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 Home > About Thailand > Education


| Historical | Modern Education | High Education | ...

Historical Background

The earliest form of education may be said to have begun in the middle of the Sukhothai period (13th Century) when King Ramkhamhaeng invented the Thai alphabet. Stone inscriptions of that period tell of moral, intellectual and cultural education.

Early education was, however, limited to mainly the aristocracy and the clergy. It was necessary for princes to be literate so that they could administer their provinces and communicate with the palace in the capital, while monks had to know how to read the religious texts from which they preached sermons to the laity. The remainder of society were either in service or engaged in farming so they had little need for reading skills, village lore being transmitted orally.

Buddhist monasteries were virtually the only source of semi-public education and only a very small portion of the population, mostly male, received any formal education.

The reign of King Mongkut (1851 - 1865) saw the turning point of modernization in Thailand and the growth of Western influence. The first printing press was set up and education patterns of Thai children were restructured to suit the new needs of the nation. The knowledge of English became a necessary tool and an English teacher was hired to teach the royal children. The King himself had mastered English and Latin.

The modernization policy was further pursued by King Chulalongkorn (1868 - 1910) who, realizing the need for better trained personnel for royal and government services, opened a school in the Palace. An 'English School' was also established in the Palace to prepare princes and court children for further studies abroad. Schools were also founded outside the palace for the children of commoners and government textbooks were printed for use in Bangkok and, at a later period, in the provinces.

The Department of Education was established in 1887 with the full responsibility of education and religious affairs of the entire country. When it became a full-fledged Ministry in 1982 new approaches were employed, placing more emphasis on 'popular education'. Thus government primary schools were established throughout the kingdom so that literacy, good citizenship and a better standard of living for the people could be achieved.

The early 20th Century witnessed many developments in education in Thailand. In 1910 the first university in Thailand, Chulalongkorn University, was founded with four faculties namely, Medicine, Law and Political Science, Engineering, and Arts and Science.

The extent of responsibilities and the regulations pertaining to the participation of the private sector in national education was laid down for the first time in 1918 when the Private School Act was passed. The 'Compulsory Primary Education Act' was proclaimed in 1921 and the first school of Arts and Crafts was established in 1922.

After the adoption of the system of constitutional monarchy in the year 1932, a National Educational Scheme was formulated, making formal recognition of individual educational ability, regardless of sex, social background, or physical conditions. This scheme has been regularly revised to ensure that every citizen is provided with the four major aspects of education, namely, Puttisuksa (Intellectual education), Chariyasuksa (Moral education), Palasuksa (Physical education), and Hattasuksa (Practical education).

Modern Education

The education system in current practice provides six years at the primary level, three years at the lower secondary level, three years at the upper secondary level, and four years at the tertiary level. Although only six years of primary schooling are now compulsory, a project to widen access to lower secondary level has been actively implemented nationwide by a special Cabinet approval since 1987. The widening access is a first step towards an eventual goal of nine-year compulsory education.

Administrative Structure

The major government and private organizations which are directly or indirectly involved in the development and implementation of education include the Ministry of Education, the National Education Commission, and the Ministry of University Affairs. They are entrusted with planning, administering, and coordinating the national education. Almost all formal and non-formal education is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. However, specialized schools such as the Border Patrol Police schools of the Police Department and schools operated by the Office of the Bangkok Metropolitan Education Commission are operated by departments within the Ministry of Interior. The Office of the National Primary Education Commission handles the largest percentage (63.5%) of students in the overall education system. The remainder are the responsibility of the Private Education Commission (PEC) and the Department of General Education.

Non-formal Education

Adult education was introduced in Thailand in 1940 in an attempt to educate those excluded from the school population. Educational programs offered stress both literacy [level 1-4] and vocational skills and can be found throughout the country.

Special training services are also provided for low-income groups in urban and rural areas, new labor market entrants, the unemployed, and certain categories of people such as ex-convicts, homeless, and sexually-exploited persons who require skills to make them active contributors to society.

Special and Welfare Education

Special education refers to the provision of education for all kinds of disabled and handicapped children, including the deaf, the blind, and the mentally retarded, while welfare education caters to the culturally and socially handicapped such as hilltribe children, slum children, and children of lepers. To ensure that such children receive an equal opportunity in education, and education suitable for their abilities, special schools and welfare schools equipped with special educational programs and facilities have been established throughout the country.

Vocational Schools and Specialized Institutes

Seeing the necessity to adapt the educational system to the development and labor needs of the country, vocational educational and training has been given much promotion. Various types of courses and training programs are offered and administered by the Department of Vocational Education and the Institute of Technology and Vocational Education.

There are eight levels of studies programmed to suit the student's previous academic background, ranging from the semi-skilled level, offered to students who have completed the lower secondary level, to technical teacher training programs[degree level], open to holders of Higher Certificates in Technical Education with high academic records and a desire to become technical teachers in colleges and vocational training centers.

Teacher education has undergone various changes since 1892, when the teacher training school for elementary school teachers was founded. In the 1960's a larger number of teacher training institutions were established to meet an urgent demand for more teachers. This expansion was precipitated by three major factors: the extension of compulsory education, population growth, and the availability of secondary education to a lager population. The attention that has been paid to expanding teacher education was evident in the dramatic increase in teacher. However, this effort was concentrated on the quantitative rather than on the qualitative. At present there is concern about improving the quality of the teacher education programs.


Higher education is the principle concern of the Ministry of University Affairs, which coordinates the operation of state universities and 26 privately operated universities and colleges. Education at this level copes with the thousands of secondary school leavers wishing to continue their study further. At present there are 42 universities and 36 teacher colleges in Thailand, many of them established since 1960. The first university, Chulalongkorn, was founded in 1917. In keeping with a government plan to decentralized education, many universities have been established in provincial centers scattered throughout the country, with status fully equal to universities in Bangkok. These include Chiang Mai University in the north, Khon Kaen University in the northeast, and Prince of Songkhla University in the city of Pattani in the south. These universities offer a wide variety of courses at the Bachelor's Degree level, covering such fields as Agriculture, Archaeology, Architecture, Arts, Business Administration, Education, Economics, Engineering, Humanities, Law, Medicine and Nursing, Science, and Statistics.

The language of instruction at universities is Thai, with the exception of the economics major courses at Thammasat University, which are conducted in English. Special courses given in English are arranged for foreign students at the discretion of the university. Scholarships are provided by the government and private sector for outstanding and needy students.

In addition to conventional universities, two open universities have been established to expand educational opportunities for working people and secondary school graduates. One of these, Ramkhamhaeng University, provides campus instruction in Humanity Science, supplemented by television and radio programs, while the other, Sukhothai Thammatirat Open University, employs television and radio programs as well as correspondence courses and cassette tapes. The latter is said to be the most modern and best-equipped open university in South East Asia.

Not all of the institutes at the higher education level come under the responsibility of the Office of University Affairs. The Police Cadet Academy at Sampran District, for example, is under the supervision of the Police Education Bureau, whereas Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy at Kao Chajok is both academically and financially the responsibility of the Institute of Army Academies of the Ministry of Defence. such academies offer certificates equivalent to the Bachelor's Degree to their graduates, who go on to serve as police or military officers. Education beyond the Bachelor's Degree level is also available for military officers. The Armed Force Staff College is reserved for high-ranking officers at the administrative level who wish to pursue special training in military planning and administration.

Education at the degree level is also extended to Buddhist monks as well. There are two Buddhist universities, Maha Chulalongkorn University, established with the approval of the Ecclesiastical Elders' Council and budgetary support from the Department of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Education.

Outlook for Thailand in the Seventh Plan

Thailand has undergone rapid changes during the last two decades. The pace in likely to continue or even accelerate during the period of the Seventh National Economic and Social Development Plan (1992-1996). Thailand is being transformed from an agricultural country to an agro-industrial or even an industrialized country. Thai society is changing from being a traditionally rural one to an urban society. Thai people are faced with these changes to which they must adapt themselves. Therefore they need the kind of education that prepares them adequately for new demands and new lifestyles. The current basic education of six years must be extended to materials and other electronic media such as computers and television will play an increasingly significant role in an educational system that is becoming more flexible and accessible to everyone at all levels and at all times. The existing learning network must be expanded to attain a national coverage. There must be more decentralization of administrative power and more public or local participation in developing the curriculum to suit the needs of each locality. These are the new dimensions of education for the future.

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