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Expats moving to Thailand with children won't be overwhelmed by choice; many local public schools have restrictions with regards to children's nationality and so most parents will only be able to choose a private or international school.
Public schools in Thailand
Education in Thailand is free for Thai nationals up to the age of 13. At this point, they need to satisfy academic entrance requirements and begin to prepare for university, which starts for students as young as 16 years old.
To be considered a Thai national, the child must have at least one Thai parent and their birth must have been registered in Thailand. Schools will ask for proof of this in the form of a birth certificate. Children who don't meet these requirements aren’t usually eligible for free public education in Thailand.
Private bilingual schools in Thailand
Private bilingual schools are a good option for expat parents who can't afford the high prices of international schools. The standard of some of these institutions has greatly improved over the past decade, and Western-style teaching philosophies which focus on student-centred learning have had more influence in recent years.
The English programmes offered do vary between schools, so expat parents should do their research before making a selection. Bear in mind that many of these schools are religious so the curriculum will likely include a value-based learning system which aligns with the school's designated faith.
For families who plan to live in Thailand long-term, these private bilingual schools may be the best option. They offer an opportunity for children to develop closer links to Thai culture and society while still allowing access to a higher standard of education, extra-curricular activities, and facilities which are usually associated with private schools.
International schools in Thailand
Many expats choose to send their children to international schools in Thailand. These schools teach in a language and style familiar to children and allow for continuity by providing Western curricula. International schools predominantly teach in English, however, there are some international schools for expats of non-Western origin.
All of these institutions are accredited by external bodies, and it follows that both learning standards and the criteria for hiring teachers are high. Many Thai families prefer to send their children to these schools, and as a result, it's normal for their student bodies to consist primarily of locals.
These schools are also almost always well-financed, boast modern facilities, small class sizes and an impressive range of extra-curricular activities.
Thailand's international schools offer a healthy assortment of curricula to cater to many home-country demands. Certain schools prepare students for SAT, A-Level, IGCSE and IB exams.
Although a large variety of international schools exist in commercial centres such as Bangkok and Pattaya, options are more limited in rural areas and parents may need to consider boarding options or homeschooling.
Expat parents should note that popular schools have long waiting lists and admission may be based on language proficiency and academic achievement. Requirements vary from school to school, but it's always best to start the admissions and enrolment process as early as possible.
Fees for international schools in Thailand tend to be high and expats would do well to try and negotiate an education allowance into their contract.
Homeschooling in Thailand.
Homeschooling in Thailand is legal. The country's constitution explicitly recognises alternative education and considers the family to be a key educational institution. Thai families must apply to the government to homeschool and students are assessed annually.
Expats aren’t tied to local regulations. It is still advised however, that expats follow a standardised Western curriculum, and thoroughly document everything to validate progress with an assessor upon returning to their home country.
There are several support networks around Thailand. The Bangkok Area Homeschool Group (BKK kids) is a group open to all families in the Bangkok area who are involved in homeschooling.
Private tutors in Thailand.
The private tuition industry in Thailand is staggering. The massive multi-billion baht tutoring industry in Thailand emerged from the necessity to prepare students for the extremely competitive university admissions exams. The industry has seen considerable growth in response to the high demand for private tuition and competitive salaries for teachers. This has seen teaching staff from public schools moving into the private sector in large numbers.
Local tutors can be an extremely useful resource for local, and expat families and can provide support in many ways. Private tutors tend to focus not only on grade improvement but also in better study habits. Tutors additionally create customised programmes designed to address the specific strengths and weaknesses.
Bilingual, or even international schools often have classes with more than 30 students, so it's hard for teachers to help individual students. One-to-one interaction can assist students in learning faster and more effectively.
Tutors are especially useful in smoothing the transition of an expat child into a new environment. Tutors can be hired for almost any school subject as well as Thai language tuition. Some of the more popular companies include Tutors in Thailand and Learnpick.
Special needs education in Thailand.
According to the Ministry of Public Education, the nationwide average for students with learning difficulties per school falls between two to 10 percent. In Thai education law, learning difficulties are listed as qualifying for state assistance. However, in the public system special education teachers are scarce, despite a soaring demand.
For expats, there are several international schools with places for children with special needs. These schools may be more expensive and are often situated in larger cities.
Acorn to Oaks Centre, The Village Education Centre and the Reed Institute support students with special needs through after-school learning programmes, psycho-educational evaluations, occupational therapy, as well as counselling for parents and children. Many of these centres accept students from just 18 months through to 18 years.
Tertiary education in Thailand.
The Thai system of higher education is fairly extensive and university education is greatly valued. There are over 780 institutions of higher education in Thailand. Most secondary school graduates aspire for admission to one of the highly selective public universities. Admission to these universities is based primarily on success in a standardised national university entrance examination administered by the Ministry of University Affairs.
Given its central location in both Asia and Southeast Asia, Thailand has become an attractive location for international universities and students. Bangkok University International is one such institute and offers a wide range of international programs for students from more than 50 countries around the world.
Major universities include Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University, Mahidol University, Ramkamheng University and Chiang Mai University. Most bachelor degrees in Thailand have four-year full-time attendance programmes.