Thailand is a country about the size of Texas with a population of over 64.8 million. The literacy rate for males is over 97% for males and 93% for females. 95% percent of the population is Buddhist, and it has been a constitutional monarch since 1932. At that time, education was seen as a tool towards progress and preservation of a democratic society and the development of a modern nation. Historically, the people of Thailand saw education as a “continuing lifelong process.” Furthermore, Thailand , unlike much of Southeast Asia, was never colonized by European powers and, indeed, has its own national calendar.
Prior to the mid-1800s, education was primarily provided by the Buddhist Monks in monasteries to young men, for the ‘clergy’ and the elite. In 1868, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) began to introduce aspects of “modern” education that clearly had a Western influence. Part of the goal of this “modern” education was to train an educated group of bureaucrats.
Education in Thailand can be divided into three historic time periods: 1) The Early Modernization Period (1889-1931), with influence from the British in terms of educational structure; 2) The Post-Revolution Period (1932-1949), emphasizing expansion of education to provide higher education to more of the population and 3) The Development Planning Period (1950-present).
Today, education in Thailand follows the 1997 Constitution, the National Education Act of B.E. 2542 (1999) and the Amended National Education Act of 2002 (covering a period of 15 years from 2002 – 2016), with the continued expansion of educational opportunities throughout the country. Today, there are 123 higher education institutions both public and recognized private universities.
Under a new structure proposed in 2002 and implemented in 2003, the Ministry of Education (MOE) oversees all aspects of elementary and secondary education as well as post-secondary education. The Commission on Higher Education (formerly known as the Ministry of University Affairs) is now under the MOE and is responsible for overseeing the degree granting institutions made up of public and private universities, Rajabhat Institutes/Universities (teacher training college) autonomous institutions as well as Rajamangala Institutes/Universities of Technology (technology institutions). As of 2003, there were over 1.9 million students enrolled in higher education.
A number of other ministries have responsibility for education as well. For example, colleges of physical education, under the Department of Physical Education, are housed in the Ministry of Tourism and Sport. The structure of education in all fields must follow a specific outline, however. The various departments and ministries responsible for specialized education design their own curriculums, adhering to MOE guidelines. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives are responsible for school of veterinary, the Ministry of Transport merchant marine training institutes, Ministry of Defense for armed services colleges and academies, Ministry of Public Health oversees many of the nursing colleges, just to name a few.
Primary and Secondary Education
Since 1977, the educational pattern has been 6 + 3 + 3. There is an optional two years of free pre-school education. Since 2002, 12 years of free education has been offered to all. Today, compulsory education covers nine years of school. This includes six years of primary / elementary education and three years of lower secondary education. Schooling generally begins at age six or seven. Education at all levels emphasizes the following subjects: Thai language, mathematics, science, social science, religion and culture, health and physical education, art, career and technical-related education, as well as a foreign language.
During the final three years of upper secondary education, students are streamed into general/academic or vocational education. According to the MOE, approximately 60% of the student body at this level enters the general/academic stream. At the end of the general/academic stream, students receive the Matayom VI.
Those students who follow the technical and vocational education (TVE) path attend schools administered by the Vocational Education Commission / Office of Vocational Education Commission, which is a branch of the Ministry of Education. At the secondary school level, students in the TVE stream study for three years and upon completion receive the Certificate in Vocational Education.
The academic calendar year is June to March, with vacation / summer session April and May. The language of instruction is in Thai. However, there are a number of universities and programs offered in English. Assumption University solely offers instruction in English.
Higher education is provided by universities, institutes, colleges, and other specialized institutions (i.e. police cadet, military, Buddhist universities). Entrance to post-secondary level study (public and private) has traditionally been based on an entrance examination. Recent reforms (since 1999) have implemented a new schema. The grade point average in years 10 – 12 are now taken into consideration for admission to universities, colleges and institutes, as well as the student’s percentile rank. The ranking is based on school criteria. However, the entrance examination continues to count for 90% of the admissions decision making process. The examinations cover 15 main subjects: chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, general science, Thai, English, social study, French, German, Pali language, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. Beginning in 2006, university admission moved toward increased dependence on the GPA of the 3-5 main subjects in high school and less on the national exam.
First Cycle, Academic
The four-year bachelor’s degree is offered by colleges, universities and institutes. The four-year program requires 120 – 150 credits for completion, of which 30 are in general education (physical science, mathematics, English, social science and humanities and free electives). A five-year degree is offered in the fields of fine arts, pharmacy and architecture. Medicine, dentistry and veterinary science are all first university degrees that require six years of study. A new five-year bachelor’s degree was proposed in 2004 to train teachers.
First Cycle, Vocational/Technical
Technical and vocational education at the post-secondary level leads to a two-year Technical Diploma / Associate degree, followed by an additional two years of study leading to the Higher Diploma / Degree. This is offered in eight major fields of study: agriculture, trade and industry, home economics, fisheries, business and tourism, arts and crafts, textiles and commerce. In general, there is an apprentice-ship or training component to these programs.
The two-year diploma (Technical Diploma / Associate Degree) is offered by a number of institutions, including Rajabhat Universities (formerly Institutes) – teacher training schools, Rajamangala Institutes of Technology, colleges of physical education, drama or fine arts, as well as the technical and vocational institutes mentioned above. Students can transfer to a bachelor’s degree level program upon completion, either at another or the same institution.
Second and Third Cycles
Master degrees are from one to two-years in length (36 credits minimum), followed by the doctorate (Ph.D.) degree. There are also ‘Advanced Diplomas / Certificates’ that range from one to two years (24 credits minimum) of study for those who also hold a bachelor’s degree.