History of Education in Thailand

Formal education has its early origins in the temple schools, when it was available to boys only. From the mid-sixteenth century Thailand opened up to significant French Catholic influence until the mid-seventeenth century when it was heavily curtailed, and the country returned to a strengthening of its own cultural ideology. Unlike other parts of South and Southeast Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia and the Philippines which had all benefited from the influence of countries with centuries of educational tradition, Thailand has never been colonised by a Western power. As a result, structured education on the lines of that in developed countries was slow to evolve until it gained new impetus with the reemergence of diplomacy in the late nineteenth century.

Early education
It is possible that one of the earliest forms of education began when King Ram Khamhaeng the Great invented the Thai alphabet in 1283 basing it on Mon, Khmer, and Southern Indian scripts. Stone inscriptions from 1292 in the new script depict moral, intellectual and cultural aspects. During the Sukhothai period (1238-1378), education was dispensed by the Royal Institution of Instruction (Rajabundit) to members of the royal family and the nobility, while commoners were taught by Buddhist monks.

In the period of the Ayutthaya kingdom from 1350 to 1767 during the reign of King Narai the Great (1656-1688), the Chindamani, generally accepted as the first textbook of the Thai language, collating the grammar. The prosody of Thai language and official forms of correspondence was written by a monk, Pra Horatibodi, in order to stem the foreign educational influence of the French Jesuit schools It remained in use up to King Chulalongkorn's reign (1868-1910). Narai himself was a poet, and his court became the center where poets congregated to compose verses and poems. Although through his influence interest in Thai literature was significantly increased, Catholic missions had been present with education in Ayutthaya as early as 1567 under Portuguese Dominicans and French Jesuits were given permission to settle in Ayutthaya in 1662. His reign therefore saw major developments in diplomatic missions to and from Western powers.

On Narai's death, fearing further foreign interference in Thai education and culture, and conversion to Catholicism, xenophobic sentiments at court increased and diplomatic activities were severely reduced and ties with the West and any forms of Western education were practically severed. They did not recover their former levels until the reign of King Mongkut in the mid-nineteenth century.

Through his reforms of the Buddhist Sangha, King Rama I (1782-1809), accelerated the development of public education and during the reign of King Rama IV (1851-1865) the printing press arrived in Thailand making books available in the Thai language for the first time; English had become the lingua franca of the Far East, and the education provided by the monks was proving inadequate for government officials. Rama IV decreed that measures be taken to modernise education and insisted that English would be included in the curriculum.

King Rama V (1868-1910) continued to influence the development of education and in 1871 the first relatively modern concept of a school with purpose constructed building, lay teachers and a time-table was opened in the palace to teach male members of the royal family and the sons of the nobility. The Command Declaration on Schooling was proclaimed, English was being taught in the palace for royalty and nobles, and schools were set up outside the palace for the education of commoners' children. With the aid of foreign - mainly English - advisers a Department of Education was established by the king in 1887 by which time 34 schools, with over 80 teachers and almost 2,000 students, were in operation and as part of the king's programme to establish ministries, in 1892 the department became the Ministry of Education. Recognizing that the private sector had come to share the tasks of providing education, the government introduced controls for private schools.

In 1897 on the initiative of Queen Sribajarindra, girls were admitted into the educational system. In 1898, a two-part education plan for Bangkok and for the provinces was launched with programmes for pre-school, elementary, secondary, technical, and higher education. In 1901, the first government school for girls, the Bamrung Wijasatri, was set up in Bangkok, and in 1913, the first teacher training school for women was set up at the Benchama Rajalai School for girls. Further developments took place when in 1902 the plan was remodeled by National System of Education in Siam into the two categories of general education, and professional/ technical education, imposing at the same time age limits for admission to encourage graduation within predetermined time scales.

The first university is named after King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), and was established by his son and successor King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in 1917 by combining the Royal Pages School and the College of Medicine. In 1921, the Compulsory Elementary Education Act was proclaimed.

The bloodless revolution in 1932 that transferred absolute power from the king to democratic government encouraged further development and expansion of schools and tertiary institutions. The first National Education Scheme was introduced formally granting access to education regardless of ability, gender, and social background.
In 1960, compulsory education was extended to seven years, and for the first time special provisions were made for disabled children, who were originally exempted from compulsory education. In 1961, the government began a series of five-year plans, and many of the extant purpose-built school buildings, particularly the wooden village elementary schools, and the early concrete secondary schools date from around this time.

In 1977, the key stages of elementary and secondary education were changed from a 4-3-3-2 year structure to the 6-3-3 year system that is in use today.

Recent developments
From early 2001, under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Ministry of Education began developing new national curriculum in an endeavour to center the system of education on the child, or student-centred learning methods.

The years from 2001 to 2006 showed some improvements in education, such as computers in the schools and an increase in the number of qualified native-speaker teachers for foreign languages. Experiments with restructuring the administrative regions for education or partly decentralizing the responsibility of education to the provinces were conducted. By 2008, however, little real change had been made, and many attempts to establish a clear form of university entrance qualification had also failed due to combinations of political interference, attempts to confer independence (or to remove it) on the universities, administrative errors, and inappropriate or mismatched syllabuses in the schools.

Twelve values
Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thailand's prime minister and junta leader, says school reform is urgently needed. Following the military takeover of May 2014, Prayut, in a televised broadcast in July, ordered schools to display a list of 12 "Thai" values he composed. They are:
Loyalty to the Nation, the Religion, and the Monarchy
Honesty, sacrifice, endurance, and noble ideology for the greater good
Gratitude for parents, guardians, and teachers
Diligence in acquiring knowledge, via school studies and other methods
Preserving the Thai customs and tradition
Morality and good will for others
Correct understanding of democracy with the King as Head of State
Discipline, respect for law, and obedience to the older citizens
Constant consciousness to practice good deeds all the time, as taught by His Majesty the King
Practice of Self-Sufficient Economy in accordance with the teaching of His Majesty the King
Physical and mental strength. Refusal to surrender to religious sins.
Uphold the interest of the nation over oneself.
Authorities instructed public schools and state agencies to hang a banner listing Gen Prayut's teachings on their premises. State agencies have also produced a poem, song, and 12-part film based on the teachings. In late-December 2014, the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Telecommunications (MICT) released a set of "stickers" depicting each of the Twelve Values for users of the chat application LINE.

Military training for kindergartners
The military government under Prayut Chan-o-cha instituted a "land defender battalion" program to teach uniformed children aged four and five to do push-ups, crawl under netting, salute, and eat from metal trays on the floor. "Soldiers showed children military operations and taught them patriotic values to love the nation, religions, and the Thai monarchy through the...12 Thai Values," according to the Thai-language news outlet Matichon Online. The news site reported that this is the second time that the Royal Thai Army has run the program, and said that many more schools and kindergartens will join the program in the future.

Recent research
On 27 May 2015, the Ministry of Public Health released Thai student IQ survey results. They indicate that the IQ of Grade 1 students has dropped from 94 in 2011 to 93. The international standard is 100.

It is highly possible that Thailand's education system is harming student IQs. While the IQ of pre-school students is acceptable, IQ drops as primary schooling commences, suggesting a need for changes at schools. The IQ of students in rural areas is considerably lower, at just 89. This difference persists at university. While studies have found the IQ of Bangkok university students averages 115, the IQ of provincial university students is 5-8 points lower.

Alarmingly, the low IQ levels in the recent survey confirm continuing high levels of intellectual disability: IQ levels lower than 70, also termed "mildly impaired or delayed". The average global percentage of such students is 2 percent. However, a previous 2011 survey found that 6.5 percent of Thai students scored in this range. The recent results suggest intellectual disability in some rural areas could now be up to 10 percent.

One cause of lower IQs might be traced to nutrition. WHO research suggests iodine deficiency accounts for losses of between 10-15 IQ points. However, according to Thailand's 2012 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, only 71 percent of Thai households consume enough iodised salt, falling to 54 percent in the poorest households. There is again a huge regional disparity, with 82 percent of households in Bangkok and only 54 percent of households in Thailand's northeast consuming adequately iodised salt. The regions with the lowest IQs are those same areas with the highest iodine deficiency.

In July 2015, the Thai Department of Health initiated a program to provide better nutrition and health education at Thai public schools. Its aims are to increase average IQ from 94 to 100 and boost the average height of children. Currently boys measure on average 167 cm and girls 157 cm. Over the 10-year life of the program heights are targeted to increase to 175 cm and 165 cm respectively. Children at schools across the country will receive healthier meals and more instruction on healthy living and exercise.

In 2015, a World Bank study concluded that "...one-third of 15-year-old Thais are 'functionally illiterate'", including almost half of those studying in rural schools. The bank suggested that Thailand reform its education system partly through merging and optimising its more than 20,000 schools nationwide. The alternative is hiring 160,000 more teachers for up-country schools in order to match Bangkok's teacher-student ratios. The Economist notes that, "Thailand's dismal performance is not dramatically out of step with countries of similar incomes. But it is strange given its unusually generous spending on education, which in some years has hoovered up more than a quarter of the budget. Rote learning is common. There is a shortage of maths and science teachers, but a surfeit of physical-education instructors. Many head teachers lack the authority to hire or fire their own staff."

Secondary school admissions protest
In May 2012, parents and students at the prestigious Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School, commonly referred to as "Bodin", in Bangkok staged a hunger strike to protest what they viewed as admissions irregularities. The issue arose when 200 Bodin students were denied the right to continue their studies at the school at the end of the 2011 school year. The students suspected that school executives had taken away their seats to give to children of parents willing to pay huge sums of "tea money" or bribes. Admission to popular schools can cost "tea money" sums up to seven figures. The greater the competition, the higher the amount of donations the parents believe they have to offer in exchange for their children's chances to get a good education at a quality school.

Status of teachers
Thai society holds teachers in high regard as evidenced by naming one day of the year as "Teacher's Day." But the high esteem held for Thai teachers does not extend to their pay packets. "Thai teachers, as well as university lecturers, are not as well paid as their colleagues in Malaysia or Singapore, not to mention those in the United States or Europe," according to the Bangkok Post. This has led to the finding that each Thai teacher may be up to three million baht in debt. The government is taking steps to ameliorate the plight of teachers by refinancing loans owed to "formal" lenders.