Thailand’s Education System: One Of The Worst In Asia

Thai student sleeping – copyright Love Krittaya, Public Domain


I was an English teacher at a Thai school for five years and during this time learned quickly how bad the education system in Thailand really is. Plagued by inadequate funding, huge class sizes (more than 50 students to a class), terrible teacher training, lazy students and a system that forces teachers to pass students even though they’ve actually failed – there doesn’t seem to be much hope education in Thailand will improve any time soon.

I taught in a private bi-lingual school, so had far less problems than exist in government schools. Even here though, the school falls under Ministry of Education bureaucracy, which is one of the most ridiculously inept in the world. Rules change every semester, new guidelines are handed down to teachers regarding course content, lesson plans, testing etc at the beginning of each new semester, then change again the following semester. Teachers are told to pass students, even though they’ve failed, and a blind eye is turned to serious problems like plagiarizing.

Every year, the Ministry of Education brings into effect another bright idea for improving education in Thailand. This year’s bright idea is to force every Western teacher teaching in Thailand to take a Thai Culture course. Regardless that many teachers have been here for years and are well-versed in Thai culture, in order to get a teacher’s license or renew one, they will be forced to take this course.

As the course costs between $110 and $300, money that has to be paid by the teacher, many teachers are saying they will not do it. I already know of two excellent teachers who have left Thailand to go to Korea and Japan to teach instead.

In most other countries in South East Asia, Western teachers are paid more, it’s easier to get work permits with less hoops to jump through, and the Ministry of Education in these countries is much more forward thinking. Thailand already has problems getting and keeping good, qualified Western teachers. Implementing this new law will simply mean even more of these teachers will go elsewhere.

In most countries, government organizations are known to not be particularly effective. The Ministry of Education in Thailand though, is the worst government organization I have ever dealt with.

At my last school, I was approached for help in English grammar one day by the Thai computer teacher who was upset because he’d just been chastised by a representative from the Ministry of Education who was visiting the school. The Ministry representative had seen some work he had been doing with the kids and had told him very rudely that he should make sure the English wording on the kids’ Mother’s Day greeting cards was correct.

This coming from a representative of an organization that routinely sends forms in English to Western teachers that don’t have even one grammatically correct English sentence on them. Some of them were so unintelligible my boss would just chuck them in the nearest garbage can.

Thailand is now facing a crisis in education. Thai students are not taught to think for themselves so have no critical thinking skills. At government schools, more than 50 students in a class is the norm. Half the kids just sleep through class, as the teacher doesn’t notice if they’re listening or not.

Books are limited, science equipment doesn’t exist in a lot of schools, and Western teachers in government schools are often the dregs of society. But as the schools can’t afford to pay more than $750 a month, they get what they pay for. (Many of these ‘teachers’ are old men without college degrees who simply came to Thailand because of the Thai women, then ended up teaching as it’s one of the few jobs Westerners are allowed to do).

In order to try to solve the problem of unqualified Western teachers, Thailand is now clamping down on tourist visas. These unqualified teachers cannot get work permits so they live here on tourist visas, leaving the country and renewing them every 3 months. Now it’s going to be more difficult to do this. However, the only thing this new tourist visa restriction will do is to penalize the true tourist to Thailand. The guys who are getting them illegally, will just choose to stay in Thailand illegally, so nothing will change.

Meanwhile, education in countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Korea and China is improving in leaps and bounds. Thailand is set to fall to the bottom of the pile of southeastern Asian countries both educationally and economically, yet the government and the Education Ministry wastes their time on ridiculous new rules, instead of a more common sense way of dealing with things.

Firstly, if the government simply mandated that a college degree and a TEFL certificate were the basic qualifications to teach in Thailand, this would rid them of most of the Western men here who aren’t qualified to teach. Secondly, if they increased teacher salaries for both Thais and Westerners, they would get better qualified teachers.

As it stands right now, Thai schools pay the exact same low wages they did when I came here five years ago. Yet prices in the last five years have gone up more than 20%. Thirdly, if the government made getting a work permit easy for qualified individuals, instead of the mess it is now, teachers would come here and would stay. But at the moment, you can get a visa, work permit and a better paying job in Korea, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Japan. So why come to Thailand?

However, things are not likely to change in Thailand any time soon. Thai society is all about saving face and appearance is everything. The Ministry never listens when it’s given advice by teachers who know better than them what Thai education needs. And as long as the way a kid looks is more important than what the kid knows, Thailand’s education system is a lost cause. Thailand will continue to fall further behind in the education game and the better Western teachers will continue to leave.

But hey, who cares, at least the kids look cute when they’re all parading around in their Scouts uniforms. Just a pity less than 10% can actually speak more than 20 words of English correctly and a lot of them aren’t very good at Thai either.