Education is free for Thai nationals at government schools. To be considered a Thai national, the child must have at least one Thai parent and the birth must have been registered in Thailand. The main language of instruction is in Thai, with English as a second language from Grade 5. The academic year runs from May to March.
Thailand has a well-established network of international schools, and its international education sector has experienced huge growth in the past two decades.
The country has come a long way since the opening of its first international school – International School Bangkok (ISB) – in 1951. Today, there are more than 180 international schools educating more than 60,000 students, compared to just five international schools in the early 1990s.
There is a mix of independent schools, international branches of British public schools such as Harrow and Rugby, and those run by global international school groups such as Nord Anglia Education, UWC and Cognita.
There are at least seven new international schools opening between 2017-2019, so the choice is widening year on year. The new schools include Brighton College, Rugby School Thailand, Shrewsbury International School Bangkok (City), St Andrews International School Bangkok (Srivikon) and Wellington College.
There is a greater choice of all-through schools offering an education from nursery through to Grade 12/Year 13 (IBDP and A Level), and a smaller offering of standalone primary and secondary schools. Most schools have a very multicultural student population, with a mixture of Thai nationals and expats from Asia, Europe, North America and Australasia.
Since 1992, Thai nationals have been allowed to attend international schools, which has contributed hugely to the growth of international education. Many schools cap their intake of Thai students to around 10-30% to encourage diversity.
The majority of schools are located in Bangkok, with smaller clusters of schools in popular areas within Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chonburi and Khorat.
International schools have a greater focus than local schools on sport, the arts and other extra-curricular activities. This is reflected in the state-of-the-art facilities on many international campuses, and the lengthy list of extra-curricular activities and residential trips offered to all students.
The academic year runs from August to June at the majority of schools, and the year is divided into two or three terms/semesters depending on the curriculum.
Regulation and inspection
International schools in Thailand have a degree of autonomy in deciding on the curriculum offered, the student admission criteria and the fees. They have to be licensed by the Thai Ministry of Education (MOE) and they are regulated by the Office of the Private Education Commission (OPEC).
All schools in Thailand, including international schools, must be assessed by the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assurance (ONESQA) every five years. ONESQA typically joins the Council of International Schools (CIS) for an inspection, but reports are made separately by the CIS and ONESQA. All private schools need to undergo an Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) process and provide ONESQA with an IQA report that assesses the quality of the school’s performance.
In addition, some schools are inspected independently by organisations such as the British Schools Overseas (BSO). Also, many international schools are members of the International Schools Association of Thailand (ISAT), which was established in 1994 to represent the international education sector. Member schools are accredited by organisations such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the Council of International Schools (CIS) and CfBT Education Trust.
Most top tier schools will have both the national ONESQA accreditation, as well as multiple international accreditation.
Families have a choice of British, American, Australian, French, German, Canadian and Indian schools, as well as more generic ‘international’ schools. The majority of schools here follow the International Baccalaureate programme (IB) and/or the British or American curriculum.
There are a handful of schools offering all three IB programmes: Concordian International School, KIS International School, United World College Thailand (UWCT) and NIST International School. A small selection of British schools offer both IGCSEs and A Levels, including Brighton College, Bromsgrove International School Thailand (Windsor Park), Harrow International School, Rugby School Thailand and Shrewsbury International School Riverside. You’ll also find several Thai Christian schools which integrate the Seventh-day Adventist Church education system into an American or UK curriculum; these schools are considerably cheaper than other international schools and have a largely Thai student population and teaching staff.
While most international schools will follow one curriculum, some in Thailand mix and match different curricula and styles of teaching; for example, St Andrews Green Valley integrates the English National Curriculum with the International Baccalaureate PYP, and Ruamrudee International School (RIS) offers senior students the choice of the Advanced Placement (AP) programme or International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).
Thai nationals must attend compulsory Thai Language and Culture lessons as part of the curriculum, from kindergarten through to the college years; most schools open this up to all students though. Depending on the school, there may be the opportunity to learn French, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish. There are also some international schools offering a truly bilingual (or even trilingual) education: Concordian International School (CIS) offers an English-Chinese immersion programme and lessons in Thai and St Andrews International School (Dusit) has a German stream.
Fees and scholarships
While international school fees are expensive for the average Thai family, they are low when compared with the costs of schooling in Europe or other parts of Asia. Many schools in Thailand offer scholarships to students for excellence in academia, sport and the creative arts; these generally offer a reduction in the tuition fees, or full tuition fees and even boarding.
Annual tuition fees range from THB 300,000-800,000 for Year 1 through to THB 420,000-950,000 for Year 12 – and that’s often just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll need to budget for additional charges (some optional) including a non-refundable application and enrolment fees, a refundable deposit, a non-refundable campus development fee, technology fees, contributions to the parents’ association, extra-curricular activities, exams and field trips. Extra costs include uniform, school transport and lunches. A mandatory lunch, which is included in the tuition fees, is often provided for pre-schoolers through to Year 1/Grade 1.
Education in Thailand is expensive for a reason though: campuses have state-of-the-art facilities, modern classrooms, the latest technology, international teaching staff and opportunities for global study.
There’s a growing choice of schools offering flexible day, weekly and termly boarding options to both male and female students, often from Year 3 upwards; these include British International School, Harrow International School, Rugby School Thailand, Ruamrudee International School and United World College Thailand.
Applying for a school place
International schools accept applications from new students throughout the year. Apply as early as possible as some of the top-performing schools can have long waiting lists for certain year groups. Most schools require students to sit an entrance exam, typically to test for English and maths proficiency, and the most popular schools may select admission based on academic achievements.
To apply to an international school, you need to submit a completed application form (for many schools this is online) and the following documents:
• Non-immigrant ED visa
• Copies of applicant’s school reports for the current and previous year
• Copies of reports for each grade of high school completed
• One passport-sized photograph
• Photocopy of applicant’s birth certificate
• Immunisation records
• Health certificate
• An application fee, which is non-refundable
Parents will then be contacted with a date for an admission interview or assessment at the school.