Education in Thailand vs. The United States

By Mia Angelis and Carolina Magana

The educational system in the United States varies when compared to other countries around the world. In the U.S. Students attend primary and secondary school for a combined total of 12 years. Students begin elementary school at the age of six, before that, some students are put in a preschool. Going to preschool is not obligated, even though it is highly encouraged. Once students finish elementary school, they move onto middle school which now becomes part of secondary schooling. Students attend middle school for three to four years and then attend high school. In high school, they receive a certificate if they are able to graduate with the credits necessary. Students will then attend college if they wish to do so once they receive their diploma.

Students are in school for about nine months out of the year. The two major breaks are summer and winter break. Schools in the U.S. have a different grading system as well. Academic transcripts consist of “grades” and “grade point average” which are measurements of your achievement. In the U.S., there are different types of higher education such as institutions, colleges, universities, and private institutions. In the U.S., state governments set overall educational standards. Funding comes from state, local, and federal government. Education in the U.S. is free during primary and secondary education. Some schools charge student fees, but all public schools are free when enrolling.

The educational system in Thailand consists of a free basic education for twelve years, something the U.S. and Thailand have in common. In 2009, the Ministry of Education announced the extension of a free mandatory education to fifteen years. The school structure in Thailand is divided into four key stages. The stages are divided into Prathom and Matthayom. The first two levels is called Prathom and the last two are called Matthayom. The upper secondary level of schooling is divided into academic and vocational streams. There are academic upper secondary schools, vocational upper secondary schools, and comprehensive schools offering academic and vocational tracks. Students who choose the academic stream usually intend to enter a university.

Admission to an upper secondary school is through and entrance exam. Students take a test after the complete each level. The test is called NET (National Educational Test) in order to graduate. Students in Thailand are required to attend all six years of elementary school and at least the first three years of high school. Village and sub district schools usually provide pre-school kindergarten. Due to budgetary limitations, rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the cities. The school year in Thailand varies a lot from the school year in the U.S. Students attend school from May to October and then from November to March. Formal education has its early origins in the temple schools, when it was only offered to boys.

Special Education in Thailand

When Thai education originated there were two institutions that the education system heavily revolved around:

  1. Religious Education and 2. Royal Education.

Religious education primarily focused around “…Buddhist monks [being] taught education to boys only…” (Hill & Sukbunpant 120). Royal education, which was designed primarily for children of upper class or royal families, was designed for children to learn the ways of the court and governing policies.

The Thai education consists of 6 years of primary schooling and 6 years of secondary schooling— not including the preschool-readiness program that students who are of age attend to prepare themselves for the basics of school. As most education systems are, the Thai education is rich in history and has a beautiful story of its own.

The following section is going to address special education in the Thai education system. The history of special education in Thailand is very similar to the history of other Buddhist countries, and for those in education, it [the history] will seem similar to that of many other countries as well. For children in Thailand who were born with or developed disabilities, they were “…seen as a symbol that the family night have committed some sin in the past. Persons with disabilities were considered useless and worthless with no future” (Driedger et. al, 1989). Due to this extremely harsh accusation many children with disabilities received no education and were kept in home. Sukbunpant says, “Even with the compulsory educational act in 1935, The Ministry of Education allowed a child to stay at home because of his/her disability condition.”

As do many things in the education world, they progress and change… frequently. 1939 a woman by the name of Genevieve Caulfield …

(Learn more about Caulfield here…

…broke through the initial brick wall by being the first blind American teacher who provided Thai special education. She was the spokeswoman for independence, perseverance, and capability. Caulfield paved the way for many Thai individuals who have a disability. However, Caulfield did not stop there she continued to make Thai education accessible for those who were always told it never would be, by creating the Bangkok School for the Blind.

She also funded the “Foundation for the Blind under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen. It is believed that special education in Thailand was officially organized from that time” (Hill & Sukbunpant 121).

After Caulfield made the advancement in special education like she had, everything else seemed to steadily fall into place.

Shown below is the diagram of the education system for children with disabilities:

The breakdown of this chart is as followed:

  1. Inclusive education in regular school—This option is rather self-explanatory and means that students with disabilities have the ability to attend school in a regular school and not be segregated.
  2. Special school for a specific disability—These schools are offered from kindergarten to high school and any student with a disability is able to attend. There are schools for those who are hearing impaired, visually impaired, physical impairment, and intellectual impairment. These schools are specifically designed for the needs of their students.
  3. Home school—Parents teach their children at home, in order to do so; however, they must register with a school network or provincial special education center.
  4. Community or private organization—This is where special education units form in community groups or from an individual. There is collaboration between these groups and the local special education center.
  5. Hospitals—Similar to the United States, hospitals support children who have sever intellectual disabilities, autism and/or psychiatric problems. In these scenarios it is often a teacher comes into the hospital to help a specific child or multiple children.
  6. Special education center—These centers provide support and are overseen by the Ministry of Education. There are a variety of services provided ranging from early intervention for the child as well as the parents. “All Thai provinces have special education centers, which provide early intervention services promoting the child’s development, referral system to a regular school, and parent training” (Hill & Sukbunpant 122).
  7. Informal educational and sheltered workshops—This option, in particular, I find very unique. This option is stated as such: “These children and their parents have the right to choose the system best suited for the student. This system is a lifelong learning for them. For example, they can study in the distance-university or train in some short course” there are options for students who are still in school and those who have left school (Hill & Sukbunpant 122).

The Thai education is extensive and as years have progressed their education has attempted to do the same. With every education system there are flaws and areas that need improvement and that is not to say the Thai education system is exempt; however, to see the progress and attempts that have been made to integrate students with special needs is extensive and hopeful.

TESOL in Thailand

In Thailand, only 27% of the population speaks English. Right now learning english is mostly only available to people with money or people who live in big cities because that is where or to who TESOL, or teaching english as a second language is most accessible. Learning English is becoming more and more important to learn for Thai people because it increases job opportunity and it is expected and hoped that the population of people who know English and the opportunities to learn english will increase and become more available in future years.

In many cities in Thailand, both elementary and secondary levels have special programs for students called the English Program. In this program students can learn almost every subject in English except for Thai and Social Studies. Also in elementary and secondary schools students take a national exam at the end of years 3, 6, and 9. This exam includes many different subjects including testing students knowledge of the english language. Lastly, In 2010 it became a requirement that students take 3 entrance exams to get into universities. One of these entrance exams, the General Aptitude Test (GAT), tests English proficiency.

At the university level the language of instruction is Thai, although now there are an increasing number of international programs taught in English that are offered, and recent reforms have made English mandatory one day a week in schools. Bangkok University, Mahidol University and Chiang Mai University offer some of their programs in English, while Assumption University and the Asian Institute of Technology offer all programs in English.  

While Thailand is making large strides when it comes to teaching and learning English, budetary limitations do affect a majority of the population and rural schools  are generally less well equipped than the schools in the cities and TESOL options are less available. Because of these limitations some high school students to commute 60-80 kilometers or 40-50 miles to a school that offers TESOL or English taught classes in order to have a chance of attending a university. Hopefully in future year learning the english language will become more common in Thailand and a higher percentage of students will have the opportunity to take TESOL classes without money or location hindering them.


Blind and Teacher of the Blind, Chalkboard Champion Genevieve Caulfield. (2014, June 14). Retrieved May 10, 2017, from

Clark, N. (2014, March 3). Education in Thailand. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from


Special Needs Education in Thailand – Thailand. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from

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