Mark Newman

The social graduate

There is much to appreciate about what goes on at a Thai school

In 1970, I took the 11+ (IQ test for 11-year-old kids in the UK) and then waited a few weeks to find out that I had passed. My mum was chuffed... and surprised! I assume my dad was pleased, too - he was in the pub! A few weeks later, I was bundled off to boarding school and promptly forgotten about.

Maw and Paw took me back for the holidays and gave me food and stuff, which was nice, but it was clear to me that from an early age, I'd be teaching myself how to make a success of life.

Fast forward to 2017 and I'm sitting with the rest of my co-workers taking part in graduation day for the prathom 6 students that I have been teaching since they left kindergarten six years earlier.

The day unfolds

The day starts off with everyone assembling in the playgrounds and common areas of the school at around 8 o clock. There are meals and snacks available if you want it. It's a good opportunity for students and staff to catch up. Kids from previous graduations wai and acknowledge me, but they don't stop and say "hello" as their English hasn't progressed since I last taught them. In most cases it's RE-gressed!

At 9:30, the teachers all take their seats at the back of the arena, the VIPs and school admins take the comfy seats at the front and the prathom 6 students start trickling in to accept their expensive looking graduation folders and have their photo taken. (It's the only photo the students will have to look back on, where they aren't making ridiculous hand gestures!)

In other parts of the school; visitors, parents and other family members mill around drinking water, take photos and peer in over the proceedings to make sure nobody has fainted.

An activity-packed day

I was hopeful that this performance would be over in an hour or so and that I could get out of the relentless heat, but I was wrong. There's a lot more to this day than just a 'photo op'. There are speeches by principals and owners of the school. There are motivational videos and other videos on how to deal with bullying and cyberbullying. There are special commendations for the 'head boys and girls' and other students who have over-performed over the previous year.

This was all a far cry from the almost total abandonment that I had been through nearly 50 years earlier and as I sat at the back of the arena watching these events unfold it occurred to me that it's worth highlighting the good things that happen in Thai schools...

There is much to mock about the academic system here in Thailand but the school does have a few things going for it.

East v West

Firstly, unlike the West, there isn't an epidemic of junior suicides! Kids aren't swinging off trees or wrapping the net curtains around their throats in their bedrooms. There's a social inclusiveness in Thailand that stops this from happening and it's taught from an early age.There is absolutely NO bullying going on at all. It just wouldn't be acceptable and anyone who tried it on would soon be 'outed' and set straight.

Schooling is stress-free. In the West, students and teachers actively hate school and want to avoid it as much as possible. In Thailand, it's a non-stop party with some lessons thrown in. Kids and staff like being here!

Students are applauded and rewarded for the good things that they do in many effective ways. Now, you may think that there's not much point to all this, but kids yearn to be acknowledged and appreciated... even when they probably don't deserve it! It's part of what creates 'good people' and it's one thing that Thailand is good at doing.

Getting it right

In my view, there is the correct balance of intrusion and encouragement when it comes to junior school. In Taiwan and Japan, they are just fanatical about studying and in the West, we're almost at the point where we've given up caring. Thailand seems to have a nice balance... the parents, teachers and the government care and are involved but they aren't crazy-ape-shit bonkers about it!

"No child left behind!" may not have academic application in 'The Land Of Smiles' but it does apply socially. It might be worth thinking about that as the new year starts in May...

When you get frustrated because kids aren't learning as much as you are teaching - maybe there's more to life and school than just your lesson plans!

Enjoy the summer break, fellow chalkies!


A bit of a two dimensional simplification of Thai school reality. That is, more like one of my own blogs, rather than one of Mark's.

In contrast, many students do feel under pressure to archieve with the constant mid-term - final term testing. Plus, there are Thai parents who have high academic expectations of their children.

While, I do agree there is relatively little bullying in Thailand, when compared to the UK (it is a good reason why my own daughter studies here) still it does exist, and is usually dealt out passive aggressively..

Also, I have witnessed much physical and verbal abuse on students, over the years, from Thai teachers, whereas this form of behaviour has all but been removed from the UK's system.

Thai schools are not all as rosy as the picture Mark paints. (I feel that Mark may have been feeling sorry for himself here, whilst comparing his own childhood to that of his students, and I wouldn't blame him if he were.)

Still, from having read many of his blogs, it seems that it might have been his early circumstances, which have made Mark the highly resourceful person he is today.

By Richard Constable, Bang Na (12th September 2021)

I'd agree with some other posters; it's probably a good description of your school and if you're happy there why not stay put? That world happiness report can't be right though - the UK is all the way up in 19th place!

By John, Bangkok (21st March 2017)

Thailand is the "Happiest" country in Asia!

As if to back up my light-hearted article on how well Thailand does outside of academic achievement, The World Happiness Report for this year agrees with me.

Thailand rates #32 in the world and #1 in Asia!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (of course!) (20th March 2017)

I think the author is keeping it light hearted. I get where he is coming from , as no matter the ability of the student, they pass so whats the point in it all.
also @JamesKateley.......i bet it's a right laugh working with you ;) ... (don't take it so seriously mate...its Thailand)

By Ed, Bangkok (18th March 2017)

An excellent piece on your school-you sound very happy there. Well done!
One piece of advice, don't even ever think about Teaching Mattayom in a Government School.
It's like having a Root Canal treatment with no anasthetic-I joke not.
And as for M3/13 , the Terminator, Arnie would 'not be back.!!
Keep up the good work mate, Thailand is lucky to have you.
Regards Neil.

By Neil Wragg, U. K. (17th March 2017)

I'm not quite sure that Mark is being completely serious here. This article doesn't quite get it.

Firstly there is bullying going on, that's quite plain to see for anyone who has worked in a Thai school. The inclusiveness is quite brutal if you're not included!

Secondly about the fun part - never taking anything too seriously: he's half right. Why half? because half of the students coast through school getting passed through each year without caring much about what they learn. The other half spend most of the time, including evenings and weekends, studying. Look at all of the study centres in any big city. These students want to get into the best schools and the best universities. (Probably best for contacts when it comes down to it.) It might not be exactly half and half, but you can split the students up into these two groups.

One thing he has got right is that Thai students don't suffer from the same pressure as students in some other countries. It's just not in their culture in the same way.

Mark, do you speak Thai?

By John, Bangkok (16th March 2017)

Actually, I agree.

I have a child who will be going to school, and people ask if I will be going home or International school, and my answer is no. I work at a University, I see some of the products of that education, and its quite impressive. What you see in your English classes might not be the full story.

Thailand is like this on many levels. It shouldn't work, it should be designed better, but it sort of works and people are happy.

By Rob, Bkk (cos it annoys Phil) (16th March 2017)

Everything in life involves trade-offs, more social inclusion and "fun" mean less academic achievement. Is the trade-off worthwhile? Thais generally seem to think so, grumpy old farang teachers, generally less so. I am on the fence here, I can see both sides, but the side I grow up on culturally generally seems a little more appealing.

But in the end, no one in Thailand has asked me how to revise the Thai educational system, so my opinion is unlikely to have much impact.

A good thought (and comment) provoking piece.

By Jack, In front of my computer (16th March 2017)

Having been here 13 years. Taught in 6 different cities and attended most of these graduations I cannot believe I just read that. How can one be proud of graduating with a party, when many students do fail but "other means" are used to put the correct number on their report card.

Where the Thai system gets it correct is that these graduation days allow for more consumption. Teaching the next generation of WMC's. (weapons of mass consumption). As an manufacturing based economy that is what is needed. Does not matter the consequences. Very progressive.

And while I am on that subject. Apparently a progressive today is someone trying to give something back to the community. To give something back means you probably took to much to start with so i suggest a progressive person is someone who did not make the mess in the first place and therefore does need to feel guilty. Making a bigger mess is not giving something back.

Have fun

By T Mark, Chantaburi (16th March 2017)

Are u kidding me???

By Rick Rezac, Rangsit/Huahin (16th March 2017)

This is certainly not the case in my school, or many others across the country that take education seriously and try to implement some standards and quality teaching methodologies into the Thai system. Teachers here take pride in designing curricula, schemes of work, lesson plans and engaging teaching materials that engage and progress a broad spectrum of learning styles and levels represented in the classroom. On top of this we have a continuous cycle of incremental assessment and report writing to measure each student's progress and identify individual areas of development.

While there is always time for fun and games, teaching anywhere, including Thailand, should certainly not a "non-stop party" and by suggesting otherwise it trivialises the whole role of education. I, like most other professional teachers, take my job seriously and realise that the lessons we give today will impact our students' and in turn society's opportunities tomorrow. Yes, there are serious flaws in the Thai education system but that does not mean we should give up on the concept of developing our students intellectually, mentally, morally and emotionally. We do our best to nurture young minds and strive to find innovative ways to overcome the obstacles and frustrations the Thai education system gives us.

I find this article rather demeaning to those of us who do improve our students' language and knowledge. The author seems to take pride in reporting that a Prathom 6 student has not made any progress since Kindergarten and even boasts that they might have "RE gressed". This is abhorrent to any real teacher and would not be tolerated in any decent school in Thailand. Perhaps the author should think about the disservice he and his school is giving their students and reflect upon the future ramifications of this!

By James Kateley, Rayong (16th March 2017)

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