With the arrival of 2015 and the opening of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), we will soon see if Thailand’s aspirations for this new era can be realised successfully. Of particular interest is Thailand’s ambitious plan to become the centre for international education in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on develop its already well-established network of international schools.
Considering the well documented troubles of Thailand’s national education system, it may seem somewhat ambitious for Thailand to strive towards dominating the international education sector in this region. But despite the failings of the national education system, Thailand’s international education sector has experienced huge growth and the Kingdom has developed some world class international institutions. Looking more closely at the situation it appears that Thailand’s ambitions are more realistic than they initially appear.
The idea to develop Thailand as an international education hub has been around for some time and has survived successive governments (an achievement in its own right). In 2007 Commerce Ministry Permanent Secretary Karun Kittisataporn addressed a gathering of international educators at the Thailand International Education Exhibition expressing his belief that Thailand had strong high potential to be become the international education hub of Asia. In 2013, the Office of the Higher Education Commission reconfirmed its commitmentto this goal.
According to the International School Consultancy Group there are now 173 international schools which between them educate just over 60,000 students, compared to just five international schools in the early 1990s. The dramatic increase of the past two decades can be attributed directly to the 1991 Education Act which allowed Thai children to enroll in international schools, an option many better off Thai families were only too glad to take given the dismal state of the national education system.
The relatively low costs of international education in Thailand is another point that makes the country a popular destination for international students. International school fees vary from around US$6,000 per year in schools upcountry to around US$20,000 per year at some of the top schools in Bangkok. While these fees are clearly expensive for the average Thai family, they remain competitively priced when compared with the costs of schooling in the West or other parts of Asia. For example the average fees for international schools in Hong Kong and Singapore are between US$15,000 – 28,000, while in Beijing schools fees frequently exceed US$35,000 per year.
Compare this to sending children to a UK boarding school where fees are rarely below US$50,000 per year and Thailand’s international schools suddenly appear great value. And it’s important to note that this variation in price is not linked to educational standards but the cost of living. International school examination bodies and accreditation organisations have extremely high standards. Furthermore, the actual curriculum and qualifications from international schools remain the same. The factor that has the greatest influence on educational quality is the schools’ leaders and teachers. Thailand’s high livability attracts educators from across the world and it may be that this is the defining factors that will help Thailand succeed in becoming a hub for international education.