The Thai Education System: Part 2

Thailand formal education The system has its roots in the 13th century when King Rakhamhaeng the Great developed the Thai alphabet. Thailand being one of the few countries never to have been colonized by European powers, its educational system was developed mainly in an indigenous way. Historically, commoners could receive an education in Buddhist monasteries, which is still offered today.

During the 19th century, Thailand’s education system was modernized with the aim of matching that of the Western world. Many elements that exist today can be traced to this era when the contemporary Thai higher education system was inspired by the American education system. This included the use of a similar degree structure, a general education component in undergraduate programs, and a class credit system. Now more than ever, Thailand is strengthening its integration into the global education community by developing partnerships with other ASEAN countries.

The governance of the Thai education system

The National Ministry of Education oversees the education system with a majority of public and private establishments under its supervision. Reforms initiated in the late 1990s introduced greater decentralization to the Thai education system which broke away from the historically highly centralized format. However, due to the takeover of the junta government in a 2014 coupthe 2016 reforms aimed to refocus the primary and secondary education system.

Compulsory education

Compulsory education for Thai students spans the first 9 years of “basic education”. This can be broken down into 6 years of primary school and 3 years of lower secondary school. Public school education is free for Thai students up to grade 9. This includes 3 free years of pre-school education and 3 free years of upper secondary education. However, these last options are not mandatory.


Thai students take 2 national exams during their primary school years. The first exam is to be taken at the end of Prathom 3, while the second exam is scheduled for the end of Prathom 6. Upon passing the second exam, students will receive a Certificate of Primary Education.

Lower and secondary education

At the age of 12, pupils enter secondary education. Lasting 3 school years, these grade levels are called Mattayom 1 to Mattayom 3. After completing Mattayom 3, students can choose to continue their education in high school, which begins at Mattayom 4 to 6. The elementary school curriculum and secondary is nationwide, according to the 2008 Basic Education Curriculum. being set by local school authorities. This has caused problems, historically, as many students pass when they technically did not pass the exams.

Exit exams

At the end of Mattayom 4 and 6, students take the Ordinary National Education Test (O-NET) from the National Institute of Educational Testing Service. Currently, these exam results represent 30% of the final marks of Mattayom 6, which is a criterion for the university. admission. But, in 2016, the 378,000 students who took the O-NET exam passed on average only one out of five subjects.

University admissions

The college admissions process is usually based on both high school GPA and standardized entrance exam results. As of 2018, there is now a central Thai admissions system, which is used by 54 public universities. Direct university admissions were limited as well as the importance of entrance examinations as critics claimed they excluded students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

world ranking of thai universities

Thai universities are still not well ranked globally. None are considered world-class universities and are not in the top 500 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018. According to American News, Mahidol University is the highest ranked university in Thailand, while Chulalongkorn comes second and Chiang Mai University comes third. The report outlines the best universities in the world with Mahidol ranking 51.4 on the global report and ranking 520 internationally. The US News ranking is made up of a school’s performance across a set of widely accepted indicators of excellence.

The problems of the Thai education system

Many issues have arisen regarding the deaths of students in schools funded by the Thai government. From unqualified teachers with a clear impact on the quality of education, to compulsory progression of students to the next level. In the Western world, we view cheating as unacceptable, while many Thai students view it as helpful. It is important to note that Thailand and many other Asian countries exhibit a collective society, while Western countries are individualistic societies.

These differences can and will appear in many different contexts, including that of education. When cheating occurs in classrooms in Thailand, it is not as heavily criticized because many students see learning as a group effort. However, when it comes to individual exam performance, the results are evident.

Either way, Thailand fills some of the education gaps that put it in a lower ranking than its neighbours. From political instability to rapidly aging populations, the future of Thailand’s education system depends on steps taken to mitigate these long-term effects.

To learn more about the Thai education system, see our Part 1 to guide.