International school carves niche with culture emphasis

DBS fosters extracurricular involvement through an enhanced British curriculum mixed with 'Thainess'.


Denla British School (DBS) wants to carve a space for itself in the crowded international school market by emphasising extra-curricular involvement and Thai culture.

The school represents a 2-billion-baht investment by the Pandejpong family, which has been involved in early childhood education for the last 39 years.

Principal Mark William McVeigh said he does not know when the school will recoup its investment, but fulfilling its educational mission comes first.

This will be the family's first venture outside of early childhood education, Mr McVeigh said. The first phase of the project comprises a primary school that was completed last year at a cost of 1 billion baht. The next phase is the secondary school, which is scheduled to open its doors in 2019.

"The idea is to serve these kids as they grow up," he said.

"There are almost 200 students and we expect the number to grow by 50% this academic year," said Toryos Pandejpong, a board member of DBS. "We will hire more teachers and staff accordingly."

The school will enrol 300-440 students next year and add 100-150 in subsequent years, according to Mr McVeigh. DBS's campus has capacity for 1,600 students. Some 80% of students are Thai, and 20% are international.

Bangkok's international school market is one of the most competitive in the region, with students from China and neighbouring countries pouring into the country for affordable English-language instruction.

The school, founded last year, faces stiff competition from established players like NIST, DBS and Shrewsbury, which have a track record of matriculating students at top universities abroad.

Mr McVeigh is betting the school can be competitive by emphasising "Thainess", an enhanced British curriculum and the reputation of the Pandejpong family's two kindergartens: Denla Kindergarten Petkasem and Denla Rama V, which enrol more than 3,000 students and employ more than 600 staff.

"I am confident I can lead DBS to the top rank of international schools in Thailand," he said.

The emphasis on Thai culture is a key selling point for the school, Mr McVeigh said. "The Malaysian school I was previously employed at was very much a British outpost in Malaysia. Here we propose an education that has national identity at its core. Moving forward this will benefit students by giving them a connection to Thai DNA and values like thoughtfulness, considerateness, kindness and generosity."

Embedding Thai culture lets DBS differentiate itself from the mass of international schools in Bangkok, but only time will tell how well the market will receive this approach. After all, international schools rationalise their high price tags by arguing, among other things, that they give students the ability to operate in other cultures and countries.

Moving forward, international schools, including DBS, may face strong competition from cheaper online education options. Online education is mostly restricted to the university level and is most popular with socio-economically disadvantaged non-traditional students (those with extensive job experience, or who work while attending school).

Ten years in, however, the stigma attached to online education is slowly receding, as reputable universities expand online offerings, and studies sponsored by entities like the US Department of Education suggest that there is no significant difference in the learning outcomes between online and in-person education.

Critics, however, say online education is not a substitute for a brick-and-mortar school's social function.

Online learning will never replace the vital human interaction between teacher and student.

If properly managed, however, online learning can supplement the traditional teacher-pupil relationship, Mr McVeigh said.



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