World Teachers’ Day: Education in Thailand

Thailand - Michel #3409 (2014)
Thailand – Michel #3409 (2014)

October 5 is annually marked as World Teachers’ Day, proclaimed by UNESCO in 1994 to mark the anniversary of a 1966 conference in conjunction with the International Labor Organization (ILO). The celebration was the subject of a previous article A Stamp A Day article in 2016. I had planned to put together an article today focusing on using stamps as an educational tool, something I’ve done on numerous occasions during my teaching career in southern Thailand. It was more in line with my goal of keeping most of this month’s articles on different aspects of collecting stamps and the conveyance of the mail as my way of marking National Stamp Collecting Month.

However, everything has been much delayed by a flood-induced power outage (I could use my electronic devices for a few hours but couldn’t connect to the internet to do research). I had previously put together a long piece about “Education in Thailand” for a different project and matched it with a postal topic. While today’s article is basically an overview of the educational system in my adopted home, the stamp marks the 125th anniversary of Thailand’s Postal School (โรงเรียนการไปรษณีย์). The major9ity of the photos accompanying this article were taken at the various schools I have taught at over the course of more than a decade with the captions detailing significant portions of my personal history teaching in Phuket, Thailand. It truly has been the most interesting and rewarding job that I have ever had.

The first school I taught at in Thailand following my certification courses was a private bilingual school in the center of Phuket island.. I was there from mid-March 2007 until Christmas Eve 2010. The two buildings visible were, at the time, the English Programme and Intensive English Programme (IEP) buildings, the latter being newer and connecting with Thai Programme buildings to the south. However, the school was packing up that year to move to a new campus following its approval to become a full-fledged, Cambridge-certified international school. This campus is now used solely for the Thai Programme. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Kajonkietsuksa School Sports Day, September 9, 2010.
The first school I taught at in Thailand following my certification courses was a private bilingual school in the center of Phuket island.. I was there from mid-March 2007 until Christmas Eve 2010. The two buildings visible were, at the time, the English Programme and Intensive English Programme (IEP) buildings, the latter being newer and connecting with Thai Programme buildings to the south. However, the school was packing up that year to move to a new campus following its approval to become a full-fledged, Cambridge-certified international school. This campus is now used solely for the Thai Programme. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Kajonkietsuksa School Sports Day, September 9, 2010.

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 fifteen years is guaranteed by the constitution. The Thai government mandates nine years of “basic education” (six years of elementary school and three years of lower secondary school). Education at public schools is free until grade 9. The government provides, in addition, three years of free pre-school and three years of free upper-secondary education. Neither is mandatory.

Children are enrolled in elementary school from the age of six and attend for six years, Prathom 1 to Prathom 6. Students attend elementary school classes for at least 7 hours per day, with a maximum learning time of 1,000 hours per year. Secondary education starts at age 12. It consists of three years of lower secondary education, Mattayom 1 to Mattayom 3, and three years of upper secondary education, Mattayom 4 to Mattayom 6. Compulsory education ends with Mattayom 3 (grade 9), after which pupils can pursue upper-secondary education in a university-preparatory track, or continue their studies in vocational school programs.

Homeschooling is legal in Thailand. Thailand’s constitution and education law explicitly recognize alternative education and considers the family to be an educational institution. A homeschool law passed in 2004, Ministerial Regulation No. 3 on the right to basic education by the family, governs homeschooling. Families must submit an application to homeschool and students are assessed annually.

Kajonkietsuksa School Sports Day - I was on the orange team. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on September 9, 2010.
Kajonkietsuksa School Sports Day – I was on the orange team. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on September 9, 2010.

Basic education in Thailand is free. It is divided into three levels: pre-primary, primary, and secondary. Pre-primary education was introduced in 2004 and made free in 2009. State schools offer two years of kindergarten (อนุบาล, anuban) for three- and four-year-olds and one year of pre-school studies (five-year-olds). Participation in pre-primary education is “nearly universal”. At the age of six, education begins. It lasts for nine years, consisting of primary, prathom (ประถม) — grades P1-3 — and lower secondary, matthayom (มัธยม) — grades M1-3 – starting at the age of 12. Upper secondary education, grades 4-6, is also not compulsory. It is divided into general and vocational tracks.

Ninety-nine percent of students complete primary education. Only 85 percent complete lower secondary. About 75 percent move on to upper secondary (ages 16-18). For every 100 students in primary schools, 85.6 students will continue studies in M1, 79.6 students will continue until M3, and only 54.8 will go on to M6 or occupational schools.

My second school in Thailand was Piboonsawasdee Municipal School near the Phuket Provincial Prison. The majority of students there were orphans from the Boxing Day (2004) tsunami and actually lived on the top floor of this, the
My second school in Thailand was Piboonsawasdee Municipal School near the Phuket Provincial Prison. The majority of students there were orphans from the Boxing Day (2004) tsunami and actually lived on the top floor of this, the “old building” (which dated to the early 20th century). While the ground floor was well-maintained, the classrooms on the second floor had holes in the wooden floor boards and I was constantly warned by students where not to step. I taught there under the ECC umbrella from early 2011 until 2013 before they needed me elsewhere. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on August 9, 2011.
Upper floor hallway in the
Upper floor hallway in the “new building” (at least 40 years old) at Piboonsawasdee Municipal School, Phuket, Thailand. The hallway is open-air to the right, no walls just a ledge and the classrooms extend to the rear of the building. Concrete and wood construction. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on August 11, 2011.

There are academic upper secondary schools, vocational upper secondary schools, and comprehensive schools offering 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 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 tests: O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test) and A-NET (Advanced National Educational Test).

Public schools are administered by the government. The private sector includes schools run for profit and fee-paying non-profit schools which are often run by charitable organizations — especially by Catholic diocesan and religious orders that operate over 300 large elementary/secondary schools throughout the country. Village and sub-district schools usually provide pre-school kindergarten and elementary classes, while in the district towns, schools will serve their areas with comprehensive schools with all the classes from kindergarten to age 15 and separate secondary schools for ages 13 through 18.

Scouting uniforms, as seen at Plukpanya Municipal School in Phuket, Thailand. I was there for a ceremony dedicating a statue of King Rama VI which my students had carried through the streets of Phuket Town in a parade. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on August 15, 2011.
Scouting uniforms, as seen at Plukpanya Municipal School in Phuket, Thailand. I was there for a ceremony dedicating a statue of King Rama VI which my students had carried through the streets of Phuket Town from Piboonsawasdee School in a parade. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on August 15, 2011.
Flag-waving students at Plukpanya Municipal School on August 15, 2011. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim.
Flag-waving students at Plukpanya Municipal School on August 15, 2011. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim.
The government-run schools in particular are overcrowded and many are so old that the communities have crowded them in, leaving little to no room for expansion. Plukpanya Municipal School tried to remedy this problem in 2016-2018 by building up. Despite recently opening this massive 7-storey building (one of at least six separate classroom buildings on campus), most classrooms are jam-packed with between 50 and 60 students each! I'm told enrollment is nearing 3,000 students -- double just two or three years ago. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on March 6, 2018.
The government-run schools in particular are overcrowded and many are so old that the communities have crowded them in, leaving little to no room for expansion. Plukpanya Municipal School tried to remedy this problem in 2016-2018 by building up. Despite recently opening this massive 7-storey building (one of at least six separate classroom buildings on campus), most classrooms are jam-packed with between 50 and 60 students each! I’m told enrollment is nearing 3,000 students — double just two or three years ago. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on March 6, 2018.

Due to budgetary limitations, rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the cities. The standard of instruction, particularly for the English language, is much lower, and many high school students will commute 60–80 kilometers to schools in the nearest city.

The school year is divided into two semesters. The first begins in the beginning of May and ends in early October; the second begins in early November and ends at the beginning of March.

In 2013, I taught my first adult students at the main ECC Language Institute facility in the basement of Central Festival Mall on Phuket island.. I began mixing in-house lessons (business English and high-school tutoring) with frequent substitute teaching work, covering for ill or travelling teachers as ECC-contracted schools throughout the province. I still love doing that, but only get to do those fill-ins a few times each term nowadays. Here, two of my students from Krungsri Bank are performing a customer service role-play. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on September 21, 2016.
In 2013, I taught my first adult students at the main ECC Language Institute facility in the basement of Central Festival Mall on Phuket island.. I began mixing in-house lessons (business English and high-school tutoring) with frequent substitute teaching work, covering for ill or travelling teachers as ECC-contracted schools throughout the province. I still love doing that, but only get to do those fill-ins a few times each term nowadays. Here, two of my students from Krungsri Bank are performing a customer service role-play. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on September 21, 2016.
This was taken during another banking class with the American-born teacher (me) demonstrating to a Thai student who to greet a customer at her bank. Photo taken by a student on November 19, 2016.
This was taken during another banking class with the American-born teacher (me) demonstrating to a Thai student who to greet a customer at her bank. Photo taken by a student on November 19, 2016.

Formal education in present-day Thailand has its early origins in the temple schools, when it was available to boys only. From the mid-sixteenth century, Siam 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 colonized 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 of 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, Phra 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.

In Thailand, every activity (such as English camps) and every course eventually culminates in a group photo, usually with a banner or a photograph of HM the King during the 9th reign. Here, my Krungsri Bank students and myself are wearing black as the one-year mourning period for the death of King Bhumiphol Adulyadej was coming to an end. Photo taken by ECC staff member Anna on October 5, 2017.
In Thailand, every activity (such as English camps) and every course eventually culminates in a group photo, usually with a banner or a photograph of HM the King during the 9th reign. Here, my Krungsri Bank students and myself are wearing black as the one-year mourning period for the death of King Bhumiphol Adulyadej was coming to an end. Photo taken by ECC staff member Anna on October 5, 2017.
A post-mourning period photo with another group of Krungsri Bank students. Photo taken by ECC staff member Anna on November 11, 2017.
A post-mourning period photo with another group of Krungsri Bank students. Photo taken by ECC staff member Anna on November 11, 2017.

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 modernize education and insisted that English would be included in the curriculum.

Prior to the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, Thai students were taught about countries outside of Thailand's national borders for the first time. Geography is still not taught in Thai schools (and only limited, Thai-centric history is mentioned) but students several years ago benefited from learning about the other ASEAN countries and it is still possible to find reminders around certain schools. This is the side of a kindergarten in Koh Khlok, Phang Nga Province where I was asked to substitute teach a couple of times. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on November 15, 2017.
Prior to the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, students in Thai government schools were taught about countries outside of Thailand’s national borders for the first time. Geography is still not taught in Thai schools (and only limited, Thai-centric history is mentioned) but students several years ago benefited from learning about the other ASEAN countries and it is still possible to find reminders around certain schools. This is the side of a kindergarten in Koh Khlok, Phang Nga Province where I was asked to substitute teach a couple of times. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on November 15, 2017.
My favorite part of teaching kindergarten is the 2-hour after-lunch nap-time! Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim in Phang Nga Province, Thailand on November 15, 2017.
My favorite part of teaching kindergarten is the 2-hour after-lunch nap-time! Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim in Phang Nga Province, Thailand on November 15, 2017.

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 program 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 programs for pre-school, elementary, 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 Thai university, Chulalongkorn, was named after King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). It 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 Elementary Education Act was proclaimed.

Ready to nap or ready to learn? Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim in Phang Nga Province, Thailand on November 20, 2017.
Ready to nap or ready to learn? Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim in Phang Nga Province, Thailand on November 20, 2017.

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 elementary schools, and the early concrete secondary schools date from around this time.

In 1977, the key stages of elementary 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.

Yes, we do celebrate Christmas in Thailand even though it is not a holiday and we have to work in the very hot (no A/C) schools on December 25 unless it's a weekend. But every student I've taught over the past 11-and-a-half years can sing at least the chorus of
Yes, we do celebrate Christmas in Thailand even though it is not a holiday and we have to work in the very hot (no A/C) schools on December 25 unless it’s a weekend. But every student I’ve taught over the past 11-and-a-half years can sing at least the chorus of “Jingle Bells” and can properly belt out a Santa-like “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Central Festival Mall Grand Hall, Phuket, Thailand, on December 20, 2017.
Ready for gift exchange at the ECC Language Institute Christmas party. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim in Phuket, Thailand, on December 23, 2017.
Ready for gift exchange at the ECC Language Institute Christmas party. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim in Phuket, Thailand, on December 23, 2017.

The Minister of Education launched a series of education reforms in 1995. The aim was to enhance the quality of education from 1995 to achieve educational excellence by 2007. On September 16, 1996, Education Minister Sukavich Rangsitpol gave his views on the issue:

I strongly believe that, as a citizen of the world, any person has the right to learn and should be entitled to have access to education according to their competency and needs. It is essential that the government provide educational services that respond to the people’s needs. Education, therefore, has to be organized in such a way that people from all walks of life can participate in educational activities at levels and times of their preference.

All sort of boundaries, be their gender, age, socio-economic status, physical or mental disabilities have to be eliminated. To achieve this, we have to distinctively promote continuing and lifelong education, the form of education which is responsive to individual needs and preferences. With educational facilities and a variety of educational programs available, people can make use of the learning center as a place to acquire technical skills or knowledge adaptive to their work and daily life activities.

According to UNESCO, Thailand education reform has led to the following results:

  • The educational budget increased from 133 billion baht in 1996 to 163 billion baht in 1997 (22.5 percent increase).
  • Since 1996, first grade students have learned English and computer literacy.
  • The professional advance from teacher leve1 6 to teacher leve1 7 without having to submit academic work for consideration was approved by the Thai government.
  • There has been drawn up education policy to raise the standards of education from pre-primary to tertiary education.
  • Free 12 years education for all children provided by the government. The free 12 year education was in the 1997 Constitution of Thailand and was the first time the nation had given access to education for all citizens.
  • The Education Reform Project involved about 20,000 schools.
Matthayom students taking mid-term exams at Plukpanya Municipal School in Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on December 27, 2017.
Matthayom students taking mid-term exams at Plukpanya Municipal School in Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on December 27, 2017.

Almost all villages have an elementary school. Most sub-districts (tambon) have a school for ages 6 through 14 and all districts (amphoe) have secondary schools for ages 12 through 17. 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 a high level of achievement and a large number of their students continue their education at universities abroad.

Charitable organizations (missionary societies or diocesan), and other religions provide the backbone of non-government, low-fee, general education and some established universities, and their 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. Their only real benefit is the prestige afforded to the parents for schooling their children in the private sector.

After several years of teaching annual courses for staff at Krungsri Bank, ECC began receiving requests for similar courses from other organizations solely on word-of-mouth. Now, much of my time is spent teaching in-house courses for various clothing stores in Central Festival Mall (most recently, H&M, and have also taught staff at ZARA and bebe). This year, there have been requests for me to teach English conversation courses from several government agencies including my personal favorite, the Southern Area Command HQ for the Royal Thai Navy. Photo taken by RTN photographer's mate at Cape Panwa, Phuket, Thailand, on January 26, 2018.
After several years of teaching annual courses for staff at Krungsri Bank, ECC began receiving requests for similar courses from other organizations solely on word-of-mouth. Now, much of my time is spent teaching in-house courses for various clothing stores in Central Festival Mall (most recently, H&M, and have also taught staff at ZARA and bebe). This year, there have been requests for me to teach English conversation courses from several government agencies including my personal favorite, the Southern Area Command HQ for the Royal Thai Navy. Photo taken by RTN photographer’s mate at Cape Panwa, Phuket, Thailand, on January 26, 2018.

In rural schools, absenteeism among both students and teachers is high due to family and farming commitments. Some schools close down during rice planting and harvesting seasons.

Uniforms are compulsory for all students in Thailand with very few variations from the standard model throughout the public and private school systems, including colleges and universities. The standard dress for children in kindergarten is a red skirt and white blouse for girls and red shorts and a white shirt for boys. The dress code in elementary and secondary grades for boys is knee-length dark blue, khaki, or black shorts with a white open collar short-sleeved shirt, long socks, and brown or black trainers. Girls wear a knee-length dark blue or black skirt and a white blouse with a loosely hanging bow tie. The bow tie is dropped in favor of an open-necked light blue shirt from Matthayom 4. The girls’ uniform is complemented by white ankle socks and black school shoes. 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.

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.

Kindergarten (Anuban 2) students at Plukpanya Municipal School, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on March 6, 2018.
Kindergarten (Anuban 2) students at Plukpanya Municipal School, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on March 6, 2018.
Primary (Prathom 5 and 6) students at Wat Karon temple school in Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on March 8, 2018.
Primary (Prathom 5 and 6) students at Wat Karon temple school in Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on March 8, 2018.

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.

University uniforms are standard throughout the country and consist of a white blouse and plain or pleated skirt for females, and long black trousers, a white long-sleeved shirt with a dark blue or black tie for males. Thammasat University is the first university in Thailand that broke the uniform stereotype by providing choice for students to wear a polite uniform as a result of the democracy movement in 1932. Cracks in the university uniform policy began to appear in 2018 as a result of student agitation. The Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University abolished the compulsory uniform requirement. CU has long claimed that its student uniform is prestigious as it was bestowed upon CU students by King Rama V, the university’s founder.

Thai university students at a ceremony to honor Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on the occasion of her birthday. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Saphan Hin, Phuket, Thailand, on August 12, 2007.
Thai university students at a ceremony to honor Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on the occasion of her birthday. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Saphan Hin, Phuket, Thailand, on August 12, 2007.
Thai teachers and American philatelist at ceremonies marking Her Majesty the Queen's birthday. Photo taken on August 12, 2007.
Thai teachers and American philatelist at ceremonies marking Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday. Photo taken on August 12, 2007.

At elementary levels, students study 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) in (Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and German, for example), and the social science program (sometimes called the general program) are also offered. Both elementary and secondary levels have special programs, the English Program and the Gifted Program. In the English Program students learn every subject in English except for Thai and social studies. The Gifted Program is mathematics-science focused.

Over 400 government vocational colleges accept students who have completed Matthayom 3. Their campuses are usually located within daily commuting distances, although some may offer limited dormitory accommodation on campus. Many specialized vocational schools offer training in agriculture, animal husbandry, nursing, administration, hospitality and tourism.

Thai society holds teachers in high regard as evidenced by naming one day of the year as “Teacher’s Day” as well as a level of respect in individual communities. The high esteem held for Thai teachers does not always extend to international teachers and seems to decrease more each year. “Thai teachers, as well as university lecturers, are not as well paid as their colleagues in Malaysia or Singapore, not to mention those in the United States or Europe,” according to the Bangkok Post. This has led to the finding that each Thai teacher may be up to three million baht in debt. The government is taking steps to ameliorate the plight of teachers by refinancing loans owed to “formal” lenders.

Flag-raising ceremony at Sam Kong Municipal School in Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on February 25, 2014.
Flag-raising ceremony at Sam Kong Municipal School in Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on February 25, 2014.
Preparing students for exercises. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at kindergarten in Koh Khlok, Phang Nga Province, Thailand on November 15, 2017.
Preparing students for exercises. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at kindergarten in Koh Khlok, Phang Nga Province, Thailand on November 15, 2017.

There have been changes within the educational system since the coup of May 2014, including military training for kindergarteners. Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s prime minister and junta leader, says school reform is urgently needed. Following the military takeover, Prayut, in a televised broadcast in July 2014, ordered schools to display a list of 12 “Thai” values he composed:

  1. Loyalty to the Nation, a Religion, and the Monarchy
  2. Honesty, sacrifice, endurance, and noble ideology for the greater good
  3. Gratitude for parents, guardians, and teachers
  4. Diligence in acquiring knowledge, via school studies and other methods
  5. Preserving the Thai customs and tradition
  6. Morality and good will toward others
  7. Correct understanding of democracy with the King as Head of State
  8. Discipline, respect for law, and obedience to the older citizens
  9. Constant consciousness to practice good deeds all the time, as taught by His Majesty the King
  10. Practice of Self-Sufficient Economy in accordance with the teaching of His Majesty the King
  11. Physical and mental strength. Refusal to surrender to religious sins
  12. Uphold the interest of the nation over oneself

Authorities instructed public schools and state agencies to hang a banner listing General Prayut’s teachings on their premises. State agencies have also produced a poem, song, and 12-part film based on the teachings. In late-December 2014, the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Telecommunications (MICT) released a set of “stickers” depicting each of the Twelve Values for users of the chat application LINE.

On holidays such the King's Birthday, we marched the students -- armed with brooms and dust pans over to the nearest Wat (Thai temple) in order to clean the grounds for the monks. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Piboonsawasdee School on December 4, 2012.
On holidays such the King’s Birthday, we marched the students — armed with brooms and dust pans over to the nearest Wat (Thai temple) in order to clean the grounds for the monks. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Piboonsawasdee School on December 4, 2012.
Students arriving at school early in the morning. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Muang Phuket Municipal School, Phuket, Thailand, on January 7, 2014.
Students arriving at school early in the morning. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim at Muang Phuket Municipal School, Phuket, Thailand, on January 7, 2014.

The military government under Prayut instituted a “land defender battalion” program to teach uniformed children aged four and five to do push-ups, crawl under netting, salute, and eat from metal trays on the floor. “Soldiers showed children military operations and taught them patriotic values to love the nation, religions, and the Thai monarchy through the…12 Thai Values,” according to the Thai-language news outlet Matichon Online. The news site reported that this is the second time that the Royal Thai Army had run the program, and said that many more schools and kindergartens will join the program in the future.

On May 27, 2015, the Ministry of Public Health released Thai student survey results that indicated the IQ of Grade 1 students had dropped from 94 in 2011 to 93. The international standard is 100.It is highly possible that Thailand’s education system is harming student IQs. While the IQ of pre-school students was acceptable, IQ dropped as primary schooling commenced, suggesting a need for changes at schools. The IQ of students in rural areas was (and remains) considerably lower, at just 89. This difference persists at university. While studies have found the IQ of Bangkok university students averages 115, the IQ of provincial university students is 5-8 points lower.

Alarmingly, the low IQ levels in the recent survey confirm continuing high levels of intellectual disability: IQ levels lower than 70, also termed “mildly impaired or delayed”. The average global percentage of such students is 2 percent. However, a previous 2011 survey found that 6.5 percent of Thai students scored in this range. The recent results suggest intellectual disability in some rural areas could now be up to 10 percent.

Showing students how to make molecules out of clay and toothpicks during Science Day at Kajonkietsuksa School, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Cornel Hattigh on August 17, 2007.
Showing students how to make molecules out of clay and toothpicks during Science Day at Kajonkietsuksa School, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Cornel Hattigh on August 17, 2007.
I have also taught Thai teachers on how to teach Thai students the English language. Photo taken at Koh Siray Island School, Thailand, on March 20, 2014.
I have also taught Thai teachers on how to teach Thai students the English language. Photo taken at Koh Siray Island School, Thailand, on March 20, 2014.

One cause of lower IQs might be traced to nutrition. WHO research suggests iodine deficiency accounts for losses of between 10–15 IQ points. However, according to Thailand’s 2012 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, only 71 percent of Thai households consume enough iodized salt, falling to 54 percent in the poorest households. There is again a huge regional disparity, with 82 percent of households in Bangkok and only 54 percent of households in Thailand’s northeast consuming adequately iodized salt. The regions with the lowest IQs are those same areas with the highest iodine deficiency.

In July 2015, the Thai Department of Health initiated a program to provide better nutrition and health education at Thai public schools. Its aims are to increase average IQ from 94 to 100 and boost the average height of children. Currently boys measure on average 167 cm and girls 157 cm. Over the 10-year life of the program heights are targeted to increase to 175 cm and 165 cm respectively. Children at schools across the country will receive healthier meals and more instruction on healthy living and exercise.

In 2015, a World Bank study concluded that “…one-third of 15-year-old Thais are ‘functionally illiterate'”, including almost half of those studying in rural schools. The bank suggested that Thailand reform its education system partly through merging and optimizing its more than 20,000 schools nationwide. The alternative is hiring 160,000 more teachers for up-country schools in order to match Bangkok’s teacher-student ratios. The Economist notes that, “Thailand’s dismal performance is not dramatically out of step with countries of similar incomes. But it is strange given its unusually generous spending on education, which in some years has hoovered up more than a quarter of the budget. Rote learning is common. There is a shortage of maths and science teachers, but a surfeit of physical-education instructors. Many head teachers lack the authority to hire or fire their own staff.”

Currently, I am the Deputy Head Teacher for the ECC Language Institute branch in Phuket. In addition to my usual hectic schedule of business and adult conversation courses, test-preparation courses for IELTS and TOEIC, the increasingly rare fill-in for a sick or travelling teacher, and (minimal) administrative duties, I am also in charge of organizing several English camps each year. We usually go to an out-of-the way spot in the jungles of Phang Nga Province but sometimes get to stay in a posh resort closer to home. These camps are one of my favorite parts of an already fun job as I get to play games with kids over the course of two or three days and they tend to feed us very well! Photo taken at The Beach Heights Resort, Kata, Phuket Province, Thailand, on June 6, 2018.
Currently, I am the Deputy Head Teacher for the ECC Language Institute branch in Phuket. In addition to my usual hectic schedule of business and adult conversation courses, test-preparation courses for IELTS and TOEIC, the increasingly rare fill-in for a sick or travelling teacher, and (minimal) administrative duties, I am also in charge of organizing several English camps each year. We usually go to an out-of-the way spot in the jungles of Phang Nga Province but sometimes get to stay in a posh resort closer to home. These camps are one of my favorite parts of an already fun job as I get to play games with kids over the course of two or three days and they tend to feed us very well! Photo taken at The Beach Heights Resort, Kata, Phuket Province, Thailand, on June 6, 2018.
Group photo with Thai and foreign teachers following an English camp earlier this year. My fellow English teachers were first-timers from the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan. Photo taken at The Beach Heights Resort at kata Beach, Phuket on June 8, 2018.
Group photo with Thai and foreign teachers following an English camp earlier this year. My fellow English teachers were first-timers from the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan. Photo taken at The Beach Heights Resort at kata Beach, Phuket on June 8, 2018.

Established public and private universities and colleges of higher education are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of University Affairs. They offer programs in the fields of medicine, the arts, humanities, and information technology, although many students prefer to pursue studies of law and business in Western institutions 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.

Currently, there are 170 institutions of higher education in Thailand, both public and private, offering 4,100 curricula. For the 2015 academic year, the universities could accommodate 156,216 new students, but only 105,046 applied to take entrance exams. Exacerbating the student shortfall, the National Economic and Social Development Board projects that the number of Thais in the school-age group 0–21 years will fall to 20 percent of the population by 2040, a drop from 62.3 percent in 1980.

Many public universities receive financial support from the government for research purposes. Over half of the provinces have a government-run Rajabhat University (formerly Rajabhat Institutes) and Rajamangala University of Technology, which were traditionally teacher-training colleges.

Prathom 3 students at Kajonkietsuksa School, Phuket, Thailand, wearing traditional Thai clothing for the Loy Krathong holiday and performing a sitting dance. These hand movements were done each day at the morning assembly to calm and center the children. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on November 23, 2007.
Prathom 3 students at Kajonkietsuksa School, Phuket, Thailand, wearing traditional Thai clothing for the Loy Krathong holiday and performing a sitting dance. These hand movements were done each day at the morning assembly to calm and center the children. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on November 23, 2007.
Pre-Christmas English camp at a village school somewhere on Cape Panwa on Phuket island (I don't always record the Thai names of where we hold camps). Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on December 14, 2014.
Pre-Christmas English camp at a village school somewhere on Cape Panwa on Phuket island (I don’t always record the Thai names of where we hold camps). Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on December 14, 2014.

Thai universities do not score highly in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University rankings and they are losing ground when compared with other Asian universities. Thailand’s top three universities, Chulalongkorn, Mahidol, and Thammasat, are trending down. When it was first ranked by QS, Chulalongkorn came in at 201. In 2018 it was ranked 271. Several years ago, Mahidol was ranked 255 but now is ranked 380. Thammasat in 2012 was ranked 561 but has consistently been in the 600s since then.

The Thai Ministry of Education defines international schools as, “…an educational institution providing an international curriculum or international curriculum which its subject’s detail has been adjusted or a self-organized 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.”

Leading kids through the scenic part of the Piboonsawasdee Municipal School grounds on the way to a nearby temple. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on December 4, 2012.
Leading kids through the scenic part of the Piboonsawasdee Municipal School grounds on the way to a nearby temple. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on December 4, 2012.

Prior to 1992, only a very small number of international schools existed in Thailand, and they catered entirely to the children of expatriates, as Thai law prohibited Thai nationals from enrolling. When the first international school, International School Bangkok, relocated to a new campus outside of the city proper, a group of parents worked with United Nations staff to lobby the Ministry of Education to change this law and open the first new international school in decades. This led to the establishment of New International School of Thailand (later changed to NIST International School), and the repeal of the prohibition against the enrollment of Thais. Due to the high demand for private international education, this change also sparked the opening of dozens of other international schools over the subsequent years.

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 Thai students registered as Thai nationals. Non-Thai citizens are not required to study Thai language or culture. 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 centers. Within one year from their commencement, elementary and secondary schools must apply accreditation from an international organization recognized and accepted by the Office of the Private Education Commission and accreditation must be granted within six years. Managers and head teachers must be of Thai nationality though frequently there will also be a foreign head teacher to oversee the international curriculum and implement school policy.

Today, approximately 90 international schools operate in Thailand, of which about two-thirds are in the Bangkok area.

Matthayom 2 students at Sam Kong Municipal School, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on May 21, 2018.
Matthayom 2 students at Sam Kong Municipal School, Phuket, Thailand. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on May 21, 2018.

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. University programs are now commonly influenced by child-centered learning methods and several universities operate a demonstration school staffed by lecturers and trainee 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. Programs include courses in teaching methodology, school administration, special education, optional specialization, supervised practical teaching experience, and the general education subjects of language and communication, humanities, social science, mathematics, and technology. Completion of upper secondary education (Matthayom 6) is required for access to basic teacher training programs and elementary 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 degree.

To teach at the upper secondary school level, the minimum requirement is a four-year Bachelor of Education degree through government programs 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.

From time to time I like to quiz students on their knowledge of the ASEAN countries, especially as it's an easy lesson for a last-minute substitution (sometimes I get the phone call literally 10 minutes before the start of the class at which times our branch manager drives me to the school!). On this particular day, I found myself in a Prathom 3 class at Plukpanya School. I'd drawn a picture of the Thai flag (I love it when they have colored chalk or markers) and, totally unprompted, students began to draw the other flags on the board. I was happy to see that they were still learning about their neighbors in Southeast Asia. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on February 19, 2018.
From time to time I like to quiz students on their knowledge of the ASEAN countries, especially as it’s an easy lesson for a last-minute substitution (sometimes I get the phone call literally 10 minutes before the start of the class at which times our branch manager drives me to the school!). On this particular day, I found myself in a Prathom 3 class at Plukpanya School. I’d drawn a picture of the Thai flag (I love it when they have colored chalk or markers) and, totally unprompted, students began to draw the other flags on the board. I was happy to see that they were still learning about their neighbors in Southeast Asia. Photo taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on February 19, 2018.

In recent years, the number of fresh graduates from teacher-training schools has ranged from 50,000 to 60,000 annually, raising concerns about quality and oversupply. The government is trying to reduce the number of graduates from teacher-education programs to no more than 25,000 a year and direct those graduates to underserved localities. “We need to focus on quality, not quantity,” a spokesperson said. In September 2015, the Office of the Higher Education Commission (OHEC) put forward an initiative to provide 58,000 grants to student-teachers over a 15-year period. The bulk of the grants would go to those who would be sent to work in areas with a shortage of teachers.

In 2010 the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC), for the first time, tested secondary schools teachers on the subjects they teach. A grade of less than 59 percent was considered to exhibit a low standard of knowledge. OBEC said up to 88 percent of 3,973 computer science teachers failed the test. The same was true in biology (86 percent of 2,846), math (84 percent of 5,498), physics (71 percent of 3,487), chemistry (64 percent of 3,088) and astronomy and earth sciences (63 percent of 529). Teachers at the junior high level earned higher marks. OBEC said 58 percent of 14,816 teachers teaching math had marks of more than 80 percent, while 54 percent of 13,385 teachers did well in sciences. School directors did not fare well: about 95 percent failed tests in information and computer technology and English.

Elementary 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. They are also burdened with administrative tasks: a study by the Quality Learning Foundation found that Thai teachers spent 84 of the 200-day academic year performing non-teaching tasks such as undergoing unnecessary training, performing administrative duties, and hosting external evaluations.

Thailand - Michel #3409 (2014) first day cover

Thailand – Michel #3409 (2014) first day cover

Many organizations in Thailand have specialized training or dedicated schools for their employees. Thailand Post trains its postal workers at the Postal School in Bangkok. It was established in 1889, five-and-a-half years following the release of Siam’s first postage stamps in early August 1883. The 125th anniversary of the Postal School was commemorated with a single 3-baht stamp released on February 22, 2014 (Michel #3409), designed by Udorn Niyomthum and printed by the Thai-British Security Printing Company using offset lithography in a quantity of 700,000 stamps. These were perforated in a gauge of 14½ x 14.

According to the text on the back of the official first day cover, the stamp depicts

the past and new era of the postal school by the painted image of the postal students in old and new uniform. The background shows the former postal headquarter building (Praisaneeyakhan) behind the postal students of the reign of King Rama VI and the current Postal School’s building behind those in the present time, together with the Postal School’s emblem.

Thailand Post's Postal School in Bangkok. Image sourced from the Postal School's Facebook page.
Thailand Post’s Postal School in Bangkok. Image sourced from the Postal School’s Facebook page.

The School of Postal Services was launched at the initiative of Somdetch Phrachao Nong-yathoe Chao Fah Bhanurangsi Sawang wongse Krom Luang Bhanubandhuwong woradej (Google search only turned up the Thailand Post page on this particular stamp issue). Its aim was to provide an education in a specific area of expertise so that there would be an adequate number of personnel to serve in an organization that was rapidly expanding. During the initial stage, the teaching and learning were in the form of training, meaning that students were able to learn and practise trough real work. Early groups of students were thus known as practicum students. During their time of training, they would be paid and, after their graduation, they would be appointed government officials and their payment would be adjusted according to their competence.

At present, postal students are required to take classes and undergo training for a year to ensure the possess four capabilities — trustworthiness, unity, discipline and a service mind, before being assigned to their duties at different postal offices.

Flag of Thailand, 1917-date
Postal School emblem

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