Education in Thailand

Education in Thailand

Infobox Education
country name = Thailand

agency = Ministry of Education, Thailand|Ministry of Education
leader titles = Minister of education
leader names = Somchai Wongsawat
budget = ฿262,938.3M (21.91% national budget) [ [ §º»ÃÐÁÒ³»Õ 2544 ¢Í§·ºÇ§ÁËÒÇÔ·ÂÒÅÑ ¨ÓṡµÒÁá¼¹§Ò¹ ] ]
budget year = 2005
primary languages = Thai
system type = National
established events = Formal establishment
established dates = 1892
literacy year = 2005
literacy total = 92.6
literacy men = 96
literacy women = 92
enroll total = N/A
enroll primary =
enroll secondary =
enroll post-secondary =
attain secondary = N/A
attain post-secondary =
footnotes =

Education in Thailand is provided mainly by the Thai government through the Ministry of Education. A free basic education of twelve years is guaranteed by the constitution, and a minimum of nine years' school attendance is mandatory.

Formal education consists of at least twelve years of basic education, and higher education. Basic education is divided into six years of primary education and six years of secondary education, the latter being further divided into three years of lower- and upper-secondary levels. Kindergarten levels of pre-primary education, also part of the basic education level, spans 2-3 years depending on the locale, and is variably provided. Non-formal education is also supported by the state.

chool System

From early 2001, the Ministry of Education began developing new National Curricula in an endeavour to model the system of education on child centred learning methods. The school structure is divided into four key stages: the first three years in elementary school, Prathom 1 - 3, are for age groups 6 to 8, the second level, Prathom 4 through 6 are for age groups 9 to 11, the third level, Matthayom 1 - 3, is for age groups 12 to 14, and the upper level of schooling consists of Matthayom 4 - 6, for age groups 15 to 17. On the completion of each level, students need to pass the NET (National Educational Test) to graduate. Children are required only to attend six years of elementary school and at least the first three years of high school. Those who graduate from the sixth year of high school are candidates for two decisive tests: O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test) and A-NET (Advanced National Educational Test). After graduating from high school, many students in the major cities will choose to continue their education to bachelor degree level, and will need to pass the CUAS (Central University Admission System) which contains 50% of O-NET and A-NET results and the other half of the fourth level GPA (Grade Point Average). Many changes and experiments in the university admissions system have taken place since 2001, but by late 2007 a nationwide system had yet to be accepted by the students, the universities, and the government.

Public schools are administered by the government, and the private sector comprises schools run for profit and fee-paying non-profit schools which are often run by charitable organisations. Village and sub-district schools usually provide pre-school kindergarten ("anuban") and elementary classes, while in the district towns, schools will serve their areas with comprehensive schools with all the classes from kindergarten to age 14, and separate secondary schools for ages 11 through 17. Rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the cities and the standard of instruction, particularly for the English language, is much lower, and many high school students will commute 60 - 80 kilometres to schools in the nearest city.

Primary and Secondary Levels

At primary levels, students follow 8 core subjects each semester: Thai language, Mathematics, Science, Social Science, Health and Physical Education, Arts and Music, Technology, and Foreign languages. At age 13 (Matthayom 2), students are allowed to choose one or two elective courses. The Science program (Wit-Kanit) and the Mathematics program (Sil-Kamnuan)are among the most popular. Foreign language programs (Sil-Phasa) and the Social Science program (sometimes called the General program) are also offered.

Overview & History

Education in state schools is free, (some schools which claim to be underfunded will ask for an education support contribution), and it is compulsory from age 6 through 14, with access to two years of pre-school ("anuban"). All children attend school, including minority and stateless ethnic groups which may however be excluded from government secondary or higher education until their personal documentation is resolved. The government is not able to cope with the entire number of students, thus the private sector, which is supervised by the government, provides a significant contribution. Private international schools are allowed to follow British or American curricula. The level of education in the private sector is generally, but not always, higher than that of the government schools. Expensive, exclusive private and international schools provide for an exceptionally high level of achievement and a large number of their students continue their education in renowned American and British universities. Charitable organisations (Christian parochial and diocesan), and other religions provide the backbone of non-government, low-fee, general education and some established universities, and the standard is relatively high. Cheaper, newer and individual private schools, are occasionally run more for profit and government subsidies, than for results, and are often indistinguishable from government schools in terms of quality of buildings, resources, teaching competency, and overcrowded classrooms; the only real benefit is the prestige afforded to the parents for schooling their children in the private sector - academic superiority is sometimes barely measurable.

Education in Thailand is generally well organised, if on the government’s own admission, of a low academic standard compared to the development and modernisation of the country as a whole: Dr. Kasam Wattanachai, Privy Counselor to the King, August 10, 2002 "“Ability of students down to the level of Laos - other countries are taking the lead.”" Structured education on the lines of education in developed countries was slow to evolve. Unlike other parts of south and southeast Asia particularly the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia and the Philippines which had all benefited from the influence of countries with centuries of educational tradition, Thailand has never been colonised and had not featured heavily on trade routes or explorers' trails to Central and East Asia. Formal education has its early origins in the temple schools, available to boys only, which began when the King set up a Department of Education with the aid of foreign - mainly English - advisers in 1887. The first university, Chulalongkorn, was not established until 1917.

The revolution in 1932 that transferred absolute power from the king to democratic government encouraged further development and expansion of schools and tertiary institutions. In 1961, the government began a series of five-year plans, and many of the extant purpose-built school buildings, particularly the wooden village primary schools, and the early concrete secondary schools date from around this time. Almost all villages have a primary school, most sub-districts tambon have a school providing education from age 6 through 14, and all districts amphoe have secondary schools of age 12 through 17, and many have vocational colleges for students from age group 15. In rural schools absenteeism of both students and teachers is high due to family and farming commitments -in fact some schools close down during the periods of rice planting and harvesting.

Most of the established universities in the 21st century have faculties of education, where the teacher training is now based on child centred learning, and the standard is high. However, those who graduate as teachers will invariably seek positions in the private sector. Many students enroll in the faculties of education not with the intention of pursuing a teaching career, but to benefit from the superior quality of foreign language instruction. The mainstay of the teacher output is provided by the government Rajaphat Universities (formerly Rajaphat Institutes), the traditional teacher training colleges in each province, where the acquired knowledge and competency at first degree level is often comparable to the level of an American senior High School graduation, a British A-level, a French Baccalauriat, or a German Abitur. Apart from the security of being a civil servant with guaranteed employment and a pension, and the extraordinary cultural respect for the profession, there is little incentive to choose a future as a teacher in a government school. As a result, most classes in secondary schools are overcrowded with often as many as sixty students in a classroom, a situation which continues to favour the rote system that is firmly anchored in Thai culture, as the only method possible.

Students, even those in primary schools, are becoming aware of the shortfalls in the quality of their state education, but their own culture prevents them from challenging the system. In total contrast to Chinese philosophy, students are not encouraged to develop analytical and critical thinking skills, which is clearly demonstrated by their inability to grasp the fundamentals of chess, grasp a notion through context, do a crossword puzzle, or follow the plot of a complex thriller or motion picture; indeed, to do so would be to expose their teachers to the embarrassment of losing face. Likewise, the teachers will avoid introducing dialogue into the classroom or eliciting response from the students - in spite of demonstrating enthusiasm, to give a wrong answer would be to lose face in the presence of one’s peers. Dr. Adith Cheosokul, Professor, Chulalongkorn University, September 1, 2002: "“Thai kids have no courage to question their teachers… foreign students are very eager to communicate with their teachers. The Thais are usually silent in class. I think it’s the culture. Our students tend to uphold teachers as demi-gods.”"As teaching by rote is also easy and requires little pedagogic skill, once qualified, - apart from weekend seminars which, being more fun than form, are considered to be part of the reward system - teachers tend to resist attempts to encourage them to engage in any forms of further training to improve their subject knowledge and to adopt new methodologies which will require them to use more initiative and to be more creative. Some teachers in secondary schools, particularly those in their 40's, consider the essential form of an English language lesson to be the delivery of a straight lecture, in Thai, on some obscure element of higher linguistics to a class of teenagers.Prime Minister Taksin Shinwatra, August 18, 2002: "“Teachers must radically change their way of thinking - I’m not sure they can do this.”"The essence of education therefore still hinges first and foremost on the traditional values of Buddhism, respect for the king, the monkhood, and the family, (in that order) through the rote method, and whilst indisputably very noble, these features are the main hurdle to the implementation of modern educational methodology and the development of a Western cultural approach to communication in order to strengthen the country’s credibility in the world’s cultural and political theatres, and to reinforce its position in the global market.

Primary and secondary school teachers do not enjoy the same long breaks as the students and are required to work through the vacations on administrative duties. Many of these tasks concern their familiarisation with the frequent changes in the National Curriculum, and preparing and submitting lesson plans for every lesson they will give in the forthcoming semester; indeed, changes occur faster than authors can write and publishers can print new textbooks - new batches of thousands of textbooks ordered at the end of the previous semester are already obsolete by the time they are delivered during the vacation and will gather dust in the store room. The teachers will be left to improvise the teaching of a new or modified syllabus, without support material, and have to design their own tests and exams - neither of which is conducive to an improvement in quality. The constant changes are considered by many to be ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Often one department of the Ministry of Education is not aware of the work of another, and the principals and the teachers in the schools are always at the end of the information chain.

The years from 2001 to 2006 showed some of the greatest improvements in education, such as computers in the schools and an increase in the number of qualified native speaker teachers for foreign languages. Experiments had also been tried with restructuring the administrative regions for education or partly decentralising the responsibility of education to the provinces. By 2008, however, little real change had been felt, and many experiments to establish a clear form of university entrance qualification had also failed due to combinations of political interference, attempts to confer independence (or to remove it) on the universities, huge administrative errors, and inappropriate or mismatched syllabuses in the schools. The debate over the setting of new requirements, subjects, exams and standards for university entrance has been raging since 2003 and by late 2007 had shown no signs of being resolved. On return to democracy in early 2008, after the December election, the newly formed coalition led by the People's Power Party (a party formed by the remnants of deposed Taksin Shinwatra’s Thai Rak Tai party) announced new allocations of funds for education, an increase in the number of teachers, and more changes to the national curriculum and university entrance system.

Tertiary & Higher Education

The established universities in both the government and private sectors offer excellent programmes especially in the fields of Medicine, the Arts, Humanities, and Information Technology, although many students prefer to pursue studies of law and business in Western faculties abroad or in those which have created local facilities in Thailand. During the first years of the 21st century, the number of universities increased dramatically. This does not automatically reflect an increase in the number of institutions, but is largely due to the fact that many establishments of further, vocational, or higher education were allocated the right to rename themselves to include the word "university". Neither does it reflect an automatic improvement in the level of the degrees they confer, many of which are not yet internationally recognised. It raises however, the county’s pride on an international scale, in the number of age group 17 school-leavers following undergraduate programmes before embarking on their careers and certainly improves the education and prospects of those who will enter full-time employment. A glance at the classified job sections in the newspapers will show that there is now rarely a white-collar employment of any kind that does not stipulate a bachelor degree as a minimum requirement.

For a full list of universities and higher education institutions in Thailand see: List of universities in Thailand. Over half of the provinces have a government Rajabhat University, formerly Rajabhat Institute, traditionally a Teacher Training College.

English Language Education in Thailand

The use of English in Thailand while far from being as developed as in the Netherlands, Germany, the Scandinavian countries or the Philippines, is nevertheless rapidly increasing through the influence of the media and the Internet and is far greater, for example, than in France, the United Kingdom’s nearest neighbour.

The government has long realised the importance of the English language as a major core subject in schools, and it has been a compulsory subject at varying levels for several decades. Since 2005 schools are being encouraged to establish bilingual departments where the core subjects are taught in English, and to offer intensive English language programmes. Notwithstanding the extensive use of, and exposure to English in everyday life in Thailand, the standard of correct English in the schools is now the lowest in Southeast Asia. In 1997 Thailand was still in the forefront, but by 2001 Laos and Vietnam had caught up, and by mid 2004 were clearly in the lead. [SAMEO Conference, Singapore, April 2006]

Following the announcement of the University of Cambridge to launch a new course [TKT - Teaching Knowledge Test] and qualification for non-native speaker teachers, a survey was carried out in February 2006 [Education Department of Bangkok Archdiocese] , with the collaboration of the University of Cambridge as part of a field trial, by the country’s largest group of independent schools of its 400 or so teachers of English. The project reported that in over 60 percent of the teachers, the knowledge of the language and teaching methodology was below that of the syllabus level which they were teaching. Some teachers for age group 11 - or lower - in the language were actually attempting to teach age groups 15, 16, and even 17. Of the remaining top 40 per cent, only 3 percent had a reasonable level of fluency and only 20 per cent were teaching grades for which they were correctly qualified and competent. For the most part, the level of spoken and written English was often incomprehensible to the native speaker designers and administrators of the project. Within the group of over 40 schools representing nearly 80,000 students in primary and secondary education, random parallel test groups of primary school pupils often scored higher in some tests than many of the teachers in other schools of the same group. The schools resisted the initiative of the central governing body to provide intensive upgrading programmes for the teachers. In spite of the evidence, the schools doubted the results, and to save face, argued that their teachers had qualified through their various universities and colleges and either had nothing more to learn or could not afford the time. In the government schools the standards are similar and many primary teachers freely admit that they are forced to teach English although they have little or no knowledge of the language whatsoever. A debate began in academic circles as to whether teaching English badly during the most influential years is in fact better than not teaching it at all at primary level.The situation is further exacerbated by a curriculum, which in its endeavour to improve standards and facilitate learning, is subject to frequent change, and thus misinterpreted into syllabuses by the teachers themselves at levels often far too advanced for the cognitive development of the students.

Several thousand native English speakers are employed in public and private schools throughout the country, their existence being encouraged by the need to develop students’ oral expression and knowledge of foreign culture; much of their time however, is taken up with remedial teaching: putting right any grammar, orthography, pronunciation and cultural background that has been wrongly taught and which leads to great misunderstanding - they see this as a greater priority. The official version of English, although not always practical in its dispensation, is British. Qualified native teachers with a background in linguistics will ensure that students are exposed to both major variations of the language and understand them and their differences, whichever version the students choose to speak.

Language classes, sponsored by the governments of English speaking countries such as those provided by the British Council, enjoy an excellent reputation for quality, both for general English, and for the preparation for international exams such as the American English TOEFL and the British English IELTS, which are prerequisites for the entry into many professions, particularly aircrew and tourism. There is also no shortage of cramming schools, usually franchise chains, in the capital and larger cities, but although they are staffed mainly by highly motivated, qualified native speakers, and have excellent resources, they are often branded by cynics as ‘the McDonalds of English language’.

There has been a dramatic increase since 2000 in the number of Thailand based TEFL/TESOL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language / Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher training institutions. Some dispense internationally recognised teaching certificates and diplomas which follow the courses of established universities, and some provide courses and certification franchised from other organisations and universities, still others dispense their own courses and certification. Whatever their claims, there is no single, internationally recognised accrediting body for the certificates. Currently, to teach English in established schools, public or private, the minimum academic qualification for native speakers to obtain the required government teacher licence is a bachelor degree - in any subject. However, the government is in the process of exercising greater control, particularly to combat the use of bogus certificates and degrees issued by diploma mills, and to prevent access to schools by persons with doubtful motives.


"Education has as one of its fundamental aspects the imparting of culture from generation to generation (see socialization)". In Thailand, however, this equates to Thai culture and Thaification, which has contributed in no small measure to the South Thailand insurgency. Thaification was graphically illustrated on the backs of Series 14 and 15 100-baht banknotes, first announced 20 October 2537 BE/AD 1994 [] and continued unchanged on the Series 15 of 22 October 2547 BE/AD 2004 [] ; but since quietly replaced by Series 15 (Revised) 19 September 2548 BE/AD 2005 [] . The latter depicts "King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in navy uniform & to abolish slave tradition", and may be seen at Chulalongkorn.
* Figure 1. The former models depict "the portrait of the monument of Their Majesties King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and King Vajiravudha (Rama VI)".
*Figure 2. The lower left legend reads in translation: "Education in our nation is of the first importance/therefore I shall diligently improve it./Thus remarked Rama V" ( _th. การเล่าเรียนในบ้านเมืองเรานี้จะเป็นข้อสำคัญที่หนึ่ง ซึ่งฉันจะอุตส่าห์จัดขึ้นให้เจริญจงไค้ พระราชดำรัสในรัชกาลที่ ๕).
*Figure 3. To the monument's own right appears a Thai government school and pupils.
*Figure 4. To the monument's left, a monk instructs boys ( _th. เณร) at a Wat as described in .

See also

* List of universities in Thailand
* Religion in Thailand
* Buddhism in Thailand
* Thaification
* Thai Chinese
* South Thailand insurgency
* Education by country

External links

* [ History of Thai Education]
* [ Ministry of Education]
** [ Commission of Higher Education]
* [ SAE Institute Bangkok Thailand]
* [ Office of the National Education Commission]
* [ Engineering & technology education in Thailand] (

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