Readers' Submissions

Bringing Up Kids In Thailand – Response 1

  • Written by Anonymous
  • June 13th, 2007
  • 10 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


I am always very interested to read a submission from Marc Holt. I have read his past topics and have communicated with him a few times concerning these. However while browsing the readers submissions today, his latest jumped right off of the list "Bringing Up Kids In Thailand" 8/6/2007 .

I am in a similar situation, my Thai-farang son is 1 years old. His schooling isn't that far away and it is occupying my thoughts. I feel my 2 basic choices are to export him to the west, or do as Marc has done, seek schooling in Thailand. It is one of the few times I can recall Stick having such a strong opinion in response to a reader's submission, however I am leaning toward Marc's point of view.

Stick – it's not too often I disagree with you, however let's first examine where I am coming from. I was western born and educated, B.Ed degree, teaching was my first love. I taught 1 year in Canada, 6 years in the UK, and 3 in France. The 3 years in France was at the equivalent of the fabled "International School of Bangkok" (ISB). In the UK, both my schools were top co-educational public schools. (In the UK, 'public' means private, fee paying.) Stick, when you say '…the very best international schools are first class' I think you're only looking at it from the outside! One of my UK schools had 6 grass tennis courts, 12 hard courts, 2 rugby pitches and a swimming pool! They boasted numerous Oxbridge entrants and very high pass rates at examinations. This I do not call a top rate education! Well… perhaps if you are a part of the British ruling class, you NEED to be at a school like this as it determines who your friends are. In fact, the only thing a 'top' school does give you, is a more controllable environment, with peers that are more likely to succeed than your average mix in a 'regular' state school. THAT'S IT. I found many of the teachers at these top schools to be mediocre with many substandard. If pressed to give a number, I'd say 1 in 10 were truly inspired educators.

Let's define for a moment what the purpose of education is. One definition I was exposed to (in the program ludicrously called Bachelor of Education) was that the purpose of education is, in order,

1) Literacy
2) Numeracy
3) anything else is gravy

I certainly agree with points 1 and 2. I would amend the list to

1) Literacy
2) Numeracy
3) A foreign language
4) The teaching the ability to learn
5) anything else is gravy

all wrapped up in 'socialization', the ability to negotiate one's way in social groups. I don't believe that the only place to get this education is in a top international school, or in the west. I would concede that perhaps Thailand is behind on point 4. When I was in grade school, there was no Internet, mobile phones, or personal computers. Whatever we teach kids today, will most likely be obsolete in 2027. Therefore we have to give them the tools to learn about the things they will encounter in future. Developments in mathematics teaching was heading in that direction in the early 90's and while I have been out of touch, I hope that techniques are improving globally.

One of the things I have decided, is that my son should speak his mother's tongue. In this case it isn't Thai, but according to this website, Northeastern Thai, or perhaps "Isaan" or "Lao" as I have heard it called. (If someone could help me out with this one, I'd appreciate it) Whatever its name, it is the language that his uncles, aunts, and grandparents speak. How many examples do we have in the west, especially the new world countries, where the grandparents spoke, as an example, Russian, the parents understood enough but rarely spoke, and the grandchildren spoke nothing but English. Being from English descent, we only ever had English, but I always felt sad for my friends who knew nothing of their ancestral language. Not only sad, but they were missing out on a tremendous commercial opportunity! Russia is booming and in another 10 years, who knows!

This is where I agree with Marc. Being Thai, I don't believe, is something you can come back to. Coming Western, learning to belong to the New World; Canada, Australia, New Zealand, is something that can be integrated later, certainly as whatever the New World is, it is constantly being redefined. (I am purposely leaving the US out of this as although I feel I know a lot about it, I don't really understand it. I would appreciate an American perspective)

Marc tripped over something I have been very interested in, Bilingual Education. He mentioned that there were 6 – 7 foreigners on the teaching staff of a school he visited. If this school can combine native English and Thai language instruction, integrated with the basic subjects taught in both languages, in a setting that clearly reflects Thai culture, then perhaps this is a clear alternative to the 'pack 'em up back home'.

Remember Stick, (or Stick II – if that is your real name) NZ is not the country you remember. I may be sitting in the west idolizing the east, where you are in the east idolizing the west. Perhaps the real answer is Marc's, being pragmatic and doing the best with one's options.

Silky


Stickman's thoughts:

I am reluctant to "take on" readers when I strongly disagree with the message in submissions. If I disagree to strongly, it is my experience that the writers disappear and never come back again, hence I often show restraint. But this case is a little different. We know each other and I know that whatever I say will not be taken to heart, so I am going to give you a rather lengthy reply. I will also refer to Marc's article. I also know, like and respect Marc. He's a thick-skinned fellow so I am sure he will be comfortable with me speaking my mind.

First of all, I would like to re-iterate the point I made at the end of the original submission. The top international schools in Thailand are first class. The facilities are excellent (go for a wander around one of them) and they generally attract quality teachers. I will concede that you can get very good teachers at less reputable schools, just as you can find some poor teachers at the supposed best schools. I do believe however that in the teaching profession generally, water finds its own level – and generally the best teachers are at the best schools. Generally.

I see many problems with the education industry in Thailand. Looking specifically at schools, I'll highlight some of the major issues:

– Most teachers instruct using a rote memory system. They stand at the front of the classroom and bark at the students who listen and take notes. Not only is the asking of questions not encouraged, by many teachers it is discouraged as it is considered to be rude, and an affront to the teacher's AUTHORITY. You read that word right, authority. Teaching this way discourages perhaps the most important thing that students can develop at school, the ability to think.

– The entire school system is built around the exam system and passing exams. The school year is two semesters and each semester has mid term exams and final exams. Most students believe that the whole reason they study is so that they can pass the next set of exams. This information is crammed into their short-term memory and with a bit of luck, recited at exam time and the students pass the exam. This does promote short-term memory ability and that is one area where the average Thai excels over the average Westerner.

– Exams are about reciting. There is little in the way of applying what you have learnt to situations (so while, for example, you might know that the price of oil goes up and down according to what is happening in the world, a Thai student would not be able to predict what would happen to the price if Saudi Arabia got nuked.)

– The Thai school education is very much about cramming knowledge into students, a very narrow approach. It would be much better if a more holistic approach was taken, as is the case in the West.

– This narrow knowledge cramming approach often means that the kids don't have a chance to be kids. Insane amounts of often inane details need to be remembered which result in cram schools doing a roaring trade. The result is that kids don't get a chance to be kids. This is partially responsible for some of the problems that happen after school (and even after university) as repressed feelings start to manifest themselves in various ways.

– Classrooms can have up to 60 students in a single class, with around 50 being the norm. It is very difficult for a teacher to give much in the way of personal attention or assistance to individual students. In fact these numbers are largely been responsible for some of the teaching techniques that are used – they are the only way to manage such huge numbers.

– There is a real management, or should I say mismanagement issue at many Thai schools. I would rather not raise some of the points here, but some of the issues are mind-blowing. Of course, Western schools are not perfect, but I am sure that a number of the mismanagement issues that are common in Thailand simply do not occur in the West.

– The facilities at the average Thai school just cannot compare to the average Western school. My high school back home had several sports fields, many tennis courts, basketball courts, two indoor gymnasiums and a well equipped weight bay. There were cricket nets and even table tennis tables. The school currently offers more than 40 sports, yet this is a school with less than 1,500 students! As far as academic resources go, the difference between what they have what the average Thai school has is light and day.

I believe that schools have the role of providing an environment where students can learn and flourish. This requires the right people with the right training along with the right resources. I have serious reservations as to whether the average school provides this. The better schools, yes. But the average school? As I say, I have serious reservations.

This is an emotive issue. No-one wants to think that they are sending their kid to a mediocre school. Giving your kid a great education is the perhaps best thing you can do for them.

If I had kids in Bangkok, I would send them to Bangkok Pattana (because of my personal preference for the British curriculum). ISB would be my second choice. There are of course other choices which would meet the requirements I believe are necessary for a school to produce students who fulfill their potential. Unfortunately, these schools charge fees that are way beyond my budget.

So if I had kids, I would have to look at the West. Not only do I believe the quality of education is far superior to the average Thai school, a good education can be had free, or as good as free.

* My apologies to all readers for opening my mouth and saying so much. It is never my intention to steal a writer's thunder – but this is one issue I have very strong opinions on, and it is an issue that I think is worth talking about.