Thai Education and Literacy Programs

Thai education and literacy programs

Education is a priority of the Thai government, yet more needs to be done in this regard.

Save the Children recently conducted a study which revealed that more than 30 percent of Thai children aged 15 are functionally illiterate, particularly marginalised groups such as girls from ethnic minority communities. Allison Zelkowitz of Save the Children notes this as being particularly damaging.

The BEP assists Pwo Karen communities to learn reading and writing in their mother tongue, providing an easy transition into Thai-based education systems.


Thailand provides free basic schooling through ninth grade; however, transportation costs and mandatory fees for meals and extracurricular activities can be prohibitive for poor families; consequently leading to many dropping out after ninth grade or attending less regularly – leaving few employment prospects and making them vulnerable to exploitation. The Creative Life Foundation is working to alleviate these barriers by offering educational scholarships, mentorship and resources for 25 students living in Bangkok.

Thailand’s education system has long been considered successful; however, a lack of innovation in curriculum delivery is contributing to poor student performance. A recent national assessment demonstrates this reality; students were not meeting international standards in core subjects and there were great differences in learning outcomes across rural and urban areas as well as between rich and poor students.

Thai primary and secondary schools boast impressive enrollment rates despite low performance in core subjects, with 95% of primary school-age children enrolling. Unfortunately, however, as students move through grades the gap between rich and poor widens significantly.

Thai government initiatives to bring technology into classrooms have failed in their attempts. Under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s reign, One Laptop per Child program was initiated, but this initiative failed. Now under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, however, an education ministry focused on improving teachers’ technological expertise while increasing student-teacher interaction and promoting digital literacy is working toward this end.

Government policies and expanded teacher training programs designed to enhance education quality have also been put into effect, but these efforts have been hindered by a shortage of classroom teachers and funding – with Thailand yet to reach global competitiveness on any scale.

Thailand faces two primary issues with regards to education – an outdated curriculum and inadequate fund distribution. Thailand could fall further behind Southeast Asian peers when it comes to science and technology development; also, current systems do not prepare young people for future economies.


Thai government education for preschool and elementary school-age children is free, according to its constitution. Every village (tambon) must contain one primary school while every district (amphoe) must contain at least one secondary school. Classroom sizes tend to be relatively limited and usually include 30-40 students with one teacher. Teachers are trained in participatory, child-centred teaching-learning methods such as games, debates and story-telling to foster literacy development as well as other life skills in their students. Furthermore, whole texts and primers may also be utilized in instruction – this latter method provides effective reading instruction by focusing on individual sounds and letters that enable children to quickly decode words.

Pupils at secondary level must take part in national examinations at the end of Prathom 3 and Matayom 6, with both needing to pass an Ordinary National Educational Test as part of university admission requirements. In addition, both exams require students to score well on an O-NET exam administered as part of university entrance requirements.

Recent international assessments indicate that Thailand’s secondary education system is subpar. This can be partly attributed to an outdated curriculum and wide disparities in learning outcomes between rural and urban schools; in rural schools this could be related to insufficient funding available for their poorest children.

Lack of qualified teachers is another factor limiting learning outcomes, especially at rural schools with high student-to-teacher ratios; consequently, instruction quality often falls below par and students don’t perform as expected in core subjects like math and science.

As part of its efforts to enhance education quality, the Office of Non-Formal Education Commission (ONFEC), in cooperation with UNESCO and SIL International, has developed a bilingual education programme. Dubbed BEP (Bilingual Education Programme), its main goal is increasing school attendance among Pwo Karen children by offering them bilingual curriculum which integrates Thai with their native tongue.


Non-formal education gives those unable to afford formal schooling an opportunity to gain lifelong learning skills that may otherwise remain out of reach, including eradicating illiteracy and stimulating economic growth. Non-formal education also enables individuals to increase productivity and efficiency at work and reduce poverty levels; its aim is particularly useful in benefitting marginalized groups like nomadic communities, girls, indigenous people, persons with disabilities or children of working parents.

Thai government has established community literacy centers to provide literacy services to those unable to access formal education. These centres are administered by the Office of Non-formal and Informal Education (ONIE). ONIE operates these hubs at village levels to organize lifelong learning activities tailored to community needs; additionally they serve as links between formal and informal systems of education.

BEAM’s Sor-Ror-Chor, or Community Learning Center in Thai, has been operating since 2016 in collaboration with Thai educational departments and partner organizations. It serves to create a shared space where young people and adults alike can come together to learn together while strengthening digital literacy skills – essential components to meeting Sustainable Development Goal 4 requirements and ensure all youth have relevant functional literacy abilities for successful future careers in digital environments.

Thailand’s National Education Act emphasizes lifelong learning and acknowledges nonformal forms of nonformal education as part of their overall system, such as literacy programs, continuing education courses, vocational training and alternative forms. Furthermore, Thailand provides scholarships and grants to support learners experiencing financial difficulty.

Early forms of education in Thailand date back to the 13th century when King Ram Khamhaeng created the Thai alphabet by drawing inspiration from Mon, Khmer and southern Indian scripts. Stone inscriptions dating from this era reveal that education was only available to royalty, members of nobility or Buddhist monks teaching poor people directly.

Vorapipatana Kowit, born 1933 and deceased 2000, was revered as a national hero for his contributions to adult/nonformal education. He founded the Department of Non-Formal and Informal Education as well as leading an effective campaign against illiteracy that earned him an ESCAP human resource development award. Furthermore, he pioneered various innovations which influenced formal education, including learner-centered approaches, participatory learning methods and management styles that encouraged lifelong learning (khit phen). These contributions led to formal reform within formal education systems across Thailand today.

Higher education

Since 2011, enrollment numbers in Thailand’s formal education system have seen a substantial decrease, largely owing to falling birth rates and small schools facing difficulty recruiting enough students for economic viability.

Thai authorities have undertaken steps to address these problems by increasing funding for higher education and encouraging its students to study at foreign universities. Furthermore, Thailand is creating a national qualifications framework in order to facilitate better transferability of credentials – an integral step as Thailand attempts to integrate into ASEAN educational community.

Compulsory education in Thailand spans nine years of basic education, consisting of six years of elementary school and three of lower secondary school. The curriculum is structured to give students a solid grounding in all subjects but places particular emphasis on Thai culture and language.

Once they complete high school, those looking to continue their academic education have many elective options available to them – science and maths/english being the two most popular choices – giving them a solid foundation for any further studies such as university.

Colleges and universities throughout the country provide an array of study programs that cover virtually every area. Students seeking a teaching qualification can do so by graduating with a five-year bachelor of education degree, which encompasses four years of coursework and one year of practice teaching; or by taking advantage of a supplementary graduate diploma in education that requires general pedagogical courses as well as one year practicum experience.

The Ministry of Education in Thailand oversees both public and private higher education institutions. All institutions must conduct internal quality assurance reviews which are then externally audited by the Office of Higher Education Commission (OHEC), who also regulate licenses for new degrees as well as manage regional and international accreditation bodies. Despite recent decreases in student enrollments, Thailand still boasts an extensive and well-regarded higher education system.