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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La ley tailandesa de “lèse-majesté” viola los derechos humanos de los jóvenes

Escrito por Leticia Cox

El 28 de marzo de 2023, la policía arrestó a Thanalop “Yok” Phalanchai, una activista estudiantil de 15 años, acusada de difamar a la monarquía. Yok está detenida en custodia preventiva en el Centro de Capacitación Profesional Juvenil Ban Pranee del Ministerio de Justicia para Niñas en la provincia de Nakhon Pathom, al oeste de Bangkok. Enfrenta hasta 15 años de prisión.

Yok está acusada de violar el artículo 112 del código penal de Tailandia, que prohíbe difamar e insultar a la monarquía, durante una manifestación en octubre de 2022 frente al Ayuntamiento de Bangkok.

Imagen de Leticia Cox

¿Por qué Tailandia tiene esta ley?

El monarca tiene un estatus elevado en la sociedad tailandesa. El difunto rey Bhumibol Adulyadej, quien murió en octubre de 2016, fue venerado casi como una divinidad, a veces tratado como un ser divino.

El hijo de Adulyadej, el rey Maha Vajiralongkorn, no goza de la misma popularidad y ha reinado desde la muerte de su padre, ejerciendo un poder limitado desde diciembre de 2016. Es el jefe de Estado, asistido en sus funciones por el Consejo Privado de Tailandia, pero aún mantiene un estatus sagrado en el país.

Hoy en día, Tailandia es una monarquía constitucional con una forma de gobierno democrática. El monarca reina pero no gobierna.

En mayo de 2014, los militares -en gran parte monárquico- derrocaron al gobierno civil.. El primer ministro tailandés, Prayuth Chan-ocha, ha destacado que la ley de lèse-majesté es necesaria para proteger a la realeza.

En noviembre de 2020, el primer ministro Prayut instruyó a las autoridades a utilizar todas las leyes contra los manifestantes a favor de la democracia, restableciendo los procesos por lèse-majesté según el artículo 112 del código penal después de una pausa de tres años.

Según los Abogados Tailandeses por los Derechos Humanos, al menos 1.895 personas han sido objeto de diversas acusaciones penales por su participación en manifestaciones desde 2020.

Entre estas personas, al menos 237 han sido acusadas de lèse-majesté por acciones en protestas pro democracia o comentarios en redes sociales, incluidos 18 niños.

Además, realizar comentarios críticos u ofensivos sobre la monarquía es un delito grave según la Ley de Delitos Informáticos Relacionados con la Computadora de 2560. Desde entonces, las autoridades han acusado a algunos activistas políticos de traición según el artículo 116 del código penal.

La interpretación judicial de los delitos de lèse-majesté parece variar según las interpretaciones de diferentes tribunales, lo que hace que las condenas sean arbitrarias y, a veces, vayan más allá de lo estipulado por la ley. En septiembre de 2022, el Tribunal Penal del Sur de Bangkok condenó a Jatuporn Sae-Ung a tres años de prisión por cargos de lèse-majesté por llevar un vestido nacional tailandés en una protesta a favor de la democracia en un contexto que las autoridades afirmaron que se hizo para burlarse de la reina Suthida.

Democratic Labor Organization Asking the government to help bail political prisoners. Photo by Prachatai

Mantener a Yok acusada de lèse-majesté en detención preventiva viola sus derechos según el derecho internacional de los derechos humanos. Según el artículo 2.2 de la Convención sobre los Derechos del Niño, los Estados Parte deben tomar todas las medidas apropiadas para garantizar que un niño, es decir, cualquier persona menor de 18 años, esté protegido contra todo castigo por expresar su opinión.

El Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos (PIDCP), al cual Tailandia se ha adherido, también promueve la libertad bajo fianza para los acusados en procesos penales. El artículo 9 establece: “No deberá ser la regla general que las personas en espera de juicio sean detenidas en custodia, pero la liberación puede estar sujeta a garantías de comparecer en juicio”.

Aquellos cuyos cargos no hayan sido retirados deben ser juzgados sin demoras indebidas.

“El gobierno tailandés debería permitir la expresión pacífica de opiniones políticas, incluyendo preguntas sobre la monarquía”, dijo el director de Human Rights Watch. “Las autoridades tailandesas deberían colaborar con especialistas de las Naciones Unidas y otros para enmendar la ley de lèse-majesté y que cumpla con los estándares internacionales de derechos humanos”.

El caso de Yok no es un incidente aislado. En 2020, un niño de 16 años fue acusado penalmente bajo la misma ley después de que se le acusara de vestirse de manera similar al rey Maha Vajiralongkorn y mostrar palabras ofensivas en su cuerpo.

En enero de 2021, el Tribunal Penal de Bangkok condenó a un exfuncionario civil de 65 años a una pena de prisión de 43 años y seis meses, la sentencia más severa del país por insultar a la monarquía.

En junio de 2022, tres personas influyentes tailandeses fueron arrestadas por insultar a la familia real en una campaña de video publicada en TikTok.

En marzo de 2023, un hombre fue condenado a tres años de prisión por vender calendarios a través de una página de Facebook que las autoridades consideraron que violaba la ley de lèse-majesté. El calendario presentaba ilustraciones de un pato amarillo, símbolo del movimiento de protesta en Tailandia.

La ley de lèse-majesté de Tailandia, que prohíbe cualquier ofensa contra la dignidad de la monarquía, es una de las más draconianas del mundo.

El informe reciente de Amnistía Internacional “Estamos reclamando nuestro futuro” informó sobre cómo los niños en Tailandia se enfrentan a  una amplia gama de graves repercusiones por participar en manifestaciones masivas, incluyendo la ilegalización de sus actividades y la intimidación por parte de la policía.

El informe pide a las autoridades tailandesas a retirar todos los cargos contra los manifestantes infantiles pacíficos, poner fin a todas las formas de intimidación y vigilancia, y enmendar las leyes para negar el derecho de los niños a protestar y garantizar que se ajusten a la ley y los estándares internacionales de derechos humanos.

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Translated from the original Thai ‘lèse-majesté law’ violates youth human rights

Thai ‘lèse-majesté law’ violates youth human rights

Written by Leticia Cox

On March 28, 2023, the police arrested Thanalop “Yok” Phalanchai, a 15-year-old student activist, for allegedly defaming the monarchy. Yok is detained in pretrial custody at the Justice Ministry’s Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Center for Girls in Nakhon Pathom province, west of Bangkok. She is facing up to 15 years in prison.

Yok is accused of violating article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code -defaming and insulting the monarchy- during a demonstration in October 2022 in front of the Bangkok City Hall.

Photo by @Leticia Cox

Why does Thailand have this law?

The monarch has an exalted status in Thai society. The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016, was accorded an almost divine reverence, sometimes treated as god-like.

Adulyadej’s son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, does not relish the same popularity and has reigned since his father’s death, exercising limited rule since December 2016. He is the head of state, assisted in his duties by the Privy Council of Thailand, but still holds a sacred status in the country.

Today, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. The monarch reigns but does not rule. 

In May 2014, the military – greatly royalist- overthrew the civilian government. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has highlighted that the lese-majeste law is needed to protect the royals.

In November 2020, Prime Minister Prayut instructed authorities to use all laws against democracy protesters, bringing back lèse-majesté prosecution under Article 112 of the penal code after a three-year pause. 

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 1,895 individuals have been subject to various criminal charges for their involvement in rallies since 2020. Among these individuals, at least 237 have been charged with lèse-majesté for actions at pro-democracy demonstrations or comments on social media, including 18 children. 

In addition, making critical or offensive comments about the monarchy is a serious criminal offence under the Computer-Related Crime Act. 2560. Authorities have since charged some political activists with treason under Article 116 of the penal code. 

Judicial interpretation of lèse-majesté offences seems to vary according to interpretations by different courts, making convictions arbitrary and sometimes going beyond what is stipulated in the law. In September 2022, the Bangkok South Criminal Court sentenced Jatuporn Sae-Ung to three years on lèse-majesté charges for wearing a Thai national dress at a democracy protest in a context that authorities claimed was done to mock Queen Suthida.

Democratic Labor Organization Asking the government to help bail political prisoners. Photo by Prachatai

Holding Yok charged with lèse-majesté in pretrial detention violates her rights under international human rights law. 

Under Article 2.2 of the Convention on the Human Rights of the Child, State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure a child -every human under 18 years of age- is protected against all punishments based on their express opinion. 

In addition, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, also encourages bail for criminal suspects. Article 9 states: “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” 

Those whose charges have not been dropped should be tried without undue delay. 

“The Thai government should permit peaceful expression of political views, including questions about the monarchy,” said the director of Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should engage with United Nations specialists and others about amending the lèse-majesté law to comply with international human rights standards.”

Yok’s case is not an isolated incident. In 2020, a 16-year-old boy was criminally charged under the same law after he was accused of dressing similarly to King Maha Vajiralongkorn and displaying offensive words on his body. 

In January 2021, the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced a 65-year-old former civil servant to a jail term of 43 years and six months—the country’s harshest ever sentence for insulting the monarchy.

On June 2022, three Thai influencers were arrested for insulting the royal family in a video campaign posted on TikTok.

On March 2023, a man was sentenced to three years imprisonment for selling calendars via a Facebook page that the authorities considered violating the lèse-majesté law. The calendar featured cartoon illustrations of a yellow duck, symbolising Thailand’s protest movement. 

Thailand’s lese-majeste law, which prohibits any offence against the dignity of the monarchy, is among the most draconian in the world.

Amnesty International’s recent report “We Are Reclaiming Our Future” reported how children in Thailand face a wide range of severe repercussions for participating in mass demonstrations, including illegalising their activities and intimidation by the police.

The report calls for the Thai authorities to withdraw all charges against peaceful child protesters, end all forms of intimidation and surveillance and amend laws to deny children’s right to protest to ensure they align with international human rights law and standards.

Thai lèse-majesté law

— A Constitutional Court decision in 2012. Section 112 of Thai Criminal Code currently reads as follows: “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”

**Lèse-majesté or lese-majesty is an offence against the dignity of a ruling head of state or the state itself. The English name for this crime is a borrowing from the French, where it means “a crime against The Crown.”


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