Education at a Crossroads: Navigating Thailand’s Educational Challenges

Written by Niyang Bai

Image Source: free stock photos from by Robert Collins.


In the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand is a land of rich history and boundless potential. Its picturesque surface hides the challenges facing its education system, a cornerstone of its development.

Education is the key to progress, dreams, and prosperity in Thailand. However, this journey is riddled with obstacles, from insufficient funding to educational inequality, casting shadows on a brighter future. These challenges aren’t abstract; they affect students, parents, and policymakers daily. We will explore Thai schools, educators, and students, highlighting their resilience and determination.

Thailand is at a crossroads in its education system, with choices that will impact future generations. We delve into Thailand’s education system’s complexities, hopes, and aspirations, recognizing that in adversity, a nation’s greatest asset is its pursuit of knowledge.

Insufficient Funding

In Thailand, where the promise of education should be a beacon for the future, insufficient funding looms as a dark cloud over the nation’s schools. A simple search through recent articles reveals a complex web of challenges from this issue.

According to a report by the World Bank, the education system in Thailand is beset by poor management, inequality, and high teacher shortages[1]. The World Bank has stated that investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources were especially low in disadvantaged schools (ranked at the bottom 25 percent of the PISA Economic, Social, and Cultural Status (ESCS) Index), private schools that receive more than half of their funding from government, and rural schools[2].

World Bank highlights the small school challenge in Thailand and options for quality education. It reveals that compared to international peers, Thai secondary schools are severely hindered by inadequate learning materials and physical infrastructure, which limits their capacity to provide quality instruction. More importantly, the Thai secondary school system is dramatically lacking in qualified teachers: secondary schools in rural areas are much more understaffed and under-resourced than their urban counterparts[3].

A more in-depth report by the National Education Commission for the fiscal year 2022-2023 reveals the extent of the problem. It states that Thailand’s education budget falls significantly short of international standards. Thailand allocates only 15% of its annual budget to education, while UNESCO recommends a minimum of 20%[4]. This shortfall in funding directly affects the quality of education and students’ overall well-being.

To gain a deeper insight into the challenges of rural education in Thailand, the story of Ms. Nongnuch, a passionate teacher in a bamboo school in Buriram province. Like many others, her school strives to provide quality education despite limited resources.

Ms. Nongnuch explained that the bamboo school has an innovative learning method focusing on sustainability and environmental conservation. The students do not have to pay tuition but must plant 800 trees and participate in 800 hours of community service per year. They also learn leadership, empathy and compassion through hands-on activities.

She also highlighted the need for more support from the government and society. “Our school is more than just a school that we all used to know. A school is a lifelong learning centre and a hub for social and economic advancement in the communities,” Ms. Nongnuch quoted the school founder, Mechai Viravaidya[5]. However, she said the school still faces difficulties securing funds, materials and facilities.

Moreover, the lack of recognition and appreciation is a constant struggle. “Others often look down upon our students because they come from poor families or remote areas,” Ms. Nongnuch revealed. This stigma not only affects their self-esteem but also their motivation to pursue higher education.

Perhaps most inspiring is the impact on students’ aspirations. Ms. Nongnuch shared stories of talented students who had overcome their hardships and achieved their goals with the help of the bamboo school. “It fills me with joy to see potential realized,” she said. “We are nurturing future leaders who will make a difference in their communities and beyond.”

As Ms. Nongnuch eloquently put it, insufficient funding is “a barrier that blocks the opportunities for our children.”  It becomes increasingly clear that supporting rural schools like hers is not just a matter of charity; it’s about empowering the untapped potential of a nation’s youth.

Quality of Education

According to a report by the Asian Development Bank, Thailand’s basic education system faces several challenges, including the need to expand the supply of human capital to avoid the middle-income trap and the ageing society. The report highlights that despite the significant amount of resources spent on education, students’ learning outcomes are low and have not improved significantly in either national or international assessments. The performance of junior secondary school students in national examinations has declined, especially in mathematics and science. While the performance of senior secondary school students has improved slightly over the same period, the mean results for core subjects (mathematics, science, and English) were less than 50. This worrying figure is worsened by inequality in education quality across regions since the performance of secondary school students is lower in poorer, remote regions. The report argues that such poor learning outcomes are presumably due to two main reasons: the role of small schools and inefficient resource allocation for education in public spending[6].

As per the World Bank, various factors are influencing the quality of education in Thailand[7]. The report highlights the following key findings:

  • A lack of teacher training and professional development opportunities directly impacts the quality of instruction in classrooms.
  • Disparities in educational quality persist between urban and rural areas, where students in rural regions face limited access to qualified teachers and educational resources.
  • The curriculum was found to be outdated, with a need for reforms that align with 21st-century skills.
  • Student engagement and critical thinking skills remain underdeveloped due to traditional teaching methods.

The report recommends comprehensive teacher training programs, curriculum updates, and implementing student-centred teaching strategies to address these challenges.

The following views expressed by both a student and a parent tell us more about the quality of education in Thailand.

Nicha, a 16-year-old high school student, expressed dissatisfaction with the rigid curriculum. “I feel like I’m just following instructions from teachers,” she said. “I want to explore, not just obey.” Nicha also mentioned that the lack of creative learning opportunities made studying less interesting.

On the other hand, Mr. Somchai, a parent, shared his worries about the quality of education. “I wonder if my child is getting the skills they need for the future,” he said. “The education system seems old-fashioned, and it doesn’t prepare them for the changes of today’s society.”[8]

These voices resonate with a growing sentiment in Thailand: a need for a shift in the education paradigm. The emphasis on holistic development, critical thinking, and practical skills has become increasingly urgent. Thailand’s educational landscape stands at a crossroads, with the quality of education being a critical factor in determining the nation’s success in the global arena.

Image Source: Free stock photos from by Mario Heller

Educational Inequality

Educational inequality in Thailand is a pressing issue highlighted in recent news articles. According to a report by the World Bank, disparities in allocation and inefficiencies of investments across schools in Thailand have led to a decline in student performance in reading and a stagnation of scores in math and science[9]. The report further finds that investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources were especially low in disadvantaged schools, private schools that receive more than half of their funding from the government, and rural schools.

Inequality between urban and rural areas is also a significant concern. Rural areas often lack basic infrastructure, qualified teachers, and educational resources, creating a significant gap in educational quality[10]. Ethnic minority communities face additional challenges, such as language barriers, discrimination, and limited access to quality education[11].

The Thai government must address these issues and create inclusive learning environments in schools to help improve Thailand’s education performance. A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that assesses Thailand’s education system and skills imbalances[12]. The report highlights several issues that contribute to educational inequality in Thailand:

  • Education quality, not quantity, is the main contributing factor to long-term economic growth.
  • Disadvantaged schools have low investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources.
  • There is a skills mismatch between the demand in the Thai labour market and the supply of skilled workers.
  • There are disparities in resources allocated for teachers and other educational resources between schools with higher and lower socioeconomic status students.

The report recommends several policy interventions to address these issues, including improving teacher quality, increasing investment in disadvantaged schools, and enhancing the relevance of education to labour market needs. The report also emphasizes the importance of developing relevant skills from pre-primary to higher education levels.

However, not all students have equal access to quality education and opportunities to develop their skills. Nong, a stateless student from a hill tribe in northern Thailand, shared her challenges and aspirations for education[13].

She explained that she had to overcome many obstacles, such as poverty, discrimination, and language barriers. “I had to work hard to support my family and pay school fees,” she said. “I also faced stigma and prejudice because of my ethnicity and status. I had to learn Thai as a second language, which was difficult.”

Nong also expressed her gratitude for the support she received from teachers and mentors. “They encouraged me to pursue my dreams and helped me with scholarships and citizenship applications,” she said. “They also taught me about my rights and responsibilities as a citizen.”

Regarding her future plans, Nong said she wanted to become a teacher and help other disadvantaged children. “I want to give back to my community and society,” she said. “I believe education is the key to empowerment and opportunity.”

Nong’s story illustrates the resilience and potential of many ethnic minority and stateless students in Thailand. While they face many hardships, they also have educational hopes and ambitions. There is a need for more inclusive and supportive policies and practices that enable them to access quality education and realize their full potential.

Teacher Shortage

Thailand is facing a serious challenge in providing quality education to its students, especially in rural areas lacking qualified teachers. A Thai PBS World report highlights the teacher shortage in Thailand, particularly in rural areas. The report states that the shortage is most severe in the northeastern region of Thailand, where schools struggle to attract and retain qualified teachers[14]. This has resulted in uneven access to quality education, with students in rural areas being disadvantaged.

In addition, a report from The Bangkok Post indicates a severe shortage of science and mathematics teachers nationwide. The report states that students in these subjects face a challenging situation due to the dearth of specialized educators[15].

According to a World Bank study, around 64% of Thai primary schools are critically short of teachers, defined as having less than one teacher per classroom on average. The study estimates that as many as 110,725 out of 353,198 classrooms in Thai primary and secondary schools are critically short of teachers[16]. The study also reveals that eliminating teacher shortages in terms of quality and quantity would significantly improve student learning, and the impact would be most significant for lower-performing schools. Therefore, improving the quality of teachers and addressing the severe teacher shortages – especially for the vast number of small rural schools – should be at the centre of Thailand’s reform initiatives if the country is serious about tackling the widespread low education quality and high disparity in educational performance between socioeconomic groups.

To gain insight into the challenges of teaching in under-resourced schools, the case of Chaisit Chaiboonsomjit, a learner at Xavier Learning Community (XLC) in Chiang Rai, who served as a volunteer teacher at Zi Brae School in Chiang Mai[17]. His experience was eye-opening.

Chaisit shared his enthusiasm for teaching but also revealed the harsh conditions he faced. “The school is located on top of a mountain, and it takes eight hours to get there by car or motorcycle,” he said. “When it rains, the roads become impossible to pass, and teachers are often stranded.”

He explained how the lack of teachers affects students. “Most of our students are from the Karen hill tribe and study seven subjects provided by the Thai Education Ministry. But we only have 15 teachers for more than 200 students. They need more guidance and support to learn effectively.”

Chaisit also expressed frustration about teacher retention. “Many teachers leave after a short time because they can’t cope with the isolation and hardship,” he said. “This creates instability and inconsistency in the school system.”

In his heartfelt appeal, Chaisit emphasized the value of equal opportunity for education. “Every child, no matter where they are born, deserves a good teacher and a chance to pursue their dreams. We need more incentives to attract teachers to rural areas and more resources for teacher training.”

Chaisit’s story is a powerful illustration of the real-world impact of the teacher shortage crisis. It’s a challenge that affects educators and limits the educational potential of countless Thai students, especially those in remote areas.


Thailand’s education system, often celebrated for its potential, is ensnared in a web of challenges that demand urgent attention. This report has delved into five critical issues that cast shadows over the nation’s educational landscape:

  1. Insufficient Funding: A chronic shortage of financial resources hampers the quality of education, hindering the nurturing of young minds.
  2. Quality of Education: Rote memorization and standardized testing take precedence over critical thinking and creativity, leaving students ill-prepared for the complexities of the modern world.
  3. Educational Inequality: Disparities in access to education and educational outcomes persist, affecting marginalized communities and perpetuating social divisions.
  4. Teacher Shortage: A severe lack of qualified educators, particularly in rural areas and critical subjects, disrupts the learning process and hinders student development.

These challenges collectively pose a profound threat to Thailand’s education system and, by extension, its future. A nation’s strength lies in equipping its youth with the knowledge and skills to navigate an ever-evolving global landscape. However, the current state of Thailand’s education system impedes this aspiration.

Insufficient funding and the resultant resource shortages compromise the quality of education, leaving students ill-prepared for a future that demands adaptability, creativity, and critical thinking. Educational inequality perpetuates social divisions, limiting the nation’s capacity to harness the full potential of its diverse populace.

In conclusion, the challenges outlined in this report are not isolated issues; they are interconnected strands in a complex web. The future of Thailand depends on addressing these challenges with determination and foresight. A well-funded, inclusive, and quality education system is not just an investment in the present but a beacon guiding the nation toward a brighter, more equitable, and prosperous tomorrow. To ensure Thailand’s place on the global stage, these challenges must be met head-on, placing education at the forefront of the nation’s priorities.



















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