Starting in October 2002, the education system offered 12 years of free basic education to students nationwide: six years of primary education beginning at age six or seven, followed by three years of middle school and three years of high school, ending at age 18. Education has been compulsory through the ninth grade (from age seven to 16) since January 2003. With the addition of two years of preprimary schooling, the length of education was extended to 14 years in May 2004. [Source: Library of Congress*]

In 2006 an estimated 96 percent of students completed grade six, 80 percent completed grade nine, and 79 percent completed grade 12. This was an improvement from the 1990s when the average Thai competed 6.5 years of schooling. In 2004 more than 8.8 million students were enrolled in 32,413 primary, middle, and high schools; 631,000 students were enrolled in 612 vocational education institutions.

Some desirable schools give places to students through a kind auctioning process when applications are submitted, with some spots going to parents who are willing to make the largest “donations” to the school. There are stories of parents who have gotten in trouble with loan sharks as they tried to come up with money to get their kid into a good school.

In rural areas, it is not uncommon for teachers to arrive late at school, long after classes were supposed to have begun. In the meantime students are allowed to run free. Some teachers do not bother to show up at all. Some are out selling cosmetics or working at odd jobs, or doing private tutoring, to make ends meet because their salaries are so low. The teachers that advance to higher positions of responsibility often do so because they kiss the ass of their superiors and help them enrich themselves rather than on teaching skills.

School Life in Thailand

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 12 years; male: 12 years; female: 13 years (2010). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The school year beings in May. There is a two month vacation in the hot season from mid March to mid May. New schools are opened with bows, offerings of food and incense, and religious chants made by monks and military officers.

The school day begins with children lined up paying respects to the Thai flag. In many schools the teaching is very strict and the learning rote. The school day is typically from 8:00amd to 3:300pm. Kids—even university students—wear uniforms. In some schools the day begins with a flag raising ceremony and a lecture from the principal who speaks through a bullhorn. At particularly strict schools in the 1980s gym teachers prowled around with electric clippers. Any boy whose hair was to long got a buzz job right then and there.

Many Thai students study very hard. Many have classes with tutors or in crams schools everyday after school. Emphasis in school is preparing for key multiple-choice tests to get into a good high school or universit. Outside of schools you can often hear children reciting their lessons.

Academic cheating is common in Thailand. Some ttudents have used pagers and cell phones to create crib sheets that they send to themselves. Others have been caught with radio receivers in their pants. For a long time the caning of students with bamboo canes or rulers was a common form of punishment in schools and even universities. In the 2000, the practice was banned.

School textbooks don’t mention Thailand’s collusion with Japan in World War II nor do they say anything about the massacres of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1973, 1976 and 1992. Pictures of King Bhumibol are in every school classroom. A Thai school textbook reads: “All our kings have promoted the prosperity of the realm, have been the leaders in defending and protecting the country, fighting the country’s enemies while caring for the peacefulness and happiness of the population who so inherited the realm in which we live. This is why all Thais should remind themselves of the superior goodness of the Thai king.”

School Curriculum in Thailand

Basic Education in Thailand consists of (pre-elementary, elementary, lower secondary, and upper secondary schooling. Pre-elementary (Anuban, Kindergarten) last for three years. The curriculum is meant to prepare pre-school children for their formal education at elementary level, focusing on physical, spiritual, and intellectual development, as well as socialization. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department <>]

Elementary (Prathom, Elementary) last for six years and embraces grades one through six. The curriculum takes into consideration developmental and learning psychology, mainly as a program integrating Thai language and mathematics, emphasizing the learning of reality with fun, for basic skills in communication, calculation, and analysis and for development of character and esthetic values, as well as training children for skills in thinking and researching, working in a group, searching for knowledge, and creating work. <>

Lower Secondary (Matthayom. Middle School) last for three years and is the equivalent of grades seven through nine in the U.S. The curriculum emphasizes more knowledge management through projects, so that learners have clear ideas, understanding, and self-knowledge regarding their capabilities and aptitudes, in preparation for future occupations through more complicated theories. <>

Upper Secondary (Matthayom. High School) last for three years and is the equivalent of grades nine through twelve in the U.S. General Matthayom 4-6: The curriculum focuses on the students’ abilities and on high-level ideas, as well as the aptitudes and needs of learners, both in terms of occupations and further studies in the future. <>

Middle School Curriculum in Thailand

Thai Language: Objectives: 1) To acquire knowledge and understanding of the language principles. 2) To be able to use language at a level appropriate to the learners' age. 3) To be competent in critical reading and listening. 4) To develop creative thinking, good reading and writing habits and good taste of book choices. 5) To recognize the importance of Thai as a medium of communication of the people in the country, and a factor for promoting nation's unification. 6) To appreciate Thai literature and beautiful written literary works as being a part of national culture. 7) To be able to apply language in pursuit of knowledge. [Source: The 1990 Revised Edition of The 1978 Lower Secondary School Curriculum published by Department of Curriculum and Instruction Development, Ministry of Education. Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life, February 7, 2007 ++ ]

Foreign Languages: Objectives: 1) To develop competence and aptitude in a foreign language according to learners' interest. 2) To master basic skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing of the selected language for the purposes of communication, pursuit of knowledge, formation of basis for higher language studies, and understanding of culture embedded in the language. 3) To appreciate the study of the selected language and to develop reading habits. ++

Sciences: The objectives are to enable learners to develop the following characteristics: 1) Understanding about principles and basic theories of science. 2) Understanding about characteristic, scope and limitation of science. 3) Skills in scientific and technological studies, discoveries and inventions. 4) Rational thinking, open-mindedness, accepting others' opinions, belief in and making use of scientific method in problem-solving, love, interest and eagerness to learn about science and technology. 5) Realization of the relationships among science, technology, human being and the environment concerning their mutual influences and impacts. 6) Application of scientific and technological knowledge and understanding for social benefits and in daily life. ++

Mathematics: Objectives: To enable learners to develop the following characteristics: 1) Knowledge and understanding of mathematics, data apparent in the environment, ability to think rationally and use reasons in expressing opinions in an orderly, clear and thoughtful manner. 2) calculating skill. 3) awareness of the usefulness of mathematics both in daily life and as a knowledge-seeking tool. 4) ability to apply mathematical knowledge, understanding and skill to daily life and as a basis for studying higher mathematics and other subjects requiring mathematical knowledge. ++

Social Studies: Objectives: To enable learners to develop the following the characteristics: 1) Knowledge and understanding of relationships between man and the environment; social, cultural, economic and political development; the democratic system of government; and religious principles. 2) Ability to apply the knowledge gained to analysing socio-economic problems related to daily life; ability to choose correct ways of life, and to adapt oneself to the environment conditions. 3) Appreciation of the values of natural environment, the Thai cultural heritages; adherence to the democratic way of life, the religious principles and moral ethics; possession of desirable values; love and care of the localities and the nation; pride in being Thai; and loyalty to the monarch Institution. 4) Ability to behave as good citizens under the democratic system of government with the Monarch as the Head of State; participation in conserving and enhancing community art and culture and the environment. ++

Vocational Education, Health and Art Curriculum in Thailand

Health and Physical Education: Objectives: The objectives are to enable learners to develop the following characteristics: 1) Skills in talking exercise, playing sports, taking care of one's health and welfare. 2) Knowledge and ability to develop and maintain physical and mental competencies, health and welfare. 3) Appreciation of the values of taking exercise, playing sports, taking care of one's health and welfare. 4) Orderly conduct and discipline, sportsmanship, and good health habit. [Source: The 1990 Revised Edition of The 1978 Lower Secondary School Curriculum published by Department of Curriculum and Instruction Development, Ministry of Education. Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life, February 7, 2007 ++]

Art Education: Objectives: 1) To acquire basic knowledge and understanding of art. 2) To be able to apply art in development of mentality, personality and good taste. 3) To be able to perform art at a level appropriate to learners' ability, aptitude and interest. 4) To appreciate art, to take pride in Thai arts and culture and to conserve as a part of Thai cultural heritage. ++

Vocational: The curriculum emphasizes the development of aptitudes and capacities of learners, so that they have technical knowledge and vocational skills that will enable them to find employment in future occupations. ++

Work Education: Objectives: 1) To develop basic knowledge necessary for daily living. 2) To enhance proper practices according to work process. 3) To improve the quality of working. 4) To be able to analyse and plan daily work. 5) To develop good work habits, co-operation skills, work ethics and self-sufficiency. 6) To explore and discover one's own capability , aptitude and interest. ++

Vocational Education: Objectives: 1) To acquire vocational ability and skills sufficient to work in accordance with one's age. 2) To develop appropriate vocational attitudes and ethics. 3) To possess entrepreneurial skills in management, marketing and cooperation. ++

Boy Scout, Girl Scout and Red Cross School Activities in Thailand

Boy Scout / Girl Scout Activities: Objectives: In order to enable learners to develop physical, intellectual, mental, and moral qualities so as to become good citizens with responsibility in promoting social progress, national peace and security, the following characteristics are to be cultivated: 1) Knowledge, understanding , and ability to comply with the Promise, the Scout Laws, and Senior Scout Mottos. 2) Skills in observation, memorization, using hands and tools, problem-solving, and team work. 3) Honesty, bravery, patience, self-confidence, good discipline, unity, sympathy, sacrifice, and doing good for the public benefit. 4) Self-improvement, creating skillful craftsmanship, interest in nature and natural development. [Source: The 1990 Revised Edition of The 1978 Lower Secondary School Curriculum published by Department of Curriculum and Instruction Development, Ministry of Education. Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life, February 7, 2007 ++]

Red Cross Youth Activities: Objectives: 1) To be able to follow the Red Cross Youth Promise. 2) To be able to follow the Red Cross principles. 3) To possess good health, physically and mentally. 4) To sacrifice, to be diligent , honest, frugal, patient, and well-disciplined. 5) To be creative and make wise uses of spare time. 6) To help one's community and to be able to live with others in the society. 7) To be kind, generous, and friendly to others in the world. ++

Girl Guide Activities: Objectives: 1) To be able to follow the Promise, Laws, Motto, and Slogans of Girl Guides. 2) To possess the habit of doing good for others. 3) To see the merits of following good cultural practices and of being a good citizen. 4) To conserve and enhance the environment. 5) To possess good health, physically and mentally. 6) To be responsible, able to help one's community, and to live with others in the society. 7) To be creative and know how to invent new devices by oneself. ++

Junior High Schedule in Thailand

On his schedule at middle school Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: My school starts at about 8.30 a.m. but everyone has to be at school before 7.50 a.m. If you come later than that you have to sign your name in the blackbook. If you come to school late more than three times, they will ask your parents to come to school and talk about it. In this term, I came to school late one time because I watched football "Euro 2000". [Source:Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life, February 7, 2007 ~]

Class times each day: 1) 8.30-9.20; 2) 9.20-10.10; 3) 10.10-11.00; 4) 12.10-1.00; 5) 1.00-1.50; 6) 1.50-2.40; 7) 2.40-3.30. And his schedule of classes each day:

Monday: 1) Art; 2) Geography; 3) Math; 4) Thai; 5) English; 6) Science (Option)
Tuesday: 1) P.E.; 2) Math; 3) Buddhism ; 4) Science; 5) C.G.; 6) English; 7) Thai
Wednesday: 1) Math; 2) Math (Option); 3) Electronics; 4) Hygiene; 5) Scouts
Thursday: 1) Thai; 2) English; 3) Geography; 4) Math; 5) P.E.; 6) Economics; 7) Club
Friday: 1) Science; 2) Thai; 3) Economics; 4) English; 5) Buddhism; 6) Math. NOTE: P.E. = Physical Education; C.G. = Career Guidance. ~

“Before lesson1 starts, we have a homeroom lesson for about 10 minutes. Our classroom teacher will come in and talk about the cleaning duty, lining up in the playground etc. We have one break time, it's after lesson three between 11.00 a.m. - 12.10 p.m. We always go to have our lunch at about 11.30 a.m. because there are not many people there in the kitchen at that time. After that I will go to play football with my friends in the playground. ~

“I love to learn English, P.E. and Math. I like to learn about conversation more than gramma but in my school (most schools in Thailand except international schools), they only teach us gramma. Not many schools in Thailand teach students how to speak. If you want to learn conversation, you have to pay a lot of money to learn at a language school. In the Club lesson, I am in the Scrabble Club and I am the boss of that club. I have to walk around and check everyone to see if they are playing or not. Everyone has to play. There are other club as well, like Math, Science, Thai etc. ~

“Every Thursday in lesson 8 (between 3.30 p.m. - 4.20 p.m.), I have to go to the meeting room to have a meeting. They will talk about the same things every week like you shouldn't go back home late, be polite to all the teachers, don't throw the rubbish everywhere etc. We don't realy like to go in that much, we sometimes go straight back home and not go in the meeting room. ~

Typical Junior High School in Thailand

Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “I go to Satree Secondary school. It is located in the centre of Samut Prakan province. The school now has about 3,323 students in six grades, namely Matayom Suksa 1 to Matayom Suksa 6 (grade 7 - grade 12) with 160 full time teachers and 77 classrooms. I go to school at 6.45 a.m. by bus and songtaew (some people go by car but a lot of people usually go to school by themselves). My school starts at 8 o'clock, everyone must go to school before it starts. I have 7 periods in a day, 3 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. After period 3 (about 11 o'clock) everyone goes to have lunch in the canteen. Not many people bring food to school because food in the canteen is cheap. Period 4 starts at 12.10 p.m. and period 7 finishes at 3.30 p.m. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life, February 7, 2007~ ]

“After period 7 some people go home, some play at school. The most popular sport at school is basketball. The people who go home they usually go home by themselves but some do not. I usually go home at 9.00 p.m. because I go to play football and basketball at my old school (Sriwittayapaknam School) or go to learn English with my teacher there and do my homepage too, then I go home by bus. When I get home I sweep my home every day, then I go to take a shower and do my homework. ~

“My school has 6 buildings, I learn in the fifth building. It has 4 floors, I learn in the fourth floor. Every floor has about 2-5 classrooms, on my floor there are 5 classrooms. There are 50 students and 1 teacher in my classroom. In my classroom there is a picture of the King, an image of the Buddha and a Thai flag. We sit in rows. On Fridays I have to clean the classroom because it's my duty. Everyone has to do it. We take turns to be on duty once a week, 10 persons each day. ~

On going to school by songtaew, Nattawud Daoruang wrote: “I walk down this lane to catch the bus to school every day. The bus stops outside the 7-Eleven convenience store. It usually costs 4 baht but sometimes for students it is 3 baht. After about 500 metres, I change from the bus to a songtaew because I can't go to school by one bus, it's not on the way for one bus. Songtaew is Thai for two rows because it has two rows to sit on at the back. This songtaew will turn left at the clock tower next to the City Hall and go straight pass my school. Songtaews are usually full so some people have to stand at the back. I like to stand at the back too because it's exciting and easy to get off. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ] clock tower to my school and you can see the songtaew stopping in front of my school.

School Uniforms, Haircuits and Lunch in Thailand

School Uniforms. I usually wear it to school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Picture number two shows my scout uniform. I wear it on Wednesdays. On this day we learn Scouts. I don't like this uniform because it's hot and not comfortable. And the last one shows me in P.E. uniform. I usually wear it on Thursdays. I really like this uniform because it's not hot and very comfortable. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life, February 7, 2007~ ]

“School Hair Cut. At school we are not allowed to have long hair. The school rules say students can't have long hair because it's not polite. We must cut our hair every month. I don't like to cut my hair but I must cut it. One time I had long hair (see picture "before"). It was the day before the end of the school year. The teacher saw me and cut some of the hair off above my ear as punishment. I was really embarrassed for the whole day at school. After school I went to the barber to have my hair cut properly. I don't like this crew cut because it looks very funny. But really everyone has the same hair cut. ~

“At lunch time everyone in Junior High will come here at about 11.00 a.m. to buy some food to eat. We don't have to buy coupon. And at about 12.00 p.m. senior students will come here to eat too. We can buy some food at different counters. There are 10 counters in this canteen. The price is not expensive it's about 10-15 baht for a meal and the drinks are 3 baht. My favourite meal is chicken fried in chili paste with fried egg and rice. Other food you can buy includes fried noodles with beef and broccoli, egg noodle soup, bean cake soup etc. ~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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