23 August 2009

Education in Thailand and why I'm worried

The longer I stay in Thailand the more concerned I become about the Thai education system. This has become even more pressing as in a year or so my own son will likely need to become part of it. I can’t afford the high prices of the international schools, but even they attract the occasional bad press from disgruntled parents.

My main worry is the fact that the system here does not seem value quality, but instead seems dedicated to decoration and keeping people happy. For instance, my current school insists that all students be given at least 70% no matter how badly the students perform.

Cheating is rampant and not just confined to the students. Some of the teachers are studying for higher qualifications and just last week one of them just cut and pasted a whole English article from a web-site and submitted it as his own work without any qualms. He didn’t even bother to hide this blatant plagiarism because it is obviously something he has been doing all his life. This is not an isolated incident but a frequent occurrence. It is obvious that many have made it through academia without doing the work, and many of these people now teach for a living.

The people who suffer are the good students. The ones who work their asses off for nothing. Believe me there are quite a few of these. Thai kids are not dumb, they are just being failed by a dumb system that seems to be showing no signs of improving anytime soon. There is a public expectation that every student do well. There is no recognition that a percentage of students doing less well than others is a sign that the system is working and has merit. Not every student can be getting top marks in every subject - that is just silly and demeans the whole system.

The Thai education system is not all bad of course. The students are among the best in the world, and if given the chance more of these young people could do amazing things. The ones who go on to do great things at the moment seem to manage it despite the system and not because of it. The people of Thailand are not unaware of the problem either. Some fine students are just as baffled by the whole thing as every one else. An excellent article on the subject was written by this Thai student (http://n-natta.blogspot.com/2009/08/nation-of-cheaters.html)

I am sure that there are some schools in Thailand that get it right. The problem is that it only takes a few to tarnish the rest. That is just the way it is. When too many people are getting 70% it makes that mark mean practically nothing. When no attempt is made to control cheating it makes all marks mean less.

So I’m worried about my son’s future here in Thailand. The obvious answer would be to take him away from Thailand altogether. I don’t want to do this though, this is his home. Thailand has so many great things it its favour. He deserves to be part of its brighter future, and maybe things will improve in his lifetime.


  1. Hi Paul,

    Just stumbled onto your blog from Twitter - very interesting stuff. Just like you I have a son (10 months old) here in Thailand and I too worry about the education system here.

    Having taught in both senior and junior schools the overwhelming feeling I got was that education simply isn't the top priority, as it is in England (my country of birth). Schools are not run by headmasters here, instead they are run like businesses by people who have never taught before. Just doesn't make sense to me as they cannot possibly know the forces at work on a daily basis.

    Add to that the Thai hierarchy which makes an older more experienced teacher senior even to their boss, and unfortunately the management of schools is, well, a little different to home.

    I'm planning to move back to UK with my (Thai) missus and son, unless I can afford a major international school here.

    Very interesting blog, keep the good work up!

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