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Thailand's schooling system: everything you need to know

By Talk Education
28 February 2024

Thinking of moving to Thailand? Here’s everything you need to know about the country’s education system...

OVERVIEW

The schooling system in Thailand is divided into three distinct sectors: government (public), private and international schools. 

  • Government schooling is free and compulsory for nine years. Pre-school is optional, although many Thai children attend a kindergarten. Compulsory schooling begins at primary level for six years (Prathom 1-6), then moves on to lower secondary school for three years (Matthayom 1-3). After this, students have the option to go on to an upper secondary school (Matthayom 4-6) at either an academic institution or one that offers vocational training. However, this stage is not compulsory. The main language in public schools is predominantly Thai, so very few international students attend these schools. Public schools also tend to receive relatively little funding, so class sizes are usually very large.
  • Private schools are fee-paying and run according to two semesters – May to October and November to the end of February. 
  • International schools are open to both local and international students. Officially, they must hit a certain quota of non-Thai students, but with more and more affordable international schools opening over the past decade, more Thai students are being sent to them, making the rule difficult to enforce.

THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS MARKET: KEY POINTS

There are 175 international schools in Thailand (of which 118 are in Bangkok, including 38 British, 21 American and 23 IB schools), mostly offering a very high standard of education. That said, you do need to do your research as they are not all of the same calibre. 

Over the past 15 years, there has been a significant rise in the number of international schools in Thailand, with more and more
big British brand names such as Harrow, Shrewsbury, Rugby, Wellington and King’s College Wimbledon arriving. These are capturing both the local and Chinese markets. They’re seen as a compromise between sending a child to the UK, and tend to be a cheaper option than schools in Hong Kong. 

The majority of international schools are
all-through, catering for students from 3-18 years of age. There are, however, a handful that are primary only, up until the age of 11. 

All international schools are
co-ed, with one exception: North London Collegiate School, an all-girls, all-through school (it’s yet to open because of Covid-related delays). 

Schools can vary hugely in size: some have as little as 300 pupils, whereas others might have up to 2,000. 

The academic year runs from
August to June and is generally split into three terms or two semesters. 

Around
46 per cent of all students attending international schools in Thailand are Thai nationals. International schools cater to many nationalities, including Australian, American, French and Swiss. There are no restrictions on Thai nationals attending international schools. Thanks to Bangkok’s status as a financial hub, a significant number of students tend to be from Asian expat families from Japan, China, India and South Korea, drawn to these schools for the international curriculum and holistic approach to education. 

School begins in either pre-kindergarten/kindergarten or nursery/reception. Different age groups are usually split into year groups or grades, with the exception of the French Lycée in Bangkok, which refers back to its own schooling system in France. 


THE EDUCATIONAL JOURNEY

Most students start at an international school in Thailand when their family has moved from overseas (or at the very start of their educational journey). Once a child has begun their journey at an all-through school, there’s usually very little movement – pupils only tend to leave if they aren’t suited to the school or the family isn’t happy with their choice. 

When students leave their international school at 18, most continue their tertiary education globally, including (but not limited to) the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, Hong Kong and Canada. 


ADMISSIONS PROCESS

Due to the transient nature of international families, there are no specific entry points to international schools in Thailand. Admissions are on a rolling basis and offers are made as and when a space becomes available. Where possible, schools advise parents to apply one or two years ahead of entry, but there is no guarantee of a place. Schools generally do not accept applications for entry into the final year of a school. You may be required to:

  • Submit an application form and fee (non-refundable)
  • Submit an assessment fee (non-refundable)
  • Entrance requirements can vary from school to school, but may include a previous school report or an assessment and interview 
  • Pay an enrollment fee (non-refundable) or a campus development fee (refundable) once a place has been accepted 

THE CURRICULUM 

International schools in Thailand must adhere to certain guidelines set out by the Ministry of Education, but ultimately they can choose which curriculum they offer. These curricula might offer diplomas and certificates related to the nationality of the international school – Australian, American, Swiss, French, etc.

Many schools also offer IGCSEs and A-levels or the International Baccalaureate as part of a British curriculum.

It is compulsory for all Thai students to learn Thai language – and all foreign students must spend at least an hour a week learning about Thai culture (a Ministry of Education directive). International schools often encourage younger students to learn Thai too, but as pupils get older the offering will generally include Mandarin, French and Spanish. 


BOARDING

A number of international schools in Thailand offer boarding.

In recent years, there has been a big increase in the number of Chinese families looking for a boarding experience for their children without having to go all the way to the UK. As a result, many big-name UK schools have opened schools in Thailand to capture the Chinese market and offer a similar education at a cheaper price compared to the UK or Hong Kong. 


WHAT’S CHANGING?

The international-schools scene in Thailand is booming – and more and more big-brand names have been arriving, These schools are seeing a growing number of enquiries from China at their UK branches, and so are establishing themselves in Thailand (considered to be one of the safest, cheapest and most stable countries in Asia). School fees at an international school in Thailand are often up to 40 per cent cheaper than the sibling school in the UK, and up to 25 per cent cheaper than in Hong Kong – so it’s a win-win situation. 

AND FINALLY…

If you are considering an international day school in Bangkok, remember to choose one close to where you live. The traffic in the city can be terrible – and drop-off and pick-up times will coincide with rush hour! 

Home schooling is legal in Thailand – parents must submit an application to the Ministry of Education, and children are required to sit annual assessments and take national exams.