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Expats moving to the Land of Smiles with children will find that education and schools in Thailand can vary considerably. Newly arrived parents can either opt for a local public school or a private international school. However, local public schools teach in Thai and are only free for Thai children, so most expat families either send their children to an international school or a private school with an English programme.
Public schools in Thailand
There are some excellent public schools in Thailand, most of which are in Bangkok. Some of these are associated with prestigious local universities that use the school to train student teachers.
There are also public schools that are well below the standards expats may be used to. Many public schools, particularly those in rural areas, lack funding. Large classes are the norm, making it more difficult for each child to receive individual attention.
Public education in Thailand is free for Thai nationals. To be considered a Thai national, the child must have at least one Thai parent. Children who don't meet these requirements aren’t usually eligible for free public education in Thailand, meaning the family will have to pay tuition fees.
Education in Thailand is compulsory from age six to 15, where children are mandated to attend six years of primary school and three years of lower secondary school. Upper secondary school is optional and there are academic and vocational options available to students.
English Programme schools in Thailand
The English Programme (EP) is a government initiative offered by several public and private schools. In an EP class, almost all subjects are taught in English by a teacher hired from abroad. Some schools have more comprehensive EPs than others – classes may be held in a small section of a Thai-speaking school or larger programmes may be set in entirely separate buildings.
Public and private schools with EPs charge both Thai nationals and expats for these classes. Though private schools are pricier than public schools, fees are still well below those of international schools.
For families who plan to live in Thailand long term, English Programme 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 bilingual education.
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, though there are also international schools teaching the programmes of countries such as France and Germany.
All of these institutions are accredited by external bodies, and it follows that both learning standards and the criteria for hiring teachers are generally high. Many Thai families prefer to send their children to these schools.
These schools are also almost always well financed, boasting modern facilities, small class sizes and an impressive range of extracurricular activities. This does come at a price, though, with international school fees being notoriously high.
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 between schools, but it's always best to start the admissions and enrolment process as early as possible.
Homeschooling in Thailand
Homeschooling in Thailand is legal. The country's constitution explicitly recognises alternative education and considers the family 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. However, it is still advised that expats follow a standardised curriculum and thoroughly document everything to validate progress with an assessor upon returning to their home country.
Special-needs education in Thailand
In Thai education law, learning difficulties are listed as qualifying for state assistance. However, in the public system, special education teachers are scarce, despite there being a demand for them.
Many international schools offer support for special needs, often at an additional price. The level of support varies from school to school, so it's worthwhile to investigate different options.
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 a useful resource for local and expat families and can provide support in many ways, including assistance with problem subjects and the development of study strategies. Tutors are especially useful in smoothing the transition of an expat child into a new environment as well as helping learn the local language.