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The Education System in Thailand

The Country

Thailand, formerly known as Siam, has a long history of more than 700 years. The country, located in Southeast Asia, is rich in culture and natural resources. The Kingdom was established around 1220. Thai, the national language, was invented by King Ramkhamhaeng, the greatest King in Sukhothai Period. Ayutthaya and Thonburi became subsequent capitals of Thailand. Bangkok became the fourth and current capital. Currently, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the beloved monarch and the central conscience of the Thai citizens, is the ninth king in the Chakri dynasty.

Basic Information

Name of the Country: The Kingdom of Thailand
Total area: 513,115 sq.km.
Population: 62 million
Capital: Bangkok
Language: Thai
Main religion: Buddhism: 95%
Muslim: 4%
Ethnic groups: Thai:(including mixer of Thai-Chinese, Thai-Lao, and Thai-others which are assimilated into Thai culture) 95%
Muslim Malays, hill peoples, and others: 5%
Currency: Baht (as of May 2001: 45:30 : US$1)
Years of compulsory education: 6 years (From 2004 will be 9 years)
Pre-primary education: 90.78%
Primary school enrollment: 90.66%
Lower Secondary school enrollment: 72.54%
Upper Secondary school enrollment: 46.78%
Tertiary education enrollment: 19.34% (excluding open universities)
Adult literacy rate: 95%

The Education System

Most of the schools in Thailand are operated by the government, private and local administrative council, and a portion of them are operated by the private and local administrative council. The current education system of Thailand is based on the 6:3:3 model, comprising 6 years of compulsory education, 3 years of lower secondary education and 3 years of upper secondary education. Based on the 1999 Education Act, by 2004 the compulsory education will be extended to 9 years. Pre-primary education, organized for children aged 3-5 years old, ranges from one to three years. Currently, pre-primary education is available in most villages.

The 6-year compulsory primary education can be provided in all primary schools. Some primary schools, however, provide up to lower secondary education. Lower secondary and upper secondary education last 3 years each. There are two main channels of education at upper secondary level: the academic stream which prepares students for universities, and the vocational stream which prepares students for the skilled labour market. According to the 1999 Education Act, the State will have to provide free education up to grade 12 for all Thai citizens.

Tertiary education at the baccalaureate level normally requires four years of study. Some programmes, however, require five years of study. A master's programme normally requires two years of study beyond a bachelor degree, whereas a doctoral study requires approximately three to four years of study and research after the master's degree program. Some universities, both public and private, also offer international programmes conducted in English at both undergraduate and graduate levels. There are also two public open universities accommodating more than half a million students.

Access to Education and Enrollment

Because of the massive expansion of schools in 1960s and 1970s, the education system in Thailand has been able to accommodate most school-age children. Besides the regular school system, nonformal education has also played a crucial role in providing educational opportunity for the disadvantaged. By and large, most Thais have access to either formal or nonformal education up to the secondary level. The gross enrolment rate at all levels has increased gradually at all levels, namely 90.78% for pre-primary education, 90.66% for primary education, 72.54% and 46.78% for lower and upper secondary education respectively, and 19.34% for the tertiary level (excluding open universities). In all, there are about 13.82 million students, or approximately 65% of the 21.26 million school-age population (3-24 years old) in the school system.

The school year is divided into two semesters, each lasts about 18 weeks. Summer session and evening classes are generally available in higher education institutes. The school examination system is relatively decentralized. Examination papers are developed and administered by each school. However, an entrance examination is required in order to get into some renowned schools at grades 7 and 10. In 1994, the school began to admit about 60% of children who live in the school area to study without an examination. Currently, all schools, except for a few famous ones, admit 100% of the new students from those who live nearby.

The university entrance examination is administered by the Ministry of University Affairs as a means to select the most qualified students to study in public universities. Similarly, some private universities also require an entrance examination. From 1999, the average GPA of students in grades 10-12 account for 10% of the total scores for admission to university, together with the entrance examination. The trend for university admission in the next few years is that each university will develop is own criteria for student admission based on school performance rather than on the entrance examination.

The language of communication and instruction in all schools in Thailand is Thai, the mother tongue and national language. With an exception of some minority people, all Thais can understand the national language. English is taught as a foreign language in all primary and secondary schools, starting from grade 1 upwards. Also, English is used as a medium of instruction in international schools, and in international programmes at the tertiary level.

The Curriculum

The development of primary and secondary school curricula is chiefly under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, whereas the higher education is approved by the Ministry of University Affairs. Formal education is broken down into pre-primary education, primary education, secondary education and higher education.

Pre-primary education is categorized into three types: child development center, kindergarten, and pre-school education. This level of education is to prepare children's readiness for primary education. Learning activities and experience are organized for physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of children through everyday activities.

The primary education is largely organized by the Office of National Primary Education Commission, Ministry of Education. The curriculum is to provide children with basic knowledge and skills in general. The 6-year primary school curriculum comprises five learning areas, namely:

1) Basic Skills, comprising Thai language and mathematics.
2) Life Experiences, focusing on the process of solving social and daily-life problems. Social studies and science are the main components of this subject area.
3) Character Development, dealing with learning activities designed to develop desirable attitudes, values, behavior, and habits which form a child's character.
4) Work-Oriented Experience, dealing with practical skills and experiences for career preparation.
5) Special Experience, dealing with learning areas of special interest to children. Most schools, however, offer English as a special experience subject.


The lower-secondary and upper-secondary education curricula comprise four main components: core subjects, prescribed elective subjects, free elective subjects, and activities.

Based on the 1999 Education Act, the primary and secondary education will be merged to be one level under the term "basic education" comprising 12 years of education. The new basic education curriculum, which is currently under the development process along the line with the Education Act, will comprise eight subject areas, namely:

- hygienic and physical education
- visual arts, music and classical drama
- social studies, religion and culture
- Thai language
- Mathematics
- science and technology
- work and occupational development
- international languages.


The curriculum for higher education is broken down into three levels: lower than bachelor's degree or diploma; undergraduate; and graduate levels. Higher education institutions are currently undersupervision of the Ministry of University Affairs. In Thailand, there are three major educational organizations: the Ministry of Education, Ministry of University Affairs, and the Office of National Education Commission. From 2002 onwards, the three major offices will be merged into the Ministry of Education, Religion, and Culture.

Nonformal Education

Nonformal education in Thailand has played a significant role in providing basic and lifelong learning for disadvantaged and minority people, who do not have an opportunity to study in the regular school system. Several NFE programmes have been offered to provide educational opportunities for those who cannot afford to enroll in regular schools due to economic or personal reasons. It also offers learning programmes to serve individual and community needs. The activities in nonformal education may be categorized into three main areas of services: basic education, vocational education, and information services.

The basic education area covers such programmes as functional literacy, hill areas education, and continuing education at lower and upper secondary levels. Youth or adults aged more than 14 years old can register to study in nonformal education. Normally adult students take shorter time to study in the nonformal education system than in regular schools. The area of vocational education covers interest group learning, vocational short-course learning, skills development training, and vocational certificate programmes. The information services covers the provision of public libraries, village reading centres, educational science centres, radio and TV programmes, community learning centres, and life-long education programmes.

Presently, about three million adult learners participating in nonformal education programmes offered by the Department of Nonformal Education and other organizations, including NGOs. The Department of Nonformal Education also offers special programmes for particular target groups, such as programmes for hill-tribe people, the elderly, inmates, servicemen, and the disabled.

The Education Reform

The current Constitution and the Education Act are the two essential driving forces for the reform of education. Based on the 1999 Education Act, several areas of education reform have been undertaken. The key areas of the reform and the significant move towards the reform are as follows.

1. The unity in educational policy and decentralization of the educational management. From 20th August onwards, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of University Affairs and the Office of National Education Commission will be merged to be one Ministry under the name of "the Ministry of Education, Religion and Culture". Currently, the administrative lines from the Central office sometimes have to go to the regional office to the provincial and district offices before reaching the school. According the Education Act, from 20th August 2002 onwards, there will be only the Central Office, the Local Area Education Office (will be established) and the school. This will cut down the red-tape along the line. The reform will result in downsizing of the central office staff, whereas the regional and provincial offices will be abolished.

2. The second area of reform relates to the reform of learning, which is considered to be most important if actual reform is to be taken place. The reform of learning involves the teaching and learning approaches, the construction of the new 12-year basic curriculum, the teachers' training, and the support system for lifelong learning. The learners'centered approach of teaching is the central emphasis for all kinds of learning activities.

3. Quality and standard assurance. Since the authority is allocated to the Education Region Office and to the school, there will be both internal and external evaluation of the standard of the school periodically.

4. Placing emphasis on the teaching profession. There will be a revision and extension of the curriculum for teacher training to be 5 years in university and an addition year apprenticeship in an educational institute. The progress of the teachers will be based on the evaluation of their performance.

5. The use of technology in education. Multimedia and information technology will be used to support learning in regular schools, nonformal education and informal learning. A center for national educational technology will be established to develop appropriate learning materials and media for the learners both in-school and out-of-school learning.

Analysis and Comments

The on-going education reform has turned the education system to a turning point. The reform is not just only in one segment, but the whole education system. In addition, there are relevant laws, regulations and rules that are being proposed in accordance with the reform. These will facilitate and made the reform possible. Although there are still some disagreements on the organization structure, and uncertainty about the redeployment of the education staff in the central offices, there will be a point that it can be settled. In the view of the writer, the most crucial aspect of the reform is the "reform of learning," from the teacher-centered model to the learner-centered approach, which is the essence of the transition. In fact, there have been a number of attempts from the concerned Departments and agencies to move towards this direction. Although the reform of the education system has just begun, it may not be too optimistic to say that the education system in Thailand has moved towards the desirable direction.

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