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Stickman Readers' Submissions March 7th, 2008

Thai Education, How A Thai Person Sees It

I have an expat friend from England. He married a “good” Thai woman. His wife is from a good family, went to a good Catholic school. She has a steady job and is not an entry-level office worker. My friend said to me he didn’t want a baby as Thailand is not the best place to raise a kid. However, due to an unforeseen accident, they now have a few months old baby girl.

He Clinic Bangkok

Not the best place to raise a kid? If you are a high earning expat and don’t have a problem affording one of the best international schools in Thailand, namely RIS, Shrewsbury, etc, you wouldn’t have to worry about your kid as he or she would get the same standards of education as in the UK or US. But the quality of smaller international schools in Thailand can sometimes be dubious.

I was recently working on research related to private schools in Bangkok, and I have some information from the Office of Private Education Commission I’d like to share here. According to the stats, as of August 2007, there are 81 international schools in the City of Bangkok, 31 in other provinces; 72 Thai schools in Bangkok with English programs, and 63 in other provinces. I tallied the curricula used in international schools in Bangkok and found that there are 39 schools using the English curriculum, 24 American, 2 Canadian, 1 German, 6 Japanese, 1 Singaporean, 1 French, 1 Indian, 1 English-Singaporean, and 1 IB curriculum (Don’t ask me what these two are), and 4 unidentified. Among these schools, Ruamrudee International School offers both American and German curricula.

It’s been a trend among rich people in Thailand, especially Bangkok, to open up an international school or offer an international program in their existing Thai schools, as more and more people of higher socio-economic status are aware of how important it is for their children to master the English language. However, not all these potential ‘customers’ can afford schools like RIS or Shrewsbury where you might as well buy a compact car each year with the tuition money. So there are a lot of smaller-named international schools out there for these customers on a more limited budget.

I’ve been in the educational field all my life. I had experience teaching part time in an English program at a small private school in Sukhumvit 71 area. Let me tell you the management at the school is really bad. They don’t realize that they’d get more students if they provided what students deserve for the tuition money they pay. They had a high turnover rate of English speaking teachers and I’m talking about at least one replacement every few months. Most teachers are not educators. They were just ex-tourists who were intrigued with Thailand and u-know-what. They don’t educate kids but they were just doing what they have to do to make ends meet. None of them held a degree in education. They’d spend most of their time nagging and moaning about the management, and how ‘bad’ the kids were, rather than preparing for their classes. I found it appalling.

I remember a Thai student from an international school. The kid was having his written exam to get into our university. He said to me his classes were all in English so he didn’t know how to answer the exam in Thai. I said to him English was fine. I was the one who graded the exam and was surprised to find that his English was merely a bad translation from Thai to English. The boy didn’t know how to write in English. Grammar, spelling, vocabulary etc, nothing was there. You wouldn’t want your children to grow up into betweeners struggling with both languages like that.

On the contrary, I have another student from a good Catholic school in Bangkok–Mater Dei. Her father is American, her mother is Thai. (According to the father, his wife shares the same mentality and maturity with his daughter, and the wife is his “self-inflicted pain” but that’s another story.) The father first visited Thailand almost forty years ago and finally moved out here about 25 years ago. He has a small consultant business. The family is comfortable but sending two children to a good international school means he needs to have over a million baht a year to spare for tuition fees, not to mention other expenses, so he opted out for leading private schools for his girl and boy. The girl is going to the said Catholic school, and the boy Bangkok Christian College. They receive first class education they can get from a Thai school, and learn Thai proper manners in these leading schools, and their father makes sure their English is perfect. Unlike many ‘look krueng’, these two children speak both Thai and English as native speakers. He’d send the children to summer camps in the US so that they learn about and make friends with Western kids. The girl is finishing her M.6 (Equivalent to Grade 12 in the US) in a few weeks. With some tutoring, she took the SAT and will have to take the TOEFL test as she’d been in a school with Thai language as the medium. I’m sure she’ll pass the TOEFL with perfect or near perfect scores. Her family is sending her to a college in the US. She’d be living with her American relatives.

My point from these examples is, how good an education your children are getting is not the issue of being enrolled in an international school or not. A bad, all-business oriented international school with no decency of giving the ‘customers’ what they pay for, doesn’t make your kid learn much about the language. They’d normally get passing grades when they don’t deserve. Plus chances are they’d be mingling with Thai brats who would not speak Thai to the other Thai fellow students when they’re not even up to their English. On the contrary, if you can compensate for the lack of education in English somehow, you can send them to a good Thai school for more affordable tuition fees. They’d also have friends from good families that way.

There are many good Thai schools in Bangkok, both public and private. Good public schools can be difficult to get in. They have a certain admission percentage for prospective students in the area. The admission for these neighborhood children will be done by drawing and a house registration is required for applying. But if your kid is born in Thailand, he/she is eligible to apply. Apart for the drawing, most students will have to go through entrance exams. Now these poor kids would need tutoring. Thai kids start their tutoring once they get out of day care. Ok. I’m exaggerating here but it’s close. Kids start at a VERY early age so that they get selected into these good and essentially free public schools.

Leading private schools can be equally competitive. Prospective students would have to pass entrance exams, and some who barely make it should have parents who are willing to ‘donate’ a bunch of money to the school. A friend of mine took his 7 year old son to a Catholic school for boys and put in that he was willing to donate 100K baht to the school. Upon writing that he looked around and saw a parent put in 200K. He became worried that his son might be bounced off the list so he changed the amount to 300K baht. His son got in, not sure how. The school wouldn’t tell him but he paid the donation when enrolled.

Normally these private schools would set aside a percentage of students with outstanding scores. These students would not have to donate to the schools. I was among this group when I got into my private Catholic school for girls. The schools would also have a number of seats open for donors. Let’s say if there’s only one spot left and there are two kids with the same exam results, the kid with the parents offering a larger donation will get in. Since the competition is so high, these schools are never short of students with good exam results and/or a fat wallet. Foreigners may see this as ridiculous but you need to understand that Thai parents who are able to afford it would ‘invest’ in their children’s education, environment, and future connections. Let me tell you from my experience growing up in a Catholic school, it’s worth it.

This submission is just to give you some input on how a Thai person in the academia sees the education for your children. I never meant to be authoritative in my subs. Go out, get information, talk to more people about it, and then make the best decision for your children. And any reader who wants to get the list of the international, bilingual, and regular private schools in Thailand I mentioned earlier can contact me at totaljunx@hotmail.com. The files are in Thai. I won’t translate for you but would be more than happy to forward you the information.

Stickman's thoughts:

The school system in Thailand is just so totally different to the West. One could write a book on the differences. Needless to say, many Westerners struggle to get their head around many aspects of the education system and schooling in Thailand.

I agree with what you say about the importance of getting one's kids into a good school in Thailand. The difference between the better schools and the next tier down is significant. Frankly, unless one could afford to send their kids to one of the very best schools in Thailand, you're really better off in the West. I cannot stress this enough. A top tier school or the West. I do not like the other option.