Education in Thailand
Education in Thailand is provided mainly by the Thai government through the Ministry of Education from pre-school to senior high school. A free basic education of twelve years is guaranteed by the constitution, and a minimum of nine years' school attendance is mandatory. Formal education consists of at least twelve years of basic education, and higher education. Basic education is divided into six years of primary education and six years of secondary education, the latter being further divided into three years of lower- and upper-secondary levels. Kindergarten levels of pre-primary education, also part of the basic education level, span 2–3 years depending on the locale, and are variably provided. Non-formal education is also supported by the state. Independent schools contribute significantly to the general education infrastructure. Administration and control of public and private universities are carried out by the Ministry of University Affairs.
The school structure is divided into four key stages: the first three years in elementary school, Prathom 1 - 3, are for age groups 6 to 8, the second level, Prathom 4 through 6 are for age groups 9 to 11, the third level, Matthayom 1 - 3, is for age groups 12 to 14. The upper secondary level of schooling consists of Matthayom 4 - 6, for age groups 15 to 17 and is divided into academic and vocational streams. There are also academic upper secondary schools, vocational upper secondary schools and comprehensive schools offering both academic and vocational tracks. Students who choose the academic stream usually intend to enter a university. Vocational schools offer programs that prepare students for employment or further studies. Admission to an upper secondary school is through an entrance exam. On the completion of each level, students need to pass the NET (National Educational Test) to graduate. Children are required only to attend six years of elementary school and at least the first three years of high school. Those who graduate from the sixth year of high school are candidates for two decisive tests: O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test) and A-NET (Advanced National Educational Test). Public schools are administered by the government, and the private sector comprises schools run for profit and fee-paying non-profit schools which are often run by charitable organisations - especially by Catholic diocesan and religious orders that operate over 300 large primary/secondary schools throughout the country. Village and sub-district schools usually provide pre-school kindergarten (anuban) and elementary classes, while in the district towns, schools will serve their areas with comprehensive schools with all the classes from kindergarten to age 14, and separate secondary schools for ages 11 through 17. Due to budgetary limitations, rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the cities and the standard of instruction, particularly for the English language, is much lower, and many high school students will commute 60 - 80 kilometres to schools in the nearest city.
Primary and secondary levels
At primary levels, students follow 8 core subjects each semester: Thai language, mathematics, science, social Science, health and physical education, arts and music, technology, and foreign languages. At age 16 (Matthayom 4), students are allowed to choose one or two elective courses. The science program (Wit-Kanit) and the mathematics program (Sil-Kamnuan)are among the most popular. Foreign language programs (Sil-Phasa) and the social science program (sometimes called the general program) are also offered.
Currently 412 colleges are governed by the Vocational Education Commission (VEC), of the Ministry of Education with more than a million students following the programs In 2004. Additionally, approximately 380,000 students were studying in 401 private vocational schools and colleges. Technical and vocational education (TVE) begins at the senior high school grade where students are divided into either general or vocational education. At present, around 60 per cent of students follow the general education programmes. However, the government is endeavouring to achieve an equal balance between general and vocational education. Three levels of TVE are offered: the Certificate in Vocational Education (Bor Wor Saw) which is taken during the upper secondary period; the Technical Diploma (Bor Wor Chor), taken after school-leaving age, and the Higher Diploma on which admission to university for a Bachelor degree programme may be granted. Vocational education is also provided by private institutions.
Dual Vocational Training (DVT)
Essential to DVT is the active participation of the private sector. In 1995, based primarily on the German model, the Department of Vocational Education launched the initiative to introduce dual vocational training programmes which involve the students in hand-on training in suitably selected organisations in the private sector. DVT is a regular element of the DoVE "Certificate" and "Diploma" program. The training is for a period of three years with more than half of the time devoted to practical training on-the-job, spread over two days a week, or for longer periods depending on the distance, throughout the semesters. Two levels of DVT are offered: the three-year certificate level for skilled workers where students and trainees are admitted at the age of 15 after completing Matthayom 3 (Grade 9); and the two-year diploma technician level for students who have graduated with the Certificate of Vocational Education after 12 years of formal education. In the scheme, vocational, unlike regular internships, where students may be assigned to work on unpaid irrelevant jobs, the cooperative education programme enables the students of the vocational schools to do field work while benefiting from an allowance to cover living expenses or free accommodation, and compensation for their contributions made towards the company's income and profits as temporary employees. Schools collaborate directly with the private sector in drafting action plans and setting goals for students to meet. Generally, the company will offer permanent employment to the trainees on graduation and successful completion of the programme. Conversely, companies that recruit trainees from among young people who have completed a minimum of nine years at school may enroll their employees with a technical or vocational college where they are taught vocational subjects as the theoretical background to the occupational field in which they are being trained.
The Office of Vocational Education Commission showed the attendance of students for the 2005 academic year as follows: Technical colleges 290,058, industrial & community colleges 137,377, business administration & tourism colleges 3,480, commercial colleges 16,266, arts and crafts colleges 2,214, polytechnic colleges 36,304, vocational colleges 89,703, agricultural and technology colleges 34,914, Golden Jubilee Royal Goldsmith College 525, industrial and ship building colleges 2,391, fishery colleges 1,510, agricultural engineering craining Centres 806, with a further 340,000 in private vocational schools.
Tertiary and higher education
The established public and private universities and colleges of higher education are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of University Affairs in both the government and private sectors offer excellent programmes especially in the fields of medicine, the arts, humanities, and information technology, although many students prefer to pursue studies of law and business in Western faculties abroad or in those which have created local facilities in Thailand. During the first years of the 21st century, the number of universities increased dramatically on a controversial move by the Thaksin government to rename many public institutes as universities. In the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings 2004, Chulalongkorn University was ranked 46th in the world for social sciences and 60th for biomedicine. In September 2006, three universities in Thailand were ranked "excellent" in both academic and research areas by Commission on Higher Education. Those universities are Chiang Mai University, Chulalongkorn University, and Mahidol University. Over half of the provinces have a government Rajabhat University, formerly Rajabhat Institute, traditionally a teacher training college.
On graduating from high school, students need to pass the CUAS (Central University Admission System) which contains 50% of O-NET and A-NET results and the other half of the fourth level GPA (Grade Point Average). Many changes and experiments in the university admissions system have taken place since 2001, but by late 2007 a nationwide system had yet to be accepted by the students, the universities, and the government. On return to democracy in early 2008, after the December election, the newly formed coalition led by the People's Power Party (a party formed by the remnants of deposed Taksin Shinwatra's Thai Rak Tai party) announced more changes to the national curriculum and university entrance system. At present, state-run universities screen 70% of their students directly, with the remaining 30% coming from the central admission system. The new system gives 20% weight to cumulative grade point average, which varies upon a school's standard. Some students have voiced distrust of the new system and fear it will encounter score counting problems as happened with the A-Net in its first year. The new aptitude test, to be held for the first time in March 2009 and which will be supervised by the National Institute of Educational Testing Service, will replace the Advanced National Education Test (A-net), Students can sit for the aptitude test a maximum of three times, with their best scores counted. After the first tests in March 2009, the next two are scheduled for July and October. Direct admissions are normally held around October. The new test comprises the compulsory General Aptitude Test (Gat), which covers reading, writing, analytical thinking, problem solving and English communication. The voluntary Professional Aptitude Test (Pat) has a choice of seven subjects.
Most bachelor degree courses are programmes of four years full-time attendance. Exceptions are pharmacy and architecture that require five years, and the doctor of dental surgery, medicine, and veterinary medicine that comprise six years of study. Master degree study last for either one or two years and the degree is conferred on course credits with either a thesis or a final exam. On completion of a master degree, students may apply for an admission exam to a two to five year doctoral programme. The doctorate is conferred on coursework, research and the successful submission of a dissertation.
By government definition: “An international school is an educational institution providing an international curriculum or international curriculum which its subject’s detail has been adjusted or a self-organized curriculum, which is not the Ministry of Education’s. A foreign language is used as the medium of teaching and learning and students are enrolled without restriction or limitation on nationality or religion or government regime, and are not against the morality or stability of Thailand.” The curriculum is required to be approved by the Ministry of Education and may be an international one, an international curriculum with modifications, or a curriculum established by the school itself. Thai language and culture constitutes a core subject and is mandatory at every level for all students; Thai students are required to study at least five 50-minutes periods a week, while non- Thai students must receive a minimum of instruction of one period per week. Interntional schools must operate within a framework of requirements and conditions established by the Ministry of Education, that stipulates the ownership, location and size of the plot, design and structure of buildings, ratio of students to classroom surface, sanitary installations, administration and educational support facilities such as libraries and resources centres.Within one year from their commencement, primary and secondary schools must apply accreditation from an international organization recognized and accepted by the Office of the Private Education Commission and are and accreeditation must be granted within six years. Managers and Head teachers must be of Thai nationality;
Currently 90 international schools operate in the Kingdom, of which 65 are located in the Bangkok area.
Teacher training is offered either in universities by the Ministry of University Affairs or in teacher training colleges administered by the Ministry of Education’s Department of Teacher Education. The university programmes are now commonly influenced by child centred learning methods and several universities operate a Satit demonstaration primary and secondary school staffed by lecturers and trainee teachers.
Primary and Lower Secondary School Teachers
The mainstay of the teacher output is provided by the government Rajaphat Universities (formerly Rajaphat Institutes), the traditional teacher training colleges in most provinces. Programmes include courses in teaching methodology, school administration, special education, optional specialisation, supervised practical teaching experience, and the general education subjects of language and communication, humanities, social science, mathematics, and technology. Completion of upper secondary education (Mathayom 6) is required for access to basic teacher training programmes and primary and lower secondary school teachers are required to complete a two-year program leading to the Higher Certificate of Education, also known as the Diploma in Education or an Associate’s Degree.
Upper Secondary School Teachers
To teach at the upper secondary school level, the minimum requirement is a four-year Bachelor of Education degree through government programmes provided either at a teacher’s training college or in a university faculty of education. Students who have acquired the Higher Certificate of Education are eligible to continue their studies at a university or teachers training college for two additional years of full-time study for a Bachelor degree. Prospective teachers with a Bachelor degree in other disciplines must undergo an additional one year of full-time study to complete a Bachelor of Education degree.
English language education in Thailand
The use of English in Thailand while far from being as developed as in the Netherlands, Germany, the Scandinavian countries or the Philippines, is nevertheless rapidly increasing through the influence of the media and the Internet and is far greater, for example, than in France, the United Kingdom's nearest neighbour. The government has long realised the importance of the English language as a major core subject in schools, and it has been a compulsory subject at varying levels for several decades. Since 2005 schools are being encouraged to establish bilingual departments where the core subjects are taught in English, and to offer intensive English language programmes. Notwithstanding the extensive use of, and exposure to English in everyday life in Thailand, the standard of correct English in the schools is now the lowest in Southeast Asia. In 1997 Thailand was still in the forefront, but by 2001 Laos and Vietnam had caught up, and by mid 2006 were clearly in the lead.
Following the announcement of the University of Cambridge to launch a new course and
qualification for non-native speaker teachers, a survey was carried out in February 2006, with
the collaboration of the University of Cambridge as part of a field trial, by one of the country's
largest groups of independent schools of its 400 or so teachers of English. The project reported that
in over 60 percent of the teachers, the knowledge of the language and teaching methodology was
below that of the syllabus level which they were teaching. Some teachers for age group 11 - or lower
- in the language were actually attempting to teach age groups 15, 16, and even 17. Of the remaining
top 40 per cent, only 3 percent had a reasonable level of fluency and only 20 per cent were teaching
grades for which they were correctly qualified and competent. Within the group of over 40 schools
representing nearly 80,000 students in primary and secondary education, random parallel test
groups of primary school pupils often scored higher in some tests than many of the teachers in other
schools of the same group. The schools resisted the initiative of the central governing body to
provide intensive upgrading programmes for the teachers. In spite of the evidence, the schools
doubted the results, and to save face, argued that their teachers had qualified through their various
universities and colleges and either had nothing more to learn or could not afford the time. In the
government schools the standards are similar and many primary teachers freely admit that they are
forced to teach English although they have little or no knowledge of the language whatsoever. A
debate began in academic circles as to whether teaching English badly during the most influential
years is in fact better than not teaching it at primary level. Whatever results that any formal research
may provide, there clearly exists room for much improvement. The situation is further exacerbated
by a curriculum, which in its endeavour to improve standards and facilitate learning is subject to
frequent change, and thus misinterpreted into syllabuses by the teachers themselves at levels often
far too advanced for the cognitive development of the students.
Native speaker teachers
Several thousand native English speakers are employed in public and private schools throughout the country, their existence being encouraged by the need to develop students' oral expression and knowledge of foreign culture; much of their time however, is taken up with remedial teaching: putting right any grammar, orthography, pronunciation and cultural background that has been wrongly taught and which leads to great misunderstanding - they see this as a greater priority. The official version of English, although not always practical in its dispensation, is British. Qualified native teachers with a background in linguistics will ensure that students are exposed to both major variations of the language and understand them and their differences, whichever version the students choose to speak. Language classes, sponsored by the governments of English speaking countries such as those provided by the British Council, enjoy an excellent reputation for quality, both for general English, and for the preparation for international exams such as the American English TOEFL and the British English IELTS, which are prerequisites for the entry into many professions, particularly aircrew and tourism. There is also no shortage of cramming schools, usually franchise chains, in the capital and larger cities, but although they are staffed mainly by highly motivated, qualified native speakers, and have excellent resources, they are often branded by cynics as 'the McDonalds of English language'. There has been a dramatic increase since 2000 in the number of Thailand based TEFL/TESOL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language / Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher training institutions. Some dispense internationally recognised teaching certificates and diplomas that follow the courses of established universities, and some provide courses and certification franchised from other organisations and universities, still others dispense their own courses and certification. Currently, to teach English in licenced schools, public or private, the minimum academic qualification for native speakers, is a bachelor degree in any subject. However, the government is in the process of exercising greater control, particularly to combat the use of bogus certificates or degrees issued by diploma mills, and to prevent access to schools by persons with doubtful motives. In 2008, the government announced plans to improve requirements for native speaker teachers in mainstream schools. They now require academic qualifications in either education or linguistics, in addition to their bachelor degrees, and to complete a government course in Thai culture and language. In 2008 applications for TESOL posts in Thailand experienced a significant drop, and many posts are being taken up by second-language English speakers from Asian countries where the use English may be of a high standard and officially recognised, but not as a first language. Parents, particularly those with children in fee-paying schools, maintain the belief that native English speakers should have Western ethnic origins.
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