Educational Walls in Thailand

Thailand educational walls

Mr. Gorbatschov, tear down this wall – Former US President Ronald Reagan

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something – Prof. Randy Pausch

Those two quotes come to my mind all the time when thinking about education here in my current ‘home country’, Thailand. There are so many moments when everything you do feels like running against walls and you can’t do anything against it. Those walls can only be moved by somebody stronger than you – in terms of power and position. You can’t move them on your own but you and everybody around you realizes that those walls need to disappear. Making them disappear however will eventually weaken those few in charge and make them rely on the masses to work for them and with them instead of only following orders.

Thailand is all about that! Following orders, not thinking about yourself, not changing anything. Doing things the way they have always been done. Change, sure. But not on my watch! – That’s what most people seem to think and how they seem to work. Bureaucracy until you give up seems to be another slogan. Go there, do this, come back, come again, try it one more time, there is a comma missing, say it differently, change again, come back, no wait do it like the first time, I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, we never did this before, better let it be…..Welcome to Thailand! Don’t get annoyed, just smile. Cause that’s what we do. That’s all we do.

How bad do you want it?

Now that’s the feeling when another idea just got blocked and ignored due to ignorance.  But then there’s this second quote up there. Prof. Randy Pausch who influenced me a lot on my path on becoming a lecturer at University used to talk about those brick walls that are there to show how badly somebody wants something. I keep telling my students similar things but what are these talks worth if I don’t do it myself? So there’s the motivation again. I chose this path of being in education and it can’t be all just sunshine and easy going. And Mr. Gorbatschov didn’t decide to tear down those walls all by himself, he needed persuasion from the people. The people who couldn’t and wouldn’t stand behind those walls anymore, people who want changes bad enough to keep on trying and going.

I know that comparing the cold war and Thai education is not really appropriate but nevertheless those two situations come up to my mind quite often right now and since this is a personal blog I simply write about it. I don’t mean to insult anyone and being from Germany and having family in both parts of Germany, East and West, I think I know somehow how people there feel and felt.

So now here we are going on and on and on. Trying to change little things and showing that change is important. That this is not only a personal opinion has been showed by recent researches published in all major newspapers all across Thailand. Those researches stated that Thailand and its education is globally considered, let’s say it how it is, a joke and that Thai education is simply to soft and not able to compete on a global scale.

Why is it that way though?

Once more it starts from the top. You can’t just blame students for being lazy when there is no need for them to study. Students pass their tests whether they study or not and are even able to get good grades with mediocre achievements. I, for example, hear all the time that my exams are to hard and that I am to serious with students – but those are not the words of students, those are the words of colleagues and superiors. When you ask my students most of them will tell you that we are having a great time in class and usually also lots of fun. Hard work doesn’t mean not having fun. Students seem to be able to understand that. They also understand that it is important to be on time and not to come 10 or 15 (or 30) minutes late. However if you allow them to do so, of course they will. Who wouldn’t?

The problem in short: A student’s life in Thailand is a piece of cake. Not because students wouldn’t be able to accomplish more, I’m sure they could, but because they don’t need to do more!

  • To many students having bad grades? Oh let’s just change the grading scale and make more students pass. 
  • Student is 3 points away from a better grade? Oh let’s just give those 3 points to him.
  • Student comes 15 minutes late? Oh let’s just don’t mention it and let him sit in anyways. Even though it’s stated in University rules that coming late isn’t acceptable.
  • Student doesn’t wear uniform or not properly? Oh let’s just look away. 


Those are not the only problems of course though. Other problems like participation, preparation of assignments etc. also have different roots. For once, of course, the ones mentioned above. On the other hand the behavior of educators themselves in and outside of class however also plays an important part in that. If the lecturer isn’t prepared when coming to class, how should the student be motivated to prepare himself? If the lecturer always comes late, why should students be on time? If the lecturer doesn’t care whether or not assignments are being copied from wikipedia, why should students do the work by themselves?

While those are, obviously, very general questions it shows the problem how it occurs every single day. A vicious circle. ‘If they don’t change, I won’t change’ kinda thing. Everybody is waiting for the other to make the first step and while doing so it is still ‘somehow working’ and so we don’t move in any direction.

Moving the walls

Having now figured out the we don’t move the questions ‘what to do’ remains. How to overcome those walls in education in Thailand? The answer won’t surprise but maybe it simply needs to be said: Everybody needs to move – at least a little.

Teachers / Lecturers need to take their job more seriously. Prepare & educate yourself! Don’t just recycle old classes and course material. Improve & re-invent yourself. Then it won’t be a problem to switch your subjects and exam up a notch or two.

(University) Students need to understand that the time of waiting on a school desk for information to be pumped into your brain is over. Higher education is about also about freedom and self improvement and dedication. You are supposed to learn on your own, do further readings and research on your own and not simply rely on lecturer notes and wikipedia.

Educational Administration needs to understand that it is not the centre of the universe and that education has to change just as everything else around us changes. Especially in those modern times that we live in right now change is unavoidable and should not be feared but embraced. Give up some of the power of the few to grow in overall strength and knowledge.

And now, check names!

  • I’m not sure if you’re referencing university uniform policies in your article, but it seems that (at the two schools I’ve taught at and based on the experiences of my other teacher friends) when a student isn’t wearing his/her uniform properly at secondary school, Thai teachers don’t look the other way. I’m mentioning this because this “perfect uniform” idea needs to change. It’s irrelevant and it almost seems there’s more concern of the “perfect uniform” than students receiving a proper education… okay, IT IS that way!

    Great article. I agree with your three closing points, but it’s also going to take a complete overhaul of the cultural identity here to completely move the wall.

  • Couldn’t agree more!

    I mentioned the uniforms only ’cause it’s an example for rules being set up but nobody cares about that – at University. So why not get rid of this stupid rule anyways and only have rules that are, somehow, important. Otherwise they will never learn that rules are there to help. Sometimes.

    Before I came to University I was teaching at a governmental college and yes, you’re right, they spend WAY TO MUCH time for stuff like ‘how to pray’, ‘how to wai’ and ‘how to wear a uniform’ instead of actually teach ‘real’ stuff.

    Glad you agree with my conclusion and yes, sadly it would take the overhaul you mentioned. The thing just is: Many (Thai) people know it would have to change but they’re just to lazy (I guess) as long as everything ‘kinda works out’.

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  • Arsheena Piya

    Firstly, I would like to put my hands down for the comparison you made between Cold War and Thailand’s Education System. I couldn’t have agreed to it more. Me, being an international student here and having transferred from an American University, I fail to understand the system here most of times. Not that I have any major complains. But for instance, everything in this university depends on the group work and nothing is individual except for that one final exam. Most times, students appear to not do anything for the group work. They have language barriers, don’t know how to make presentations well, english is not good, too shy to speak infront of the whole class etc etc.. there are too many excuses. In the end, 1 or 2 group member end making the presentation for the whole team and, everyone gets the equal score. Well, this is just one scenario. There is so more more to this than just this thing.
    I would always be on time for my classes the first semester I joined, wore proper uniform, attended all classes and was always determined to bring my best work forward. But when you see rest not following the same, your pattern of doing things automatically changes. its human nature after all. We feel like its okay to not wear proper uniform or not attend a class because we see others doing the same. and thus, becomes very difficult to cope up.

    • Good point again. I’m glad you’re now doing your semester assignment and are choosing my website to do so 😉

      Regarding this group work however I have to take a different take on that. While I understand that there are always a few students in a group that are to lazy or just don’t care I, and now I’m only speaking for myself, do that on purpose. I think it’s quite important to understand how to work in teams – even with group members that aren’t as dedicated as oneself. This will happen all the time once you hit the job market and those interpersonal skills and your ability to manage such situations will actually help you a lot. That’s why students usually have lots of time to complete my group work assignments so they can figure out how to handle things. Furthermore I think that the professor should be able to see during the presentation whether or not a group member did his or her job. Even if a student fakes the presentation part the Q&A session should do its part to show who really did his part.

      Nevertheless I completely understand your concerns and am not a big fan of simply saying ‘yep, presentation ok, all the same score’. But still I do like group work for the above mentioned reasons.

      I think students should, in general, get rid of the ‘just go with the flow’ attitude (and also get rid of those, sorry, sometimes not to clever excuses) but do more what they think is ‘right’. Attending University is not only about reading books, it’s about growing up, developing character and understanding ‘how stuff works’.

      To be quite honest, I couldn’t care less about the uniform etc., however if it’s a rule Uni has to make sure students obey to it – otherwise just get rid of the rule. Having rules that anyone can just ignore is just wrong and doesn’t help anyone.