The Thai education system: An overview

27.09.17
5 minute read
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One important decision, if you’re moving to Thailand with family, is how to ensure that your children have the best possible education. The Thai state system is rated at below average standards by the OECD, although naturally, there's wide variation in attainment between schools. Literacy levels are high, with youth literacy above 98%, and over 95% of children enrolled in schooling at primary level. As an expat, you'll have the choice to have your child educated under the public school system, or choose a private school. Private schools include international schools which teach in English or another major world language, and may use the recognised International Baccalaureate syllabus. In larger cities you might also find private schools which use other course and exam systems, which means your child can continue working according to a familiar syllabus. This is useful if you intend to stay in Thailand for a relatively short time.

If you’re considering your options, you can compare the standard of education in Thailand with that available in your home country, with the PISA assessment framework from the OECD.

Whether you’ve already got your Thai work visa and have your move fully planned, or are just starting to think about life overseas, it helps to know a little about the education options in Thailand.

Here is a quick guide to get you started.

The Thai education system

Pre-school (which is optional), is offered from age three, in Thailand, with compulsory schooling at primary level (Prathom Suksa) from the age of six. After primary school, children move onto secondary education (Mathayom Suksa), which is split into a lower and higher level. The lower level, which covers students aged to about 15, is compulsory. Schools in the Thai public system are generally open for all students, but some more prestigious schools select students based on entrance exams, and can be fiercely competitive.

Pre-school

Optional for ages three to six

Places are funded by the government for two years, although there isn't always sufficient capacity in public pre-school to fulfil this

Prathom Suksa(Primary School)

Compulsory from age six to 12 for all children

Education at primary level is free

Mathayom Suksa(Secondary School)

Secondary schooling is split into a lower and higher level, each lasting three years

Only lower secondary (students aged to about 15), is compulsory

Pre-School

Pre-school in Thailand isn't compulsory, although in theory all children should be able to have a free place in pre-school for two years.

Primary School (Prathom Suksa)

From the age of six, it’s compulsory to attend primary school in Thailand. For primary age children, learning time can not exceed five hours a day. This stage of schooling is provided free of charge.

Primary school lasts for six grades, and the curriculum is broad, covering basic skills like Thai language and maths, social studies, physical education and languages. Technology and some vocations skills may be covered, and English is taught from the first year of primary. Theoretically, children can be held back a grade if they fail the end of year exams, but in practise this doesn’t happen often, as students can retake the tests or attend a summer school to catch up.

Secondary School (Mathayom Suksa)

Secondary education is six years long, but only the first three lower secondary years are mandatory. At the end of lower secondary education, students take exams which determine whether or not they can proceed to the higher secondary programme. Teaching days get progressively longer, with lower secondary around six hours a day, and the higher secondary programme running for at least six hours every day.

Entrance to the best schools at secondary level, even within the public system, is competitive. Entrance exams are used, with the more prestigious secondary schools seen as offering a better chance of a university place later in life.

After completing the compulsory lower education programme, students can also choose a vocational route, and attend a specialist school. As well as following core subjects, qualifications are offered in fields such as business studies or engineering.

What’s the typical school calendar and hours?

The school year in the Thai state system usually starts from May through to March. Holidays are in March and April, with a further break in October. However, the exact dates will vary school to school.

Usually the school day will run around 8.30am to 3.30pm, although actual teaching time for younger children is limited.

It’s worth noting that this calendar applies to state schools only. In private and international schools the western standard calendar, with a long summer break and several weeks vacation at Christmas, is far more likely to be adopted.

What’s the cost of education?

Education in the Thai public system is free, but there will be additional costs for uniforms, transport and school materials. If you don't choose the state system and decide to find a private or international school, the costs are likely to be high.

Thailand has a large number of international schools, mainly in the major cities, teaching in English, Chinese and other major world languages. The operation of Private schools in Thailand is regulated by the Office of the Private Education Commission, who lists over 150 different private schools in total across the country. The International Schools Association of Thailand publishes a list of international schools, and is a good place to start if you’re researching these options.

International schools are generally of a high standard, and therefore typically competitive, with testing and interviews to secure admission. You can expect the fees to vary widely depending on the specific school and the programme they offer. Fees of anything from USD 6,000 to USD 20,000 a year aren't uncommon. International schools also tend to have one off admin or registration fees, and other charges such as building repair costs or a security deposit.

Arranging education for your children will be a priority when you're planning your move to Thailand. Whichever route you decide is best for your family, there will be costs involved - and you don’t want to pay more than you have to. If you’re funding your child’s education from your account back home, use TransferWise to get the real exchange rate and cut out those expensive international bank transfer fees.

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