Why I Do Not Want My Son to Start School in Thailand

In a few weeks my son is due to start school here in Thailand. I’m dreading it. In a previous article I vented my fears about the local education system ( read about this here) , but this is not what is playing on my mind at the moment. My son is about to take his first steps into the real world and there will be no turning back. He is now going to be spending most of his waking hours with strangers and that is sure to change him. Perhaps my feelings are a bit silly but there is no doubting that this is how I feel.

Delaying School for a Year

My wife is experiencing similar emotions, but she is more pragmatic about it. Last week she did suggest that we hold him back a year – after all he is still only 3 ½. She dismissed the plan almost as soon as she suggested it though; her fears that he would fall behind won out. I held onto the idea for days as if it were a life raft. I would love to keep at home for another 12 months. I’ve even come up with plenty of reasons to justify it.

My number one argument against sending my son to school is his age. What’s the rush? I can understand that some parents have work commitments, but my wife and I both work from home. He is going to have many years in school and it seems reasonable that he be allowed to enjoy his early childhood with us. My wife teaches him his ABCs and Gaw Gai (Thai ABC) and we make sure he has a stimulating environment. He even has a few friends in the nearby houses to play with.

The Thai School Day Is Too Long for Toddlers

Even though my son is joining Anuban 1(called Junior Infants where I grew up) he is still expected to attend school from 08:00 until 15:00. This is an incredibly long day and I can’t understand why it is required. I didn’t spend that much time at school until I reached secondary level. They do get a couple of hours sleep in the afternoon so why can’t they just finish at noon? I’m just not convinced that seven hours at school is what is best for him now.

Tae Kwon Do Kid

Why My Son Will be Starting School This Year

Despite my reservations we will be sending our son to school this year. This is the way things are done in Thailand and we did make the choice for him to grow up here. Keeping him at home for another 12 months would just be postponing the inevitable – at least this is what I tell myself. I can’t stop him growing up (I talked about these fears here here). All his friends have started school and I don’t want to get in the way of his education because of my own selfish needs. I guess this is something that all parents must face with their first child. We will miss not having our son at home during the day, but his needs must come first.

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37 thoughts on “Why I Do Not Want My Son to Start School in Thailand

  1. I started when I was nearly 6. I’m not a fan of how early Thais start either. We decided not to send our kids to Thai school when the day comes in a few years. We’ve both seen the local options up close and are extremely unimpressed. Either we’re going to have to move or find a way to re-organize work so we can home school. The latter is likely the direction we’ll take.

    1. Hi UT, we did consider home schooling, but I just feel that it would be too much responsibility for us to take on. I worry that he would feel too different from his peers and that he would lose out on a lot.

  2. We’re already thinking about it – she’s under 20 mths. Move back to USA or stay in TH? It’s a real big question. I think we’re leaning toward staying in TH and letting her grow up “Thai Style”. Heck, if she grows up like her mom – I’ll be as happy as I could be.

    I’m not much into cramming things into kids’ heads so they can produce something amazing when they’re adults. I think if she can support herself – and help others, good enough.

    There is way too much focus on the western style of education – I don’t see it as a good thing. I don’t see it as the ideal anymore.

    Quite the opposite really.

    Cheers man…

    1. Hi Mike, if my son is happy when he grows up then that is all I really care about. I do value education, but I’m not going to be too pushy about it. I’ll provide him with all the best opportunities possible.

  3. I agree with all your thoughts, Paul, but there is one thing you might not have thought about. One of the reasons for starting school at three is the Thai language development. At three they are taught all the routines of school, and pick up much vocabulary. I, too, was shocked when I found out kids start here at three also. The first few months can be rough, but once he makes friends he’ll be happy. Something else to consider, many friendships formed at three endure many years. Coming into the school a year later in a class of four-year-olds, where other kids have already formed their friendship groups can be even more difficult.

  4. Paul, when Doy first joined us at 4 yrs old I experienced this. Initially I thought exactly like you. But I realise its the Thai way and as someone else said it certainly helps in language development which is just as hard for young Thais as it is for us old foreigners.

    The sleep in bit at school is perhaps to prepare them for the work place 😉

  5. That is an incredibly long day for such a young child and I can understand your concerns. It will have him around a lot of other children though and the social thing can never start too early.

    1. Hi Talen, I guess you are right about the importance of developing socially. That was what put me off the idea of home schooling. We could probably manage his education, but not his social development.

  6. Very handsome picture. Hope all goes well…he is young, but socialization is important to begin understanding developing individuality and associates with others.

  7. Hi Paul,

    Been a while!

    Never really considered it ‘too early’ it was just part of the Thai way and they loved it both, our oldest is now at Por 1 and the youngest will start Anuban 3 next term. They will enjoy it and as others pointed out, they will make friends, leanr the language etc, et alone, that you will have a quiet household, how much you may dread the thought now……………….

    Cool Tae Kwon Doo kit!!!

  8. I am a mother of 10 children and my oldest will be graduating from medical school next month. I agree with you when you say, “What’s the rush?” What do children learn in school from age 3 to 6? They learn the English and Thai alphabet, counting and number recognition, and then – I can verify this with the curriculum my children used – they emulate real life situations in a family! There will be a unit on animals, cooking, helping around the house, community workers etc. And it takes them two or three years for this relatively small amount of learning. Most children can learn that amount of intelligence in just one year. It shouldn’t take three years. If you enjoy spending time with your child, and are blessed with a job that allows it, you may find that in the one extra year at home, you may be able to accomplish just as much learning by teaching him informally as opportunity presents itself. Their time with us is so short, don’t rush it away.

  9. Tough one this one Paul… I have this to go through in a couple of years also, so the post is close to my heart… To be honest I don’t see any problem with them starting at 4/5, I’m sure it’ll be OK whatever you decide, and he’ll be fine whatever, as kids adapt so quickly eh (much better than us old farts 🙂 Thanks for the post.

  10. You sound like such a parent!!!!!!!!! Best advice I can give (cause you wanted it, right?), is don’t worry too much! Everything will be fine 😉

  11. I first went to school at the age of six and I did not have to attend junior infant level either, but a couple of my friends did. I could not read Thai language until I reached Por 4 or grade 4. If I were you, I would not be worried too much. Your son will do just fine, especially as he is more likely to do well at school or later in life since he is bi-lingual.

  12. Wow Paul, I had no idea children started school so young here. The school day is way too long for kids of this age. I completely understand your anxiousness. I had one that should have started school at 3 and one I would have preferred to hold back for a year until 5-6 years old. But, in the end, as Lani said, it did/does all turn out OK in the end. And, it will for you and your wife, because you are both clearly diligent and aware parents.

    1. Thanks Snap, I’m sure that once he starts I’ll get used to the idea. I’d be happy to keep him home for another year, but my wife’s argument for sending him makes a lot more sense.

  13. We live between Thailand and Australia and I do not like the education system in both countries. For that reason I have started home schooling my 2 (soon to be 3) kids. They are doing great and it only takes 2 hours a day, 5 days a week and all the holidays you want to do it. Just because they do not go to school does not mean they do not have friends. Cousins, local clubs etc fill that role just fine. IMO a three year old should not be sent to school especially for that many hours.

    1. Hi MeMock, I’ll wait to see how he gets on in Anuban. If things don’t work out we might consider home schooling then. It just a big responsibility and I worry that I wouldn’t be up to the task – even though I worked as a teacher for 7 years here.

  14. I also worried that I was not up to the task as I have never done any kind of teacher, ever! Just remember that a teacher at a normal school has 30 – 40 kids to teach every day while you will just have the one. With a little help from some books it really does only take two hours a day. They learn so much from life at that age, much better then any book. Involve them in your life and the world around them and it is amazing what they learn.
    Teaching them at home allows you to teach them to love reading and love learning. By the time a few years ticks by they are mainly teaching themselves with just some guidance from you.
    Good luck!

  15. Paul, I’ve seen your comments many a time yet never looked at your blog in depth, it was only after seeing your book come up on my Kindle (Amazon.co.uk) that I’ve taken a look. I’ve purchased your book for a later date (a bit pricy) and now I’ve just spent a good few hours reading your posts, very interesting!

    I grew up in a what once was a remote part of Nth Queensland in Australia, I was both home schooled and schooled through the Queensland School of the Air, as an adult, late 20’s, I did a Masters degree partly via distance learning as I was travelling.

    I would not send a child to school at 3 1/2 years of age nor would I consider home schooling, there is such a thing as “life” schooling and to me that is all about introducing children to the “truths” of daily life. Things like doing chores, cleaning, helping out with the family business and being part of the community all play a part in education, you can see it in the difference in business accumen between a child who works in the family shop and those who don’t, you can also tell the difference between children who know the value of money through hard work and those who take it for granted, arguably not so much in parts of Thailand.

    I don’t envy your position!

    1. Nice to hear from you Lloyd, it is good to hear from someone who was actually home schooled. I was expelled from school and did my A levels by distance learning later on so I can see how it is possible to manage exams without schools. I’m just feeling a lot of pressure to conform and send him now. My neighbors have convinced my wife that my son will suffer if he isn’t sent to school now.

      1. The pressure from Thai families to conform to the “norm” is always a problem, its pushed by the Government, my wife and I took over taking care of her nephew when he was 4 and immediately removed him from school against very strong family pressure. I had no qualms that it was the right decision, he is now enrolled in a private International school in Phuket which he started when he was 5 1/2, the average age of expat students starting at the school is 5 although they do cater for the younger students its more like day care than school. After 2 years he is now part of the school swimming team and works at a friends store in saturdays, there is no doubt in my mind he benefitted from the extra 2 years as he had time to enjoy his childhood, when he started school he was excited and looked forward to it, not what you see from most 3 1/2 year olds being dragged screaming most school days.

        One thing I would strongly recommend is to enrol your son in some form of sporting activity or club , swimming (my prefference), football, muay Thai etc. It will give them an extended set of friends and different social skills and instills a different level of work ethic.

        1. Thanks Lloyd, it is funny that you should mention martial arts. This was one of my priorities when I choose the school. As well as having an English program they also teach Tae Kwon Do from Anuban. I trained at martial arts when I was young and it changed my life.

  16. Hi Paul,

    In answer to your question my eldest is five and youngest is almost 4. I only started 6 months ago. So far so good!

    I like what Lloyd just wrote and it is what I have been trying to get across to some friends of mine who question what I am doing. Home schooling IS life schooling. The book work takes up to 2 hours a day but the rest of the day is all about life. Something your wife and you can do together.

    My closest friend has been teaching at home for the last 14 years and has a fantastic website and blog that I highly recommend. The name of the website says it all!

    1. I had a look at that website and it is a great resource. I think we are more or less committed to sending him to school next month, but if things don’t work out I’ll definitely consider home schooling.

  17. Hi Paul,

    The feelings you elucidate mirror mine exactly. My son, Daniel, is 2 years and 8 months and, to my mind, still a very little boy. The thought of throwing him to the educational wolves in a matter of months fills me with trepidation. I have even considered moving to one of Thailands small islands and home educating him. However, I too realise the potential lack of social interaction could well be a problem for him. I suffered at the hands of sadisitic ba***rds at an old fashioned private prep school, where violence was a way of life. luckily, it was followed by a good Grammar School which balanced out my overall experience. Like you, I also think we could manage his educational needs but I realise he will have to deal with the big bad world one day anyway, so best to prepare early, I suppose. Kind Regards Tim

    1. Hi Tim, I spent a lot of time worrying about this. When it actually happened it wasn’t too bad. I’ve adjusted to him going to school and he does seem to benefit from it. I too had some bad experiences at school. It all ended with me begin expelled at 15. I had to go back in my twenties and redo my secondary education.

  18. I don’t think I have ever read a post that made me think so much!
    Education in Thailand is something that has become an ever present reality due to recent developments at home and the fact that wild horses could not drag me back to the UK.
    Currently I cannot comprehend sending a little one of 3 to school; a terryfing thought.
    I have bookmarked the page and will return perriodically; can you post updates on the little guy?
    For goodness sake get the little guy out of that TKD and into a good Karate school… 🙂

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