See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

Thai education flounders despite massive investment

Despite pouring millions of dollars into its education system, Thailand’s test scores lag far behind its neighbours.


Written by

Updated: June 19, 2018

Thailand’s revolving cadre of politicians have long-cited the education system as a necessary area for reform. The last three governments, all under opposing banners, have agreed that Thailand’s school systems need fixing with test scores lagging and an increasing deficit of  highly skilled workers.

The past three governments have seen Thailand throwing money into the education system, regularly spending 20 per cent of its annual budget in the area.

However, despite years of massive investment, Thailand still ranks far behind its competitors when it comes to test scores and rankings.

The Programme for International Students Assessment in 2017 ranked Thailand behind Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan across key subjects including math, science and reading.

Thailand’s standardized test scores also lag woefully behind with the country among the worst scorers in English language proficiency and critical thinking according to several ranking systems.

Thailand’s institutions of higher learning also do not perform well when compared to its international counterparts. Both the Time Higher Education ranking and QS World University Rankings have no Thai universities in their top 300. When compared to neighbours Singapore and Hong Kong, who have multiple universities in the top 50 of world rankings, Thailand has a lot of catching up to do.

Rigid Hierarchy

Critics have argued that Thailand’s education system, with its emphasis on rote-learning and highly hierarchical structure, allows little room for students to question, inquire and develop critical thinking skills.

Instances where students have shunned traditional values and adopted western-like mindsets have made the news with many criticizing the students for a lack of ‘Thainess.’

For example, former Chulalongkorn University student-president Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal made headlines around the country for not taking part in his school’s tradition of prostrating to a statue of King Chulalongkorn as a freshman.

Netiwit was eventually kicked out of the school’s student council for leading a delegation of students away from the oath-taking ceremony – an incident that involved a professor assaulting a student for not taking part.

The Problem

Small incidents, such as those involving Netiwit, point to a larger problem within the Thai education system.

“It is to the benefit of the military government and conservative members of the ruling class that young Thais learn a rigid system from an early age,” said a senior official at Thailand’s Ministry of Education  who asked to not be named.

“While we can debate the merits of rigid traditionalism and hierarchy, the end result is that we produce citizens who do not question, who do not inquire and who accept the system. These do not make good scientists, or inventors, or entrepreneurs.”

Since coming to power, Thailand’s ruling junta has attempted – like its democratic predecessors – to change the structure at the Ministry of Education to better test scores.

But rather than changing the rigid structure within the school system, the military has sought to entrench it.

Thailand’s Prime Minister and Junta-Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said that schools must instill 12 core values into every student. The one-time general mandated that these teachings be printed on large banners and hung from public schools.

The values, stated here without opinion, are as follows:

  1. Loyalty to the Nation, the Religion, and the Monarchy
  2. Honesty, sacrifice, endurance, and noble ideology for the greater good
  3. Gratitude for parents, guardians, and teachers
  4. Diligence in acquiring knowledge, via school studies and other methods
  5. Preserving the Thai customs and tradition
  6. Morality and good will for others
  7. Correct understanding of democracy with the King as Head of State
  8. Discipline, respect for law, and obedience to the older citizens
  9. Constant consciousness to practice good deeds all the time, as taught by His Majesty the King
  10. Practice of Self-Sufficient Economy in accordance with the teaching of His Majesty the King
  11. Physical and mental strength. Refusal to surrender to religious sins.
  12. Uphold the interest of the nation over oneself.


Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Cod Satrusayang
About the Author: Cod Satrusayang is the Managing Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

OPINION: What Asia’s election season tells us

Elections have wrapped up from Pakistan to the Philippines. In the first half of this year, four Asian giants went to the polls. Up to one billion voters were involved, all within a few weeks of one another. Team Ceritalah was on the ground in Thailand, Philippines, India and Indonesia. In Eluru in April, some two hours northeast of Amravati, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, we discovered a city pulsating with people. It was also mind-blowingly hot: some 42 degrees with music blaring out of loudspeakers as crowds waited for a candidate’s arrival. By contrast, when Team Ceritalah were in the Thai city of Phitsanulok in February, the mood was subdued and calm. Most people knew who they’d be voting for. Besides, everyone understood that the polls were a farce Back in April and just a handful of days before voting, Team Ceritalah also joined the hordes at Jakarta’s main stadium – Gelora


By The Star
June 19, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Pakistan’s healthcare system is not ready for coming epidemics

Naseem Salahuddin, an infectious disease specialist, looks at the bigger picture in Pakistan. THE Larkana HIV outbreak has opened up a can of worms throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan, exposing our feeble healthcare system — of which infectious diseases (IDs) comes into sharp focus. I do not recommend the following exposé be read by the faint-hearted, nor by those in positions of decision-making who have only observed health inequities from the comfort of their offices. It might hurt their sensibilities. A snapshot of a day in the ID department of the Indus Hospital, Karachi, will give the reader stomach-churning insights into the lives of the poor and sick. In the TB clinic, over 200 patients are waiting to be diagnosed or receive their free medicines, a third of whom have drug-resistant TB. One is a woman with both lungs destroyed by the most drug-resistant form of TB, pregnant for the n


By Dawn
June 11, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Investors still have confidence in China’s economy

An op-ed from China Daily arguing that the trade war has not dampened the country’s economic prospect. Wealthy Chinese and other Asian investors are near the top of the league tables for economic optimism worldwide. That makes sense because growth in Asia has outpaced that in the rest of the world for the past 20 years. But it does seem to overlook the intensifying US-China trade dispute, which has weighed on markets and economic activity and which ranks as the top worry for the same wealthy Asian investors who participated in a new UBS study. At first glance, it also flies in the face of the fact that wealthy Asian investors are holding large sums of their portfolios in cash, a clear sign they’d keep what they’ve got rather than put it to work-and at risk. What explains this possible contradiction? On second glance, the investors surveyed in the UBS Investor Sentiment report di


By China Daily
June 10, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Collateral Advantage: Opportunities for Asean nations in the trade war

Quinn Libson looks at how ASEAN countries could prosper despite the trade war between the US and China. Optimism about a potential trade deal between the United States and China faded in late May when President Donald Trump accused Beijing of backtracking on agreements. Trump followed up the accusation with a punitive tariff hike of more than double to 25% on Chinese goods worth $200 billion. He also threatened to increase tariffs on the remaining $300 billion worth of goods China exports to the US annually. Early in June, China responded by raising tariffs to 25% on many of the $60 billion worth US export products. When the world’s two largest economies exchange blows on goods worth billions of dollars, it’s impossible for other markets to avoid collateral consequences. Asean countries have not been spared the shocks of this trade dispute. But many are also hoping to leverage t


By Quinn Libson
June 10, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Democratic Indonesia exemplifies truly Asia

An op-ed from Niruban Balachandran in the Jakarta Post. On a warm day in 1951, my grandfather and his family landed at the old Jakarta Kemayoran Airport to begin his diplomatic service for five years at the Ceylon (as it then was, now Sri Lanka) Embassy in Indonesia. “It was one of the most joyful times of my life,” he used to tell me when I was a child. “The Indonesian people were so friendly.” With the diplomatic rank of chancellor, during the Sukarno era my grandfather studied the Indonesian language and forged strong relationships between Sri Lankan and Indonesian officials. He enrolled my mother and uncles in the new Jakarta Intercultural School, opening with a dozen students. After my grandfather retired from the Sri Lanka Overseas Service, he still embodied the qualities of excellence, public service, dignity and honor that still inspire me today. As an American of Sri Lankan descent gro


By The Jakarta Post
June 7, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

There is a cancer inside Thai democracy, and it isn’t the military

Despite numerous coups and seizures of powers, the military is not the real cancer inside Thai democracy. General Prayuth Chan-ocha was elected by Thailand’s parliament on Wednesday to continue serving as prime minister. Five years after he took power by launching a coup against a democratically elected government, Prayuth was confirmed by a mostly democratically elected parliament. It did not hurt Prayuth’s chances that he had 250 appointed members of the senate voting in his favor. The senators were all appointed by the junta, under provisions in the constitution that the junta had drafted, and voted unanimously as a bloc to make Prayuth the prime minister. It is little wonder then that Thais are up in arms about the whole affair. Many have taken to social media with the hashtag #RIPThailand and #PrayforThailand. Others posting on social media have accused the military of unfair play and setting b


By Cod Satrusayang
June 6, 2019