Education in Thailand
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Education in ThailandLanchakon – 037.jpg
Ministry of Education
Minister of Education Prof. Dr. Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech
National education budget (2005)
Budget ฿262,938.3M (21.91% national budget)
Primary languages Thai
System type National
Secondary diploma N/A
Education in Thailand is provided mainly by the Thai government through the Ministry of Education from pre-school to senior high school. 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, span 2–3 years depending on the locale, and are variably provided. Non-formal education is also supported by the state. Independent schools contribute significantly to the general education infrastructure.
Administration and control of public and private universities are carried out by the Office of Higher Education Commission, a department of the Ministry of Education.
1 School system
2 School grades
3.1 Early education
5 Primary and secondary levels
6 Vocational Education
6.1 Dual Vocational Training (DVT)
7 Tertiary and higher education
8 International schools
9 Distance learning support by TV
10 Teacher training
10.1 Primary and lower secondary school teachers
10.2 Upper secondary school teachers
10.3 Teacher development and associated problems
11 English language education in Thailand
11.1 Thai teachers
11.2 Native-speaker teachers
12 See also
14 External links
Primary school students in Thailand
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. The upper secondary level of schooling consists of Matthayom 4 – 6, for age groups 15 to 17 and is divided into academic and vocational streams. There are also academic upper secondary schools, vocational upper secondary schools and comprehensive schools offering both academic and vocational tracks. Students who choose the academic stream usually intend to enter a university. Vocational schools offer programs that prepare students for employment or further studies.
Admission to an upper secondary school is through an entrance exam. 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).
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 – especially by Catholic diocesan and religious orders that operate over 300 large primary/secondary schools throughout the country. 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.
Due to budgetary limitations, 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.
The school year in Thailand is divided into two semesters, and for primary and secondary schools generally runs from the middle of May to March, and from June to March for higher education. It has a two or three week break between the two terms in September. The short summer break coincides with the hottest part of the year and Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year celebrations. Schools enjoy all public and Buddhist religious holidays and Christian and international schools usually close for the Christmas-New Year break.
Level/Grade Typical age
Various optional programs Under 6
1 to 6 Prathom 7–12
1 to 6 Matthayom 12-18
University Usually four years
Vocational education Ages vary
Graduate education Ages vary
Adult education Ages vary
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Student Uniform Act, BE 2551 (2008)
Uniforms are compulsory for all students with very few variations from the standard model throughout the public and private school systems, including colleges and universities.
The dress code in primary and secondary grades for boys comprises knee-length dark blue, khaki, or black shorts with a pale white open collar short-sleeved shirt, long socks and brown or black trainers. Female students, wear a knee-length dark blue or black skirt, and a pale white blouse with a loosely hanging bow tie. The bow tie is dropped in favor of an open-necked pale blue shirt from Matthayom 4.
The girls’ uniform is complemented by white ankle socks and black school shoes. The student’s name, number, and name of the school are often embroidered on the blouse or shirt. Some independent or international schools have uniforms more closely resembling British school uniform standards, and boys in senior high school grades may be allowed to wear long trousers.
The standard dress for children in kindergarten is a red skirt and white blouse for girls, and red short trousers and a white shirt for boys. In all Thai schools, one day per week, usually Thursday, is dedicated to scouting, when beige scout uniforms for boys and dark green guide uniforms are the rule, both wearing yellow neckerchiefs. Many schools have some color variations of the scout uniform such as blue uniforms with blue neckerchiefs for girl scouts at Wattana Wittaya Academy.The use of accessories is prohibited for males, while females are sometimes allowed to use simple accessories. All students are prohibited from coloring their hair or having tattoos on any part of the body.
University uniforms are standard throughout the country, and comprise a white blouse and plain or pleated skirt for the females, and long black trousers, a white long sleeved shirt with a dark blue or black tie for the males.
Staff:[dubious – discuss]As in all branches of the civil service at lower grades, teachers and staff in government schools wear a military style uniform. The female teachers and administrators of independent schools may be required to wear discrete, attractive uniforms, while staff in universities generally wear trousers.
Formal education has its early origins in the temple schools, when it was available to boys only. From the mid-sixteenth century Thailand opened up to significant French Catholic influence until the mid-seventeenth century when it was heavily curtailed, and the country returned to a strengthening of its own cultural ideology. 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 by a Western power. As a result, structured education on the lines of that in developed countries was slow to evolve until it gained new impetus with the reemergence of diplomacy in the late nineteenth century.
It is possible that one the earliest forms of education began when King Ram Khamhaeng the Great invented the Thai alphabet in 1283 basing it on Mon, Khmer, and Southern Indian scripts. Stone inscriptions from 1292 in the new script depict moral, intellectual and cultural aspects. During the Sukhothai period (1238–1378), education was dispensed by the Royal Institution of Instruction (Rajabundit) to members of the royal family and the nobility, while commoners were taught by Buddhist monks.
In the period of the Ayutthaya kingdom from 1350 to 1767 during the reign of King Narai the Great (1656–1688), the Chindamani, generally accepted as the first textbook of the Thai language, collating the grammar. The prosody of Thai language and official forms of correspondence was written by a monk, Pra Horatibodi, in order to stem the foreign educational influence of the French Jesuit schools It remained in use up to King Chulalongkorn’s reign (1868–1910). Narai himself was a poet, and his court became the center where poets congregated to compose verses and poems. Although through his influence interest in Thai literature was significantly increased, Catholic missions had been present with education in Ayutthaya as early as 1567 under Portuguese Dominicans and French Jesuits were given permission to settle in Ayutthaya in 1662. His reign therefore saw major developments in diplomatic missions to and from Western powers.
On Narai’s death, fearing further foreign interference in Thai education and culture, and conversion to Catholicism, xenophobic sentiments at court increased and diplomatic activities were severely reduced and ties with the West and any forms of Western education were practically severed. They did not recover their former levels until the reign of King Mongkut in the mid-nineteenth century.
Through his reforms of the Buddhist Sangha, King Rama I (1782–1809), accelerated the development of public education and during the reign of King Rama IV (1851–1865) the printing press arrived in Thailand making books available in the Thai language for the first time; English had become the lingua franca of the Far East, and the education provided by the monks was proving inadequate for government officials. Rama IV decreed that measures be taken to modernise education and insisted that English would be included in the curriculum.
King Rama V (1868–1910) continued to influence the development of education and in 1871 the first relatively modern concept of a school with purpose constructed building, lay teachers and a time-table was opened in the palace to teach male members of the royal family and the sons of the nobility. The Command Declaration on Schooling was proclaimed, English was being taught in the palace for royalty and nobles, and schools were set up outside the palace for the education of commoners’ children. With the aid of foreign – mainly English – advisers a Department of Education was established by the king in 1887 by which time 34 schools, with over 80 teachers and almost 2,000 students, were in operation and as part of the king’s programme to establish ministries, in 1892 the department became the Ministry of Education. Recognizing that the private sector had come to share the tasks of providing education, the government introduced controls for private schools.
In 1897 on the initiative of Queen Sribajarindra, girls were admitted into the educational system. In 1898, a two-part education plan for Bangkok and for the provinces was launched with programmes for pre-school, primary, secondary, technical, and higher education. In 1901, the first government school for girls, the Bamrung Wijasatri, was set up in Bangkok, and in 1913, the first teacher training school for women was set up at the Benchama Rajalai School for girls. Further developments took place when in 1902 the plan was remodeled by National System of Education in Siam into the two categories of general education, and professional/ technical education, imposing at the same time age limits for admission to encourage graduation within predetermined time scales.
The first university is named after King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), and was established by his son and successor King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in 1917 by combining the Royal Pages School and the College of Medicine. In 1921, the Compulsory Primary Education Act was proclaimed.
The bloodless revolution in 1932 that transferred absolute power from the king to democratic government encouraged further development and expansion of schools and tertiary institutions. The first National Education Scheme was introduced formally granting access to education regardless of ability, gender, and social background.
In 1960, compulsory education was extended to seven years, and for the first time special provisions were made for disabled children, who were originally exempted from compulsory education. 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.
In 1977, the key stages of primary and secondary education were changed from a 4-3-3-2 year structure to the 6-3-3 year system that is in use today.
From early 2001, under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Ministry of Education began developing new national curricula in an endeavour to model the system of education on child, or student-centred learning methods.
The years from 2001 to 2006 showed some of the 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 decentralizing the responsibility of education to the provinces. By 2008, however, little real change had been felt, and many attempts 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.
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 15.
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. 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 at renowned International universities.
Charitable organisations (missionary societies or 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.
Almost all villages have a primary school, many larger 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.
Over 400 government vocational colleges accept students who have completed Matthayom 3 and the campuses are usually located within daily commuting distances, although some may offer limited dormitory accommodation on the campus. Many specialised vocational schools offer training in agriculture, animal husbandry, nursing, administration, hospitality and tourism.
The complexity of administration of Thai education gives rise to duplication among the many ministries and agencies providing education and establishing of standards. In 1980, under the recommendation the Minister of Education, Dr. Sippanondha Ketudat, a Harvard scholar, responsibility for basic primary education was moved from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Education. Both the Ministry of University Affairs and the Ministry of Education have been actively involved in teacher training. In the early 21st century devolution of some responsibility to newly created educational regions is intended to increase the awareness and ability to address different regional needs.
In comparison with the public expenditure of other countries, (especially developing countries): China 13%, Indonesia 8.1%, Malaysia 20%, Mexico, 24.3%, Philippines 17%, United Kingdom and France 11%, the Thai GDP and national budget allocate considerable funds to education. By 2006 it represented 27% of the national budget. Although education is mainly financed by the national budget, important local funds, particularly in urban areas, are being released to support education. In the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, up to 28.1% of the education budget has been provided by local financing. Loans and technical assistance for education are also received from Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the OECF. In December 2008 Education Minister Jurin Laksanawisit announced the intention to provide Thai children with free textbooks and learning materials throughout the 15 years of government-sponsored free education and implemented this policy in May at the start of the 2009 academic year. In 2011, a new elected government has delivered a proposal in congress to offer electronic computer notepads for students of which targeting trail group is mainly for primary school students. As regards of technological innovation which has been moving fast, young students are urged to prepare.
Systematic educational research began in 1955 when the International Institute for Child Study was established in Bangkok. The Institute has now become the Behavioral Science Research Institute and has conducted both basic and applied research. In the 1960s, the Ministry of Education and the National Education Commission, a division of the Office of the Prime Minister, began programmes of Educational research. In-depth research, particularly that of the ONEC, contributed to the education reform initiative of 1999-2002, and extensive research is provided by the country’s universities, especially in faculties of education. The Department of Curriculum and Instructional Development of the Ministry of Education also conducts research into testing, curriculum, and content. The National Library, university and other libraries around the country are electronically networked in order to facilitate research.
Primary and secondary levels
At primary levels, students follow eight core subjects each semester: Thai language, mathematics, science, social Science, health and physical education, arts and music, technology, and foreign languages. At age 16 (Matthayom 4), students are allowed to choose one or two elective courses. The science program (Wit-Kanit) and the mathematics-English language program (Sil-Kamnuan)are among the most popular. Foreign language programs (Sil-Phasa) Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and German, for example and the social science program (sometimes called the general program) are also offered. Both Primary and secondary level also have special programs for students called English Program and Gifted Program.In English Program students can learn almost every subjects in English except for Thai and Social Study.Gifted Program is The Mathematics-Science program.
Currently 412 colleges are governed by the Vocational Education Commission (VEC), of the Ministry of Education with more than a million students following the programs In 2004. Additionally, approximately 380,000 students were studying in 401 private vocational schools and colleges.
Technical and vocational education (TVE) begins at the senior high school grade where students are divided into either general or vocational education. At present, around 60 per cent of students follow the general education programmes. However, the government is endeavouring to achieve an equal balance between general and vocational education.
Three levels of TVE are offered: the Certificate in Vocational Education (Bor Wor Saw) which is taken during the upper secondary period; the Technical Diploma (Bor Wor Chor), taken after school-leaving age, and the Higher Diploma on which admission to university for a Bachelor degree programme may be granted. Vocational education is also provided by private institutions.
Dual Vocational Training (DVT)
Essential to DVT is the active participation of the private sector. In 1995, based primarily on the German model, the Department of Vocational Education launched the initiative to introduce dual vocational training programmes which involve the students in hand-on training in suitably selected organisations in the private sector.
DVT is a regular element of the DoVE “Certificate” and “Diploma” program. The training is for a period of three years with more than half of the time devoted to practical training on-the-job, spread over two days a week, or for longer periods depending on the distance, throughout the semesters.
Two levels of DVT are offered: the three-year certificate level for skilled workers where students and trainees are admitted at the age of 15 after completing Matthayom 3 (Grade 9); and the two-year diploma technician level for students who have graduated with the Certificate of Vocational Education after 12 years of formal education.
In the scheme, vocational, unlike regular internships, where students may be assigned to work on unpaid irrelevant jobs, the cooperative education programme enables the students of the vocational schools to do field work while benefiting from an allowance to cover living expenses or free accommodation, and compensation for their contributions made towards the company’s income and profits as temporary employees.
Schools collaborate directly with the private sector in drafting action plans and setting goals for students to meet. Generally, the company will offer permanent employment to the trainees on graduation and successful completion of the programme. Conversely, companies that recruit trainees from among young people who have completed a minimum of nine years at school may enroll their employees with a technical or vocational college where they are taught vocational subjects as the theoretical background to the occupational field in which they are being trained.
The Office of Vocational Education Commission showed student attendance for the 2005 academic year as follows:
Technical colleges 290,058; industrial and community colleges 137,377; business administration and tourism colleges 3,480; commercial colleges 16,266; arts and crafts colleges 2,214; polytechnic colleges 36,304; vocational colleges 89,703; agricultural and technology colleges 34,914; Golden Jubilee Royal Goldsmith College 525; industrial and ship building colleges 2,391; fishery colleges 1,510; agricultural engineering training centres 806; with a further 340,000 in private vocational schools.
Tertiary and higher education
The established public and private universities and colleges of higher education are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of University Affairs 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 on a controversial move by the Thaksin government to rename many public institutes as universities.
In the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings 2004, Chulalongkorn University was ranked 46th in the world for social sciences and 60th for biomedicine. In September 2006, three universities in Thailand were ranked “excellent” in both academic and research areas by Commission on Higher Education. Those universities are Chiang Mai University, Chulalongkorn University and Mahidol University. Over half of the provinces have a government Rajabhat University, formerly Rajabhat Institute, traditionally a teacher training college.
For a full list of universities and higher education institutions in Thailand see: List of universities in Thailand.
On graduating from high school, students 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. 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 more changes to the national curriculum and university entrance system. At present, state-run universities screen 70% of their students directly, with the remaining 30% coming from the central admission system. The new system gives 20% weight to cumulative grade point average, which varies upon a school’s standard. Some students have voiced distrust of the new system and fear it will encounter score counting problems as happened with the A-NET in its first year. The new aptitude test, to be held for the first time in March 2009 and which will be supervised by the National Institute of Educational Testing Service, will replace the Advanced National Education Test (A-net), Students can sit for the aptitude test a maximum of three times, with their best scores counted. After the first tests in March 2009, the next two are scheduled for July and October. Direct admissions are normally held around October. The new test comprises the compulsory General Aptitude Test (GAT), which covers reading, writing, analytical thinking, problem solving and English communication. The voluntary Professional Aptitude Test (PAT) has a choice of seven subjects.
Most bachelor’s degree courses are programmes of four years full-time attendance. Exceptions are education and architecture that require five years, and the doctor of dental surgery, medicine, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine that comprise six years of study. Master’s degree programmes last for either one or two years and the degree is conferred on course credits with either a thesis or a final exam. On completion of a master’s degree, students may apply for an admission exam to a two to five year doctoral programme. The doctorate is conferred on coursework, research and the successful submission of a dissertation.
By government definition: “An international school is an educational institution providing an international curriculum or international curriculum which its subject’s detail has been adjusted or a self-organised curriculum, which is not the Ministry of Education’s. A foreign language is used as the medium of teaching and learning and students are enrolled without restriction or limitation on nationality or religion or government regime, and are not against the morality or stability of Thailand.” The curriculum is required to be approved by the Ministry of Education and may be an international one, an international curriculum with modifications, or a curriculum established by the school itself. Thai language and culture constitutes a core subject and is mandatory at every level for all students; Thai students are required to study at least five 50-minutes periods a week, while non-Thai students must receive a minimum of instruction of one period per week. International schools must operate within a framework of requirements and conditions established by the Ministry of Education, that stipulates the ownership, location and size of the plot, design and structure of buildings, ratio of students to classroom surface, sanitary installations, administration and educational support facilities such as libraries and resources centres.Within one year from their commencement, primary and secondary schools must apply accreditation from an international organisation recognised and accepted by the Office of the Private Education Commission and accreeditation must be granted within six years. Managers and head teachers must be of Thai nationality;
Currently 90 international schools operate in the Kingdom, of which 65 are located in the Bangkok area. (provinces 2003)
Distance learning support by TV
Established in 1996, DLTV currently broadcasts a total of 15 educational channels from Klaikangwon Palace School, Hua-Hin, providing educational benefits and equal opportunities to Thai students nationwide especially in the remote and far-reaching areas of the country where the lack of teachers is still a major challenge to the educational system. It broadcasts via the Ku-band beam on the THAICOM 5 satellite to more than 17,000 schools across the country and also to other viewers who subscribe to satellite providers of commercial television. In December 2008, the Thaicom Public Company Limited, Asia’s leading commercial satellite operator and the operator of the IPSTAR satellite broadband system, announced it has renewed a 10-year contract with the Distance Learning Education via Satellite Foundation of Thailand (DLF) for three-quarters of one Ku-band transponder on the Thaicom 5 satellite to broadcast DLTV channels.
Teacher training is offered either in universities by the Ministry of University Affairs or in teacher training colleges administered by the Ministry of Education’s Department of Teacher Education. The university programmes are now commonly influenced by child-centred learning methods and several universities operate a Satit demonstaration primary and secondary school staffed by lecturers and trainee teachers.
Primary and lower secondary school teachers
The mainstay of the teacher output is provided by the government Rajaphat Universities (formerly Rajaphat Institutes), the traditional teacher training colleges in most provinces. Programmes include courses in teaching methodology, school administration, special education, optional specialisation, supervised practical teaching experience, and the general education subjects of language and communication, humanities, social science, mathematics, and technology. Completion of upper secondary education (Mathayom 6) is required for access to basic teacher training programmes and primary and lower secondary school teachers are required to complete a two-year program leading to the Higher Certificate of Education, also known as the Diploma in Education or an Associate’s Degree.
Upper secondary school teachers
To teach at the upper secondary school level, the minimum requirement is a four-year Bachelor of Education degree through government programmes provided either at a teacher’s training college or in a university faculty of education. Students who have acquired the Higher Certificate of Education are eligible to continue their studies at a university or teacher’s training college for two additional years of full-time study for a bachelor’s degree. Prospective teachers with a bachelor’s degree in other disciplines must undergo an additional one year of full-time study to complete a Bachelor of Education degree.
Teacher development and associated problems
On the government’s own admission, general education is 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.”
The shortage of teachers and the overcrowding of classes in the public schools are exacerbated by the fact that many teachers who have qualified through the university system will obtain employment in the better-remunerated private sector. Many of the places in the faculties of education are taken up by students who enroll not with the intention of pursuing a teaching career but to benefit from the superior quality of the foreign language instruction.
The acquired knowledge and competency of newly graduated teachers from the Rajaphat Universities at is often comparable to the level of an American senior high school graduation, a British A-level, a French Baccalauréat, 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 that continues to favour the rote system that is firmly anchored in Thai culture as the only method possible.
As teaching by rote requires little pedagogic skill, once qualified — apart from weekend seminars which 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.
Students are not encouraged to develop analytical and critical thinking skills, which is clearly demonstrated by their inability to complete a cloze test, or to grasp a notion through context. The teachers will avoid introducing dialogue into the classroom or eliciting response from the students — to give a wrong answer would be to lose face in the presence of one’s peers, a situation that in Thai culture must always be avoided.
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” — a perception that is reinforced by the celebration of wai khru (literally ‘praise the teacher’) day, in all schools and colleges shortly after the beginning of the new school year, where during a festive general assembly, the students file before the teachers on their knees and offer them gifts, usually of real or hand-crafted flowers.
The essence of education therefore still hinges first and foremost on the traditional values of Buddhism, respect for the king, the monkhood, the teachers, and the family (in that order) through the rote method. 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.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, August 18, 2002: “Teachers must radically change their way of thinking — I’m not sure they can do this.”
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 improvements to the National Curriculum; indeed, changes often occur faster than authors and publishers can update the textbooks and the teachers must improvise without support material and have to design their own tests and exams — neither of which is conducive to an improvement in quality.
The frequent changes in policy can cause confusion. 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.
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 slowly increasing through the influence of the media and the Internet. But in reality, Thailand was ranked 54th out of 56 countries globally for English proficiency, the second-lowest in Asia.
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 2006 were clearly ahead.
Following the announcement of the University of Cambridge to launch a new course and qualification for non-native speaker teachers, a survey was carried out in February 2006, with the collaboration of the University of Cambridge as part of a field trial, by one of the country’s largest groups of independent schools of its 400 or so teachers of English.
The project reported that in over 60% 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%, only 3% had a reasonable level of fluency and only 20 per cent were teaching grades for which they were correctly qualified and competent.
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 primary level. Whatever results that any formal research may provide, there clearly exists room for much improvement.
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. This is 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 may 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 that 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.
Currently, to teach English in licenced schools, public or private, the minimum academic qualification for native speakers 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 or degrees issued by diploma mills, and to prevent access to schools by persons with doubtful motives.
In 2008, the government announced plans to improve requirements for native-speaker teachers in mainstream schools. They now require academic qualifications in either education or linguistics, in addition to their bachelor’s degrees, and to complete a government course in Thai culture and language. In 2008 applications for TESOL posts in Thailand experienced a significant drop, and many posts are being taken up by second-language English speakers from Asian countries where the use of English may be of a high standard and officially recognised, but not as a first language. Parents, particularly those with children in fee-paying schools, maintain the belief that native English speakers should have Western ethnic origins.