Education in Thailand: Schools in Bangkok

Relocating to a new country as an expat, albeit temporarily, can be stressful. Moving halfway across the world with your entire family raises the stakes even more. For expat parents, the availability and quality of education are of absolute importance. How does the educational system in Thailand measure in the global rankings? Would it be easy for their children to be admitted to a top international school? Here's a primer about the education in Thailand and the schools in Bangkok available.


The Educational System in Thailand


The Thai government, through the Ministry of Education (MoE), oversees the country's educational system and offers basic education for free. Compulsory education consists of 12 years, with nine years of primary school and the first three years of secondary school. Thai children usually attend preschool or pre-primary which are the nursery and kindergarten levels. However, these are not free.


The Public School System


All local schools in Thailand follow the national curriculum set by the government, with all subjects taught in the Thai language. The first semester of the school year usually begins in May and ends in October, and the second starts in November and ends in March.


The basic six years of primary school are called prathorn and usually designated as P1 to P6. Secondary school is known as mattayom, with levels ranging from M1 to M6, and Thai students usually graduate at age 17. Core subjects for the first nine years include maths, science, social studies, religion and culture, technology, career and foreign languages such as Korean, Japanese, Chinese, French, and German.


Upon completing the first three years of secondary schooling (M1 to M3), students are required to take the Ordinary National Educational Test (O-NET). The examination covers all the compulsory subjects from primary grades to the lower secondary levels

The last three years in high school from M4 to M6 are not mandatory but a considerable number of Thai children go on to continue their studies. The M4 to M6 levels are divided into two streams: academic, and vocational-technical. Those who choose the academic track take up studies that will prepare them for higher education. The vocational and technical stream aims to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge if they want to take up employment immediately.


Students who choose to pursue tertiary education may apply to any of the 170 public and private universities in Thailand. Many of the public institutions receive financial support from the Thai government. One of the most prestigious universities in Bangkok is Mahidol University, which was listed in the 2015 QS World University Rankings as one of the world's top 100 universities to study medicine. Chulalongkorn University is deemed as the best university in Thailand and was ranked 45th in Asia based on the 2017 QS World University Rankings.


Private Schools

Private schools in Thailand provide a good middle ground for expats and Thai families who may find international school fees rather steep but would like to expose their children to a more diverse setting. The quality of education is good, and student populations provide a good mix of Thai children and foreign students, which allows for increased exposure to the local language and Thai culture. The average cost of education in a private school in Thailand can be anywhere from THB 400,000 to THB 800,000.


Most private schools charge admission fees, and some are affiliated with religious institutions such as Catholicism or Christianity, which means the curriculum may include religious instruction. In addition, private schools also offer bilingual education in both English and the Thai language but the quality of their English programs may vary between institutions.


A considerable number of private schools are located in Bangkok, with most following a Western curriculum depending on their origins. As such, there are schools that follow the American school curriculum, British educational system or European program.


Thai private schools do allow admission of expatriate children. However, it has been noted that tuition fees for expats are slightly higher than those for Thai nationals. Children born in Thailand, or from one or both parents of Thai descent, qualify for free education provided by the Thai government. Should your child be eligible, enrolling them in a Thai school requires the child's birth certificate and your house registration document or Tabian Baan.


If you wish to home-school your child instead of going to a formal school, it's perfectly legal to do so in Thailand. You only need to submit an application to home-school to the Ministry of Education, which should indicate the curriculum you and your child will follow. Children who are being home-schooled must register for exams with the appropriate national examinations board. The MoE conducts yearly assessments for home-schooled children.


International Schools in Bangkok


Finding an international school in Thailand for your child won't be difficult as there are over 160 such institutions all over the country as of 2016. However, the majority of international schools are located in Bangkok.


School Fees


The cost of sending your children to an international school in Bangkok is considerably lower than in Singapore. A 2015 report by The Fry Group for the Center of Economics and Business Research (CEBR) showed that international school fees in Bangkok were 21.7 percent lower at approximately 25,380 SGD that year compared to Singapore which was pegged at 30,900 SGD annually. The CEBR reported that the average cost of education in Thailand in 2015 was at THB 550,000.


International schools in the country are loosely categorized into three "tiers," based on a number of factors including school history, local and international accreditations, the quality of its facilities, funding received, and the educational level of its teaching staff. However, it must be noted the rankings are mostly subjective.


Schools that supposedly belong in the top tier have school fees that may go as high as THB 1.5 million per year, while Tier 2 institutions range from THB 400,000 to THB 800,000 annually. Tier 3 schools may cost anywhere from THB 150,000 to THB 300,000 a year. 


Some international schools also serve as boarding schools, especially for students who may come from neighboring countries in Asia. Among these are the American School of Bangkok, Ruamrudee International School, and Harrow International School.


Academic Curriculum


The academic curriculum in international schools requires approval from the MoE. For the most part, Thai language and culture are included as a core subject and is mandatory for all Thai students at every academic level. Non-Thai citizens are not required to study the Thai language and culture.


About half of the international schools in the country follow the British national curriculum, while a good number implement the International Baccalaureate programs, such as the NIST International School. The rest of the schools either follow the American curriculum, or those based on the German, Australian or Singapore programs, to name a few. 

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