The first question I’d hear at virtually any family reunion or social gatherings I’d be dragged to by my mother is “So, what school do you go to?” I’d reply back saying “I attend an international school in Bangkok.” The instinctual reaction that typically follows would be that of striking astonishment and a somewhat sense of admiration.
I would nervously laugh in response.
It was as if I had “earned” an acceptance to a school, not like I had the privilege to attend one of the highest tuition schools in Thailand or anything.
Eight years ago, I used to be enrolled in another international school somewhere near Bearing, from Nursery to Year 9, before moving to the school I am currently at. To cut it short, they were some of the more distressing times of my life.
To recall a few notable stories, I had an English teacher who taught us literature and would teach for the first five minutes so for the remaining time, he would recount his life stories. By the end of the year, we never once completed a single writing assignment. Another memorable one was when I used to tell my math teacher that I was finding the content quite easy and wanted to challenge myself, but instead of finding encouragement, I was only met with the same one response: “Can you be more considerate of others? They are trying to catch up too; it’s not all about you in this class.”
But very fortunately, I was able to move schools to where I am currently attending now. The copious efforts I put forth to catch up to my peers in class nearly tore me apart, both academically and emotionally. But over time, I eventually adjusted myself and found my place.
Although, I wondered if others would ever have the same privilege to a quality education as I do.
Oftentimes, individuals have the perception that international schools are superior to Thai schools, deeming that the renowned “international education” would suddenly equate to premier education that is rid of flaws. But from personal experiences, I can affirm that isn’t the case.
International schools in Thailand were originally for expats and U.S. diplomats. It was extremely difficult for Thai students to get in. Even now, the supposed “quotas” for Thai students imposed by bigger international schools to maintain “diversity” have in some cases led Thai families to apply through a U.S. passport to be admitted.
This exclusivity perpetuates the idea that these schools are prestigious because they’re incredibly hard to get into when, in reality, it isn’t the admissions tests that determine one’s acceptance but rather their “limited spaces.” Some well-renowned international schools, therefore, have transformed into this prestige bubble where the only Thais who can afford this would typically be wealthy with abundant connections. This creates the notion that the best education can only be found at international schools.
Thai schools, even well-renowned ones, sometimes do not hold as much prestige as such international schools. It seems that we love to condemn Thai schools while hailing international schools as a haven for premier education.
Suddenly, attending a Thai school is now associated with intellectual ineptitude, in contrast to international schools where Western education is considered to be superior.
But looking at society today, the democracy protests, the reforms around regulations regarding students’ haircuts, or the brutally honest rap songs about Thai politics and history, are all led by Thai students. Yet, students from Thai schools are often deemed inept compared to students from international schools who “can think,” when in fact students from Thai schools are the ones out there doing the most.
The irony of this speaks volumes.
So, what is it that I’m trying to say after all of this?
To put it quite simply, the problem with education isn’t Thai schools or international schools but rather the education and people’s perception of education. Sending your child to an international school won’t solve the problems of inadequate education, but what’s going to solve these problems is reforming the education itself. It isn’t about the education itself as much as the culture around the education and what kind of citizens that the education system is trying to produce.
And that’s what we’re seeing on the streets with youth groups like FreeYouth or Bad Student stepping out with magnitudes of courage to demand change, while many parents from middle-class families attempt to hinder their children from attending these protests, fearing they’ll “fall into danger.”
But what is the real danger? The mobs or their association with the mobs?
Instead of glamorizing Western education and having people gaze in awe at international schools like an out-of-reach dream, we need to reform education to ensure that it is not only widely accessible to everyone but also pertains to adequate standards.
Education shouldn’t be a privilege. Neither should quality education be a lottery.
Change is overdue. But more importantly, the change in political governance is overdue.
Other countries have done it before, and it is time for us to do the same.