An increasing number of families living in Southeast Asia are opting to send their children to an international school in Thailand, as the country is rapidly becoming a hub for quality international education
By Linda Belonje
Choosing a school for your child is an important decision all families face at some time or other. Parents have various motivations for sending their children to an international school in Thailand. The obvious reason is when a family from overseas moves here, but there are also Thai families choosing to educate their children at an international school. Furthermore, an increasing number of families living in Southeast Asia are opting to send their children to Thailand, as the country is rapidly becoming a hub for quality international education. Whatever the reason may be, once parents opt for an education other than a local school at “home,” choosing a school can be quite daunting. It is well worth doing a little research to find the best match for your child.
When faced with the large number of schools to choose from, unfamiliar curricula, and perhaps an unknown city and few close friends to draw on for advice, many parents opt for ‘the best’ school in the area, as defined by guidebooks and local websites – regardless of curriculum, distance to travel, size of school, accreditation and many other factors which will directly affect their child’s learning and enjoyment of their time at the school.
One of the broadest and most ill-advised ways of defining ‘the best’ school is by looking only at the cost of studying there and the misconception that the most expensive school will necessarily offer the best education for your child as an individual.
One consideration that many parents unintentionally overlook when choosing a school is the compatibility of the school environment with their child’s personality. Parents who know and understand their child’s character and learning style will naturally make a choice based on the needs of their child.
Knowing what makes your child unique and how you can make the most of who they are is a safe bet for a happy and successful education. Naturally, one of the largest benefits in educating children abroad is being able to tailor their education to their specific skills.
In terms of academic success, parents need to consider how their child learns best, and which curriculum supports that type of learning. By having some prior knowledge of your child’s learning style, you can make an informed choice by visiting prospective schools and asking relevant questions directly as to the teaching styles and concepts used in the classroom. This is particularly valuable when looking at an unfamiliar curriculum and weighing up the advantages that it could bring to your child’s education.
Once you feel you have a good understanding of your child’s strengths and abilities, finding the best curriculum to foster these skills is made easier. The majority of parents will be presented with a choice of international schools, which fall into four main curricula
• American curriculum
• British curriculum
• International Baccalaureate curriculum
• Other national curricula (French, German, Japanese, Canadian, Australian, etc.)
Each system has its advantages and disadvantages and of course, each school has its own strengths and weaknesses within their particular curriculum. There are also other curricula, which do not fall into any of these categories, but may be developed by an individual school, or by individual people.
The American curriculum
In the United States each individual state is responsible for its own curriculum and educational process. This means that the curriculum offered will vary from one American overseas school to the next. The curriculum continually evolves and it is based on learning standards and benchmarks. International American schools generally have higher standards than the public system schools within the US and they have to be accredited by one of four national non-governmental agencies. To gain accreditation, the school’s curriculum must be in line with the standards determined by the organization (e.g. the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, WASC).
In Thailand, schooling for children under an American state curriculum may begin at the age of five or less in pre-schools or kindergartens. Learning at these ages is less academic-based and is more intended to introduce children to a school’s social environment, although all schools will offer some degree of alphabetic and numerical teaching. Elementary, Middle School and High School education covers children from the ages of 6- to 18-years-old and most schools will require that students take examinations in core subject areas to enable students to graduate with an Americanbased high school diploma.
Students may also take external exams, such as Advanced Placements (AP), which strengthen university applications. Depending upon the specific admissions requirements of each college or university, the majority of overseas students looking to be offered a placement at a U.S. college must also complete the external SATs or other college entrance examinations to whatever level the university prescribes.
In line with schools within the United States, schools in Thailand offering an American-based curriculum will balance academic life with a rich and diverse array of community activities including sport, the arts, scholastic-based clubs, and a number of tutoring and mentoring enterprises.
The British curriculum
Many international schools in Thailand follow the English National Curriculum (often referred to as “the British Curriculum”) as a core framework. The British government does not run or monitor any schools outside of the United Kingdom. This gives British schools the opportunity and flexibility to adapt their curriculum to suit the needs of their students and to the country they are operating in, but parents must understand that the curriculum may not be exactly the same as “back home.”
As there are a large number of British curriculum-based schools in Thailand parents should look carefully at the specifics of the school curriculum and the qualifications offered. They should also ask about the school’s accreditation (many British schools choose World Education Services, or WES), subjects offered and extra-curricular activities.
Most British schools in Thailand follow the British curriculum with some variations and remain structured around the key stages, possibly offering British curriculum tests. Secondary students at many British schools will take IGCSEs, the international version of the GCSE exams taken in England. These exams are recognized as the equivalent to GCSEs and, as in the UK, are followed by Advanced (A) Levels for students choosing to go on to university. This order of exams is one route into university although other qualifications are welcomed and accepted by universities in the UK and elsewhere.
While the basic organizational details of each British curriculumbased schools may differ, most schools with outstanding reputations will share the characteristics of including an emphasis on academic rigor, the provision of effective counselling by social or religious mentors and a commitment to comprehensive and stimulating sports, performing arts, extra-curricular activities, and day/residential field trips.
The International Baccalaureate
The IB is taught in over 3,300 schools in 140 countries and the number continues to rise. Parents who choose the IB curriculum for their children can be assured that all schools offering any of the three IB programs (Primary Years, Middle Years or Diploma) must be authorized to do so directly from the IB organization. As educators rather than governments devise the curriculum, it can also be said to be a truly international education and free from political and economic influences. The IB assures quality, as IB schools will undergo an evaluation for each of the IB programs every five years.
Parents choose to send their children to IB curriculum schools for a wide number of reasons including the relevance of the programs to all students regardless of home country or mother tongue. The IB is widely regarded as having a holistic approach and globally aware characteristics.
The programs emphasize not only learning knowledge, but also challenge students to develop skills and positive attitudes, and to take responsible action. IB teachers are all trained by the IB, providing a consistent, high-quality education in all IB schools. All of which in turn make it the curriculum of choice for many international families.
The three IB programs cover learning for students aged 3-18 years old, and each program can be studied individually or as a continuum. A school that offers at least one of the three programs is called an IB World School. A school may offer one, two or all three of the IB programs.
Learning in the Primary and Middle Years Programs focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside. Students learn higher level questioning skills, and the learning is driven by their natural curiosity.
The programs provide frameworks that encourage students to embrace and understand the connections between traditional subjects and the real world, and become critical and reflective thinkers. The IB Diploma Program is for students aged 16-to 18-yearsold. It is an academically challenging and balanced program, with final examinations as well as assessments, which prepares students for success both at university and in life beyond.
The IB Diploma is respected by universities around the world for its depth and breadth of learning, the consistency of the value of the grades, and for the additional elements of Creativity, Action & Service and Theory of Knowledge, all of which make IB applicants stand out positively during the university admissions process.
‘You can usually get a good “feel” for a school during a visit, and after considering all factors, your child will be well on the way to a fantastic international education.’
Other national curricula
In addition to British, American, and IB schools, Bangkok also boasts a number of other national curriculum schools. These schools offer education following their home country’s curriculum and usually teach in their home country’s language. These schools are especially suited to families whose overseas stay is relatively short, or whose children plan to attend university in their home country. Frequently these schools are subsidised by the home country government. The advantage of attending a national curriculum school in Thailand is that students can follow the education they are used to while still gaining experience of living overseas, and they will be able to return to their home country with minimum disruption.
Other tips for selecting schools
• Extra-curricular activities — Another aspect parents should look at when selecting a school is the opportunity students get to take their learning out of the classroom. Study trips, extra-curricular activities and opportunities for community work not only provide AD Bartercard 1/2 students with a way to explore their interests, apply skills and concepts from class in real-life settings, and to become well-rounded people, these activities also help students with their university applications. With more students now going to college year after year, participation in extra-curricular activities demonstrates that students are well rounded and have more to offer than academic prowess. Schools that offer a more process oriented approach to extra-curriculars will put an emphasis on creating ways for students to grow intellectually, emotionally and in their ability to lead and take on serious responsibility – all of which will highlight their core strengths.
• Accreditation — Once parents have identified their child’s individual learning style and needs, one of the most obvious and easy to use tools for identifying good schools is through their individual accreditations. Accreditation, or credential evaluation, ensures a basic level of quality in the education students receive from a school and parents should spend time researching the reputation of the accreditation institutions for their schools of choice to ensure they are widely recognized and will meet their personal expectations. Some, but not all accreditations cover both the academic excellence and best practices of schools. Parents may also want to find out whether or not the accreditation covers safety on campus.
• Teachers — Of course, another major factor that will contribute to your child’s happiness and success is the teacher. Parents may want to check if the school employs only qualified and trained teachers and whether or not the teachers are native or near native in the language that they teach in.
• Location — Location may be another factor to consider when choosing a school. Most families try to find the right balance of travelling time for each member of the family. In Thailand in general and Bangkok in particular, distance alone does not always reflect travelling time. It is important to consider access to expressways or public transport and expected level of traffic congestion as well to come to a better understanding of how long it will take to get to school
• Learning support and Counselling — To many parents learning support is another area of interest. Does your child require learning support, and does the school offer it? If so, how many students with learning support needs does and can the school cater to? Does the support cover the specialty that you are looking for? Does the school have a counsellor for the student’s wellbeing? Also it is wise to check if there is a university counsellor who will help students in their applications to universities.
• School- and class size — The size of the school, as well as the class size may also be factors contributing to your child’s wellbeing at school. Some children prefer bigger schools; others feel more comfortable in a smaller environment. If the school is smaller does it offer adequate facilities? If the school is bigger, will your children receive the individual care they require? Once all factors have been weighed, parents usually make a short-list of schools and visit each of them to see if the school lives up to what they say. You can usually get a good “feel” for a school during a visit, and after considering all factors, your child will be well on the way to a fantastic international education.
(Editor’s Note: Linda Belonje is Director of Marketing and Development for KIS International School, Bangkok Curriculum. KIS International School is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, founded in 1998. Students at KIS learn through a rigorous curriculum, international in its approach to people, knowledge, values and skills. The school is authorized by the IB to offer all three IB Programs. The IB, an international curriculum founded over 40 years ago by a team of international academics in Europe, was developed specifically to provide a consistent, transferable, high quality international education (including a recognized university acceptance qualification) for families who move around the world. It is taught in over 3,400 schools and more than 140 countries. )
Some International Schools in Thailand
Ascot International School
Bangkok International Preparatory and Secondary
School (BKK Prep) Tel: 02-260-7890
Bangkok Patana School (BPS)
Ekkamai International School
Harrow International School (HIS)
International School Bangkok (ISB)
International Community School (ICS)
KIS International School Bangkok (KIS)
Modern International School, Bangkok
NIST International School
Ruamrudee International School (RIS)
Shrewsbury International School (SHB)
St. Andrews International School, Samakee
St. Andrew International School Bangkok (STA)
The American School of Bangkok (ASB)
The Regent’s International School
St. Stephen’s International School
Wells International School