Education in Thailand and the Challenging Issues

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Education in Thailand and the Challenging Issues*


Athipat Cleesuntorn

Graduate School of eLearning, Assumption University, Bangkok, Thailand

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            Education in Thailand is aimed to provide individuals with learning skills, self-management ability, problem-solving skills, ICT literacy, language proficiency and the ability to work with others. In terms of investment in education, Thailand has invested more in education and training than any in other areas of development in the last twenty years but the outcomes of such investment haven’t reached the country’s educational goals yet. Despite of a long and a hard push in many crucial areas, education still remains a challenging. The challenging issues can be identified as equal opportunity in education, quality of education, ethical education, science and technology, vocational education, and international schools. That is why during the past decade, the nation’s attention has again riveted on education.


Key words: education in Thailand, equal opportunity in education, ethical education,

  quality of education, science and technology in education, vocational education for      

  the real world of work, international school, Ministry of Education




Many scholars say that investing in high quality education is among the most powerful measures to reduce poverty and inequality and to promote long-term economic growth.

Moreover, a country with educated people would be a peaceful society since they know how to communicate with each other thoughtfully and they look for the country’s benefit rather than for small group interests.

In brief, Thailand, then called Siam, has had an uninterrupted educational system for the past 700 and more years, dating back to Sukhothai period during the thirteenth century. During Sukhothai period, King ‘Ramkhamhaeng the Great’ invented the first Thai alphabet that has been used continuously to the present. This alphabet was modified from time to time until the present system of writing was formed. At first, in Sukhothai period and Ayutthaya period, education was provided to children of nobles by scholars and to commoners by monks (Ministry of Education, 1998). Then, in Bangkok period, public schools were opened in the reign of King Rama V. Since then, boys and girls have enjoyed their opportunities to be educated in both public and private schools of their choices. Besides, vocational and technical schools have also been established to produce a skilled manpower. Public and private universities are located in various parts of the country providing higher education in various fields for the development of the country.

The current education system in Thailand is the product of many influences which  

     have shaped and tempered it over the centuries. The first educational system was quite 

     similar to that of the monastic and cathedral schools of medieval Europe in that it had a

     religious approach and was centered in the Buddhist temples.

During the Second World War, Thailand was affected by both the invader and supporters of the Allies. After the War, the country has changed socially, politically, and economically. These events dramatically affected educational system.

To make a long story short, Education in Thailand can be summarized by separation into four sections: organization of the education system, the Ministry of Education, the curriculum and teaching and learning, and the challenging issues.

1.     Organization of the education system

1.1  The National Education Plan (2002-2016)

Three educational objectives and 11 policy guidelines for implementation are specified for Ministry of Education and related government agencies as follows (Office of the National Education Commission, 2003):

1)     All-round and balanced human development

2)     Building a society of morality, wisdom and learning

3)     Development of social environment

(1)  Developing all people to have access to learning;

(2)  Learningreform for the benefit of learners;

(3)  Inculcating and strengthening morality, integrity, ethics, and desirable values and characteristics;

(4)  Manpower development in science and technology for self-reliance and enhanced competitiveness capacity;

(5)  Developing a learning society to create knowledge, cognition, the good behavior and integrity;

(6)  Promotion of research and development to increase the knowledge and learning of Thai people and Thai society;

(7)  Creation, application and dissemination of knowledge and learning;

(8)  Promotion and creation of social and cultural capital;

(9)  Reduction and elimination of structural problems for social justice;

      (10)Development of technologies for education; and

                            (11)Systematizing of resources and investment for education,

   religion, art and culture.

            From the objectives and policy guidelines, during the past years, Thai governments have set main strategic goals that may differ from government to government but can be summarized as:

     1. Human development with a focus on knowledge, happiness, health, a loving family, a pleasant environment, and a peaceful and caring society.

     2. Movement toward a knowledge-based society by placing people at the center of learning and focusing on human, potential, competitiveness, morality and ethics.


1.2   The Education System

Under the present education system, various kinds and methods of learning are offered to children and adults regardless of their economic, social and cultural backgrounds. Education approaches are classified as formal, non-formal, and informal. All types of education can be provided by educational institutions as well as learning centers organized by individuals, families, communities, private groups, local administration organizations, professional bodies, religious institutions, welfare institutes, and other social agencies.



Figure 1   Wai Kru is performed by Thai students

1)      Formal Education

     Formal education services are mainly provided to those within the school system, and are divided into two levels: basic and higher education. Pre-primary and higher education are not compulsory.

Compulsory schooling begins at grade I of a primary level and lasts until grade 9. Those who finish their compulsory education at grade 9 may go on to the higher secondary education, grades 10-12 free of charge.

To gain access to institutions of higher learning beyond the secondary level, students must take an entrance examination, except for the two open universities.

     - Basic Education

Basic educationis provided by early childhood development institutions, schools, and learning centers. It covers pre-primary education, 6 years of primary, 3 years of lower secondary, and 3 years of upper secondary education. Children are expected to be enrolled, by law in basic education institutions from age 7 through 16, except for those who have already completed grade 9.

Vocational streams can be studied and practiced in public and private vocational and technical institutions for those who complete grade 9 and want to pursue their studies in vocational careers.

Schools for disabled children are also provided in Bangkok and several provinces. Students can go beyond compulsory education to complete basic education and higher education.

As of December 2012, there are about 14 million students in Thailand which 2 million of these students are studying in Bangkok. Private sector provision is approximately 20% of secondary education and 34% of vocational education (Bureau of Information and Communication Technology, 2012).

     -  Higher Education

Higher educationat the diploma, associate, and degree levels is provided in universities, institutes, colleges, and other types of institutions. Thai higher education institutes are traditionally dominated by the public sectors. However, since 1950s, private colleges and universities have played a very important role in providing higher education. In sum, 79 institutions are public and 71 institutions are private. There are 2 million students in the higher education sector, an enrollment ratio of 47 % among the university-age cohort (Bureau of Information and Communication Technology, 2012). In addition, graduate studies in various fields are also available in most colleges and universities.

2)     Non-Formal Education

              Non-formal education services are provided by both public and private sectors. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, the Office of the Non-formal and Informal Education is the main agency in charge of non-formal and informal education.

This Office offers services to various target groups through traditional methods and through e-Book, e-Library and e-Learning (Office of the Education Council, 2008).Target groups are

those who are outside the school system, mainly theinfants and pre-school children, the school-age population who have missed out on formal schooling, and the over-school-age population. Currently, services have been expanded to cover specific target groups, including prison inmates, the labor force, the disabled, conscripts, agriculturists, the aged, Hill Tribe, local leaders, slum dwellers, Thai Muslims, religious practitioners, those having no opportunity to further their studies in formal schooling after compulsory education, and Thai people in foreign countries.

            Besides, 14 million formal education students in 2012, another 2.5 million were registered in non-formal education programs. Five thousand nine hundred and eighty non- formal service centers have been established to take care of non-formal education programs nationwide (Bureau of Information and Communication Technology, 2012).

3)     Informal Education

Informal education enables learners to learn independently in line with their interests, potential, readiness, and the opportunities available from individuals, society, environment, the media and other sources of knowledge.

Informal education programs provided by libraries, museums and science/technology centers, etc. as well as by mass media (radio, television, computer network, newspapers and magazines, etc).

Informal education programs of community learning networks such as community learning centers, village reading centers, sub-district health offices, sub-district agricultural offices, as well as local wisdom and natural learning sources in each community are provided by public and private organizations (Office of the Education Council, 2008).

2.   The Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education is responsible for the management of most of the education in the country: from pre-primary education to secondary and higher education for instance, teacher education, technical and vocational education. In addition, it also supervises private schools at all levels. The Ministry of Education is comprised of 5 offices: Office of the Permanent Secretary, Office of the Education Council, Office of the Basic Education Commission, Office of the Higher Education Commission, and Office of the Vocational Education Commission.

The budget set aside for Thai education constitutes about 3.48 % of GDP of the national budget in 2012 (Bureau of Information and Communication Technology, 2012).

Based on the principles and guidelines provided by the 1999 National Education Act,

6 main objectives for the Ministry of Education have been set as follows (Office of the National Education Commission, 2003):

            (1) Knowledge about oneself and the relationship between oneself and society, namely: family, community, nation, and world community; as well as knowledge about the historical development of the Thai society and matters relating to politics and democratic system of government under a constitutional monarchy;

(2) Scientific and technological knowledge and skills, as well as knowledge, understanding and experience in management, conservation, and utilization of natural resources and the environment in a balanced and sustainable

(3) Knowledge about religion, art, culture, sports, Thai wisdom, and the application of wisdom;

(4) Knowledge and skills in mathematics and languages, with emphasis on proper use of the Thai language;

(5) Knowledge and skills in pursuing one’s career and capability of leading a happy life.

To accomplish these tasks, the Ministry of Education has begun work on teacher training and new curriculum. A survey has been conducted on whether particular teachers need additional training. Then, training courses have been offered. Half of the total number of 598,671 teachers has been trained in specified subjects or in various enrichment programs. The rest of them are now in the process. With some help from other ministries, such as Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Science and Technology etc., the training courses for teachers are coming along fine.

At present, the Ministry of Education is now working on pre-primary education, vocational education, non-formal education, and higher education in order to increase the quality of education and to meet the need of Thai socio-economic development especially in the changing world of work.

3. Curriculum and Teaching and Learning

The new curricula at both primary and secondary levels were launched in 2002.

To encompass all aspects of learner development, such asacquisition of general and life skills along with academic achievements, the basic education curriculum and teaching-learning process emphasizes (Office of the National Education Commission, 2003):

     -  effectiveness and efficiency in the development of curriculum, textbooks, educational media, assessment, and evaluation of educational achievement;

     -  improvement of language teaching and learning, with an emphasis on Thai, English, and Chinese languages, and stressing communication skills in real life situations, careers, and further education;

     -  uplifting of the teaching and learning of mathematics and science, as well as computer science, to ensure a sound basis in science and technology and systematic support for talented learners;

     -  betterment of the quality of teaching and learning in small schools; and

     -  establishment of a research and development center for curriculum and learning.

The bottom line is, the central curriculum is used as a major part of school curriculum and the rest can be local or community based curriculum. Previously, the central curriculum used for all areas was too rigid.


4. The Challenging issues

            During the last 20 years, Thai governments have put forth a lot of effort to support education for all in terms of access and quality of education. Many problems have been solved to create a quality education for the school-age population including non-formal education needed for adults. However, there is still some room for improvement. Issues for improvement are briefly identified as follows:


4.1   Equal Opportunity in Education

The Ministry of Education has provided easy access to the schooling, especially at the pre-primary and the secondary education levels. Classrooms for pre - primary students have been opened. Secondary schools at the sub-district level have also been established.

Primary and secondary schools, particularly in rural areas, have been upgraded to enjoy similar quality standards with those located in urban areas. Drop-out and repetition rates have been reduced by improving methods of teaching and teachers' qualifications.



Figure 2 students from villages go to schools


However, it has been found that students from low socioeconomic status have to go to private schools since they can’t compete with those who are from well-to-do families to be admitted into public schools. Actually, the Ministry of Education created school catchment areas to admit students who live nearby but quite a few students want to go far to other schools. That precedent increased both traveling cost as well as time spent on the road. Some parents said that it hasn’t been fair if their son or daughter can’t go to a better school because they have to study in the school closes by. Practically, they would want to go to a big name school rather than the one near them.

In addition, students who live on the rim or the edge of a school catchment perimeter, in many cases, can’t go to the nearest school in the connected areas because they have to go to the one in their area. This also creates frustrating situations among the people who reside at the rim of each area.

4.2  Quality of Education

Quality education includes content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and skills for life (UNICEF, 2000).

     According to the Ministry of Education statistics in 2012, there are 38,383 schools and institutions of which 1,524 are in the Bangkok metropolis (Bureau of Information and Communication Technology, 2012). Among this number, around 8,000 are considered very small schools in which less than 120 students study in grade 1 to 9. There are problems of inadequate teachers and teaching equipment or moderate library or science and computer laboratories. While some schools in large provinces have surplus teachers, some schools in remote areas have only few teachers teaching the most subjects. The ideas of merging two or more schools to solve the inadequate teacher problem are in practice, but only a few of them work. Parents do not want their children to go that far to other schools. So, the Ministry of Education has to maintain schools with small number of children and with few teachers.

Survey conducted by OECD had found that a significant number of Thai primary school student don’t have an adequate reading skills. Moreover, particular groups are considered poor in Mathematics and Sciences. (OECD, 2010)

At present, the Ministry of Education has tried to support the small schools by having them study through television programs via satellite. Besides, tablets were provided to each student in grade 1 and grade 7. It helps to a certain degree but still more teachers need to be recruited. In addition, science and technology, computer, and foreign languages teachers especially for English, are urgently needed for most small schools.

In addition, many secondary school students, especially those in big the cities, attend tutorial classes during evenings on weekdays as well as on the weekend. They think that without attending tutorial classes, their chances to pass the entrance university exam would be very low. Unfortunately, most students in rural areas have little access to the tutorial classes. Therefore, a large number of them go to the open universities.

4.3 Ethical Education.

      Flooded by product and services propaganda, a large number of students and young adults become prey to wanting more than they actually need. Some of them do not care much about what’s the right way to do things or to earn a living. Money becomes a big issue while honest earning is considered a less significant issue. Parent and teacher are needed to work harder when it comes to the ethical issues.

Four basic merit principles have to be more emphasized. They are (a) an honesty,

(b) hard-working attitude, (c) self-sufficiency, and (d) avoidance of wrong doing.

School extra activities such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, volunteer work, students’ clubs, agricultural club, coupled with the essence of religious teaching, are used to create good conduct among Thai students. It works to a certain extent but it needs to be done incrementally and carefully.

Some schools didn’t pay any attention to such activities since a score of the extra activities is rarely counted for university admission. So time to be with parent at home and time to do such extra activity in school is needed in order to nurture decent behavior among our children and young adults.

4.4 Science and technology in education.

We are now living in a competitive world. Lots of obvious changes can be seen. New products and services are introduced to many walks of life. In the Thai situation, quite a number of young adults prefer to study social sciences and humanity fields instead of science and technology because they think that the former are easier. At present, most hardware and software have been imported. The maintenance of hardware and software is dependent on few urban experts. In schools, Science and technology teachers are in short supply. Science laboratories should be added in some particular schools. Creative thinking should be supported in every teaching and learning situation. In this way, young Thais can be creative and become experts in the near future. Then we can design and invent some hardware and software to meet our own needs. In addition, lots of money spent on importing hardware and software can be saved and transferred to some other areas that the country needs the most.

4.5 Vocational Education for the real world of work.

Education for self-employment has received considerable attention. Students would be taught to be creative and to be able to understand the fundamentals of small business concepts including the small business cycle. They will be guided to solve small business problems as well. Manufacturing companies say that vocational education graduates need a strong working attitude as well as skills to work with modern machines.

Problems are further compounded by the irrelevance of many courses in the schools. In spite of attempts to expand the number of technical and vocational schools, they are still inadequate, in certain areas of the economy. Despite of dual systems approach, study in school and work in manufacturing company, curriculum in particular in vocational courses, is rather centralized, with little room for local adjustments. This situation results in graduates who are largely inadequately trained for local job markets. The mismatch in education has also caused graduated student unemployment and underemployment.

In reality, the demand of skilled and technical workers has increase so fast that the supply of vocational curriculum and training cannot keep up with such changes. Therefore, generic vocational education backgrounds would create solid concept and ability for coping with changes efficiently. Then, graduate can be employed for new kind of jobs or they can even manage small business of their own.

4.6 International Schools.

     During the last 20 years, international schools have been established for children of foreigners who work in Thailand. From 5 schools initially, the total number is now grown to 200 of which almost 100 schools are located in Bangkok.

The rest are in many large provinces. The mediums of instruction, for example, are English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian.

Students in these schools carry with them their old culture and beliefs. That makes these schools very interesting in terms of a diversity of culture and beliefs. Also, they are expected to understand and practice Thai culture to a certain degree.

Figure 3 Wai Kru is performed by international students



Figure 4 International students participate in Loy Krathong festival

Some schools offer bilingual languages while a few offer trilingual languages including Thai. Among foreign children, many Thai children also attend these schools. They are children of parents who used to work in foreign countries. It also includes Thai children of typically Thai parents who have been abroad or never been abroad but believe that an international school would be great for their children even though the tuition fee is considered high when compared with Thai schools. The problem is, previously, the number of school were small, now it has been increased drastically. The Ministry of Education has to work with an increasing number of schools, a variety of curricula, and a large number of international teachers and students especially those who are not Thai by birth. Thailand may need to push hard to cope with an increasing number of schools, curriculum, teachers, students, and variety of culture and beliefs, in order to create quality and efficiency.

      5. Conclusion

A gap between rural and urban education can still be seen. Although the quality of rural education has improved gradually, parents’ perception of education in rural areas is still inferior to urban education. Besides, ethics, science and technology, vocational and technical education, and international schools are essential topics to deal with in order to strengthen our children’s capability for the changing world. Ministry of Education has to work harder on these issues. Comprehensive teacher-training would be one of the key factors in improving the whole system. In practice, “All for Education” should be an urgent issue to create quality “Education for All” as the country has long been promoting.



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Day 2004/Wai Khru 014.jpg

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*Published in Rajabhat Journal of Sciences, Humanities & Social Sciences. Vol. 14(2): 1-12, July-December 2013.     





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