to implement a policy where students would never get lower than a 50%. That way a missed assignment wouldn’t kill their Grade Point Average. It feels like we are raising multiple generations of kids who don’t know how to fail. We are really setting them up later in life when they learn the world isn’t quite like that.
    The cheating comment made me laugh. I did my student teaching in Hawaii- the kids would do the same thing. When I asked my (now ex-husband) why the kids told each other the answer he said it was because they didn’t want their friends to feel bad if they didn’t know! argh!!
    Something to consider is to supplement his education with home school materials. If you do some research into those types of things at least you will have a good grasp of where his academic progress should be. There are also quite a few plaes online that offer academics. Long winded- sorry. Former teacher here!

    1. Thank you Drew, I like the idea of supplementing his education with home material. I think my main focus will be his English skills as this is not generally taught well in Thai schools. I’ll check out some of the online resources.

      I don’t think passing everyone is a good idea. I have learnt a lot more from my failures in life than from my successes.

  9. Paul, just the fact that you have fears and concerns show you are a attentive parent and that’s the majority of the battle. The education system is only part of the equation…the parents have to be proactive and take part in the education.

    Schools in Western countries like America are not doing much better in regards to teaching standards but the students who do well have caring parents.

    I think your son will be fine in the Thai education system because he has you to back him up.
    Talen recently posted..The Beautiful Wat Yansangwararam

    1. Thanks Talen, it is our first child so my wife and I tend to get a bit anxious about things. I hope that my son sees that his parents value education and this will inspire him. I also want him to have a good childhood as well though – it can’t all be about study.

  10. Hello Paul,

    I also have been teaching in Thailand and you are spot on. The educational system is a microcosm or Thai culture. The good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately for me, I have had a real challenge with the bad and ugly aspects of the Thai Educational System. I think they call it culture shock. And where does a person draw the line between right and wrong, bad (evil) and good, values and acceptance. I am trying to figure all that out.

    My personal experience with education in America and assuring the best education for a child begun when I married a woman who had a young daughter. It has been one of the most rewarding experience of my life but not without sweat, tears, and little blood.

    It was a constant monitoring of her growth. A lot of listening and once she begun to learn to communicate her feelings really listening to her. You can ask questions but when a child is ready to talk you will have to turn of the TV and put away the golf clubs. We researched schools and other options through out her educational life (1-12), extra activities that interested her (or that we guided her towards, never push), so on so forth and a little of magic. Let me tell you it was not easy and there where nights that I laid awake thinking about all this.

    She eventually graduated from high school obtained a 4 year scholarship to a private college and now is studying medicine. She wanted to be a teacher but now has decided on the doctor route. My mantra has always been I do not care what she does for living as long as she is safe and happy.

    That’s my two cents worth. Hope it will be of some value.

    Lou Patterson
    Bangkok, Thailand

    1. Hi Lou, it sounds like your efforts have paid off. I agree with you that the main thing is that children are happy; as long as he has options as well. Your advice about comminication is nicely put, and I will try to put this into practice.

      I gave up teaching here in the end; the problem was me as well as the system in my case.

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