Thai Schools and Universities — How Bad are They?

| September 10, 2010 | 156 Comments | 79,307 views

The Thai educational system and establishment is generally ridiculed.

Beyond basic literacy, the Thai system is considered a total failure. Students don’t study. Teachers don’t teach. And everyone passes regardless of whether and how much they learn. Thai College degrees and high school diplomas printed on toilet paper. That is the commonly held stereotype of Thai schools and universities.

And to a large extent, everyday experience backs up the stereotype. Thai’s who have not traveled or been educated in The World, generally, have little general knowledge about The World. Questions about about subjects familiar to most educated people like algebra, trigonometry, and calculus generate mostly blank stares. Mention Brownian Motion and you’ll most likely be directed to the toilet.

The failure of Thais schools is not surprising when you learn about Thai politics, culture, and history. Thai schools and universities are not about education but indoctrination. Professors are not free to express their opinions about the issues of the day and any disagreements with government officials can bring down the hammer on outspoken faculty.

The mission of schools and universities is not to turn out world class scientists, writers, and entrepreneurs who will go out and change the world and make themselves famous and rich in the process. The schools mission is to inculcate the virtues of a rigid structured class society where happiness and fulfillment are attained by staying in the class your parents were born into and being content with your allotted place in society.

As far as I am aware there are no widely available scholarships or student loans so that exceptional students from poor backgrounds can attend a top university. Poor and gifted might as well be poor and stupid in Thailand.

Born a poor rice farmer stay a poor rice farmer. Born a member of the privileged ruling class and remain a lifetime member. That is the definition of a good moral life pitched in Thai schools and it just happens to be on one which keeps the rich and powerful, rich and powerful and the poor peasants in the rice fields.

But to what extent is this commonly held stereotype true?

How about some actual data.

Here is a study that compares science competency across countries.

PISA 2006 Science Comptencies For Tomorrow’s World: Volume 1: Analysis

PISA 2006 Science Competencies for Tomorow’s World: Volume 2 Data

The researchers define various competency levels and then tested students “between the ages of 15 years 3 months and 16 years 2 months who have completed at least 6 years of formal schooling regardless of the type of institution in which they are enrolled and of whether they are in full-time or part-time education, and of whether they attend public of private schools or foreign schools within the country” to determine what percentage were competent at each level.”

Note that the study only includes people in school. In Thailand, school is only mandatory through the 6th grade so the comparison is going to over rate Thai’s because by age 15 the dropouts have already dropped out.

The picture is pretty grim in Thailand.

The table shows the percent of the tested population at various levels of science proficiency.

Country Below Level 1 Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5 Level 6
USA 7.6 16.8 24.2 25.1 18.7 7.4 1.4
OECD 6.9 16.3 24.2 25.1 18.7 7.4 1.4
Thailand 12.6 33.5 33.2 16.3 4.0 .4 0

Students below Level 1  “are unable to demonstrate science competencies in situations required by the easiest PISA tasks.”

Students at Level 2 “have adequate scientific knowledge to provide possible explanation in familiar contexts or draw conclusions based on simple investigations. They are capable of direct reasoning and making literal interpretations of the results of scientific inquiry or technological problem solving.”

In layman’s language, Level 2 means they can read the label on a bottle of aspirin and follow the instructions.

Level 3 is where you start to really know something.

Students at Level 3 “can identify clearly described scientific issues in a range of contexts. They can select facts and knowledge to explain phenomena and apply simple models or inquiry strategies. Students at this level can interpret and use scientific concepts from different disciplines and can apply them directly. They can develop short statements using facts and make decisions based on scientific knowledge.”

Amazingly 79.3 % of Thai are at Level 2 or below compared to 48.6% in the USA.

The truly stunning number is that 46.1 % of Thais are at Level 1 or below.

Wrap your head around that number. More than half (remember the study only includes those in school) of Thai’s lack basic scientific knowledge or the ability to apply simple models or inquiry strategies.

What the number means is that more than 50% of Thai’s are clueless about basic science and math. So when you are roaming Thailand meeting normal everyday people, the majority of them have a very basic understanding of the wider world in which they live.

And there’s more!

Are Thai men stupider than Thai women?

A common stereotype of Thai men is that they are lazy and let the women do all the heavy lifting — not only the housework and child rearing but, also, the income earning.

Is this stereotype true?

How about some hard data?

The table below shows the mean score on the proficiency test and breaks out the scores by gender.

All Students Males Females Difference
USA 489 489 489 1
OECD 491 492 490 3
Thailand 421 411 428 -17

Guess what.

Thai men score significantly lower than Thai women.

This is exactly the opposite to the experience in other Asian countries–in Hong Kong, Tapei and Indonesia where men outscore women. In those countries

Among Asian countries, only in Thailand do the women outscore the men.

So is the average Thai women smarter than the average Thai?

The study says yes.

Did the numbers in the study, confirm or upset the impressions formed from your daily experience with Thai people?


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