THAILAND EDUCATION SYSTEM
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 Ministry of University Affairs.
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.
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 dark blue or black sandals. 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.
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.
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 standard business attire.
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-seventieth 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.
1. Early education
It is possible that one the earliest forms of education began when King Ramkhamhaeng 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 cen
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.
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’s 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 greatest 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 decentralising 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.
On return to democracy in early 2008, after the December election, the newly formed coalition led by the People’s Power Party (Thailand) – a party formed by the remnants of deposed Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party – announced new allocations of funds for education, an increase in the number of teachers, and more changes to the national curriculum and university entrance system.