Richard McCully

Strict discipline at Thai schools

Teachers aren't afraid to dish out the punishment if a student steps out of line.


There have been a flurry of stories of teachers physically striking students in Thailand as a form of punishment over the last six months or so. 

I’ve seen stories where parents had publicly shamed the teacher involved and others where the story had been brushed under the carpet after a couple of days. 

The outcry from most was that these teachers were dinosaurs, stuck in the dark ages when it came to classroom management. However, it seems that some parents have supported teachers using these methods and said that outraged parents should send their children to different schools if they didn’t approve of physical punishment.

The topic of school discipline came up in one of my classes a couple of weeks ago and it was pretty illuminating to me what happens in some schools here. I talked about it with some Thai friends over the weekend and they had pretty mixed views over discipline and in their experiences here.

I remember…

Looking back on our schooldays we all have different memories. For many Thai people I speak to, there are a few topics which always come up. Judging by my discussion with current students, these practices are happening today in some Thai high schools.

The cane

What shocked me was that my current high school-aged students said that the cane is still used in a lot of their high schools. Pretty much all of my class said they had been hit at some point. Some said they suffered a lot of pain and others said it wasn’t too bad. Regardless of the force used, it seems barbaric that this is still done.

Most of my current students, and Thai friends, hated teachers for doing this. Of course not every teacher hit their students my friends said, but those who did seemed to have little remorse for doing so. Whilst some teachers use a cane, others use rulers or other objects to strike students with.

Sent To military-style camp

One of the most shocking punishments given out is that some students are sent to a military-like camp for four days if their behavior isn’t up to standard. The students also have to pay for the camp themselves.

I only found this out from my current students but it is seen as a way to force students to behave a certain way, conform to dress codes, finish homework and complete extra tasks for their teachers. Imagine being threatened with going to a four-day camp if you wore the wrong socks or your hair was slightly too long, it sounds incredibly harsh to me.

It turns out this is based on a points system where you need to maintain your points by sticking to the rules. I understand the rules but the punishment certainly doesn’t seem to match the crime in this case…

Forced hair cuts

I worked at a Thai high school for a few months and have first-hand experience of students being forced to get hair cuts at school. 

Whilst I was teaching a class, an older Thai teacher walked in and interrupted by calling out four boys. I stood in shock wondering what was going on, whilst thinking the teacher was pretty rude to interrupt my class, and saw most of the class laughing. When I walked to the door to see what was happening, I saw the teacher taking a pair of clippers to each of the boys and giving them a buzz cut. When they walked back in they didn’t seem too unhappy and the class all laughed.

I didn’t think much of the incident as it seemed like a usual event for the class. I was only there around three months so it wasn’t until I started my next job at a language school where I heard the negative of school hair cuts.

A lot of students, mostly women, talked about harrowing experiences of getting their hair cut by teachers. I can imagine it would effect female students more and, whilst some laughed looking back at the mandatory school hair styles, some had stories of awful things done to them. 

Most said that teachers just took out scissors and cut, obviously not worried about keeping the style or for the feelings of the students. Pretty much all of the students said they had to go to a salon after school to attempt to fix the mess the untrained teacher hair-stylist had caused. This happened to my girlfriend once and she still hates the teacher who cut her hair to this day.

I think that most students, begrudgingly, accept their school hair style policy but not the way it’s enforced.

Run around The pitch

If you’re late to school in the morning then you run around the football pitch several times in the baking sun. This is a practice that seems to be old as time in schools here. Most of my friends said they skipped school if they were late or arrived at lunch just to avoid this punishment. I don’t blame them.

Gate monitors

I wrote a while back about gate duty and how much it sucked to do. However, some of my friends said that certain teachers volunteer to do it just to pick on students.

Certainly my experience was that Thai teachers were extremely harsh on the arriving students. Some teachers would either make students do jumping jacks or other physical tasks if their socks weren’t pulled up or they were missing something. Indeed, my Thai school had a small room next to the gate where I later learned students were taken to to get their hair cut if the gate monitor wasn’t happy.

Many of my friends would either arrive super early to avoid the gate monitors or would make a bee-line to the foreign teachers who didn’t pull them up for small infringements.

What Drives A Teacher To Use Physical Discipline Against A Student?

As a teacher, there are certainly times when we get frustrated, maybe even annoyed with a class but having the internal desire to scream your head off is a world away from hitting a child. This topic was the main part of my discussion with friends over the weekend, why did a teacher resort to these methods?

My first thought was that there was pressure on younger teachers to continue these practices from older colleagues. I thought that maybe younger teachers didn’t really want to do this and that perhaps using violence to control a class would die out. I was shouted down by my friends who said that, in their experience, age and school standing didn’t play a part in the willingness of a teacher to use these methods.

A lot of teachers here must be under a huge amount of stress I pointed out. Just this last week a report came out saying that the average school teacher is 3 million baht in debt. 

I also know that teaching classes of 50+ students isn’t easy and the workload must be huge. There is also the pressure to keep up appearances as a teacher and not to show weakness. Whilst these aren’t reasons to use violence, it certainly shows stress I argued to my friends. They agreed that teachers must be stressed but that a lot of teachers seemed to enjoy giving out harsh punishments and it wasn’t always when they seemed stressed out by a naughty class.

I also felt that it might be because of a lack of training or ability to control the class. My friends seemed to think this was partially correct in that hitting students and giving harsh punishments did help control a class. However, my friends also have lots of teachers they still love as they didn’t use such punishments, they said it showed that teachers do have the ability to control classes without violence if they wish.

My final suggestion was that teachers did these things as they thought they could get away with them. Without social media, cameras etc these issues weren’t shared as frequently in the past. Nowadays it’s easier to share a story online and get attention to issues. 

My friends somewhat agreed but also said that it was still widely known that these things were going on before the internet, it happened to their parents too who shared their stories. Perhaps now attitudes are changing both in students and their parents.  

I didn’t get to a final reason why this type of punishment happens with my Thai friends. Most agreed that some teachers here give out violent, or harsh, punishments because they enjoy doing it and it’s seen as the right thing to do. Hopefully the continuing publishing of issues will encourage these practices to change in the near future.

Another important point I got from speaking to my friends was the love they have for some of their Thai teachers. Many of my friends still go back to their old high schools and meet their old teachers. This certainly shows that not all teachers use physical punishments against students. 

Hopefully these teachers can help others see the error of their ways. 


If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  


Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

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Settling in Thailand takes a broad, insightful and balanced approach – neither too cynical nor evangelical, this book sets a precedent in terms of presenting a positive but realistic and non-judgemental description of Thailand life for foreign residents. 

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Comments

If it's as ill disciplined as that then maybe it says a lot about the quality of teaching going on. If you witnessed this during your classes it says a lot about your own classroom management 'skill'

By Ajarn getting a bit old, Rangsit (22nd January 2020)

Apologies for the follow up comment but I find it shocking and a bit unbelievable that a teacher would get up early, for free because they can badger their students without the constraints of the classroom. While anything is possible, I am incredulous. Again, you know some dubious teachers and some marginal students.

Four of five schools I've worked in had teachers stationed at the gate. These schools would fall in the top 10-15 best public schools in Bangkok. I never once saw evidence of students being picked on by teachers, to the contrary.

Why the hell do foreigners always see Thai teachers and admin as adversaries and horrible people?

For the record I've told make students to sort themselves out on campus. Tie their shoes, pull up their shorts, tuck in their shirts.

Not only that but there are lots of parents coming and going. You just can't pick on some kid for the fun of it ffs.

If this is happening at your school - you may be at the wrong school.

Try getting a better group of students.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (21st January 2020)

Schools heavy on discipline and punishment are usually bad schools in general. Students are not so clever, nor their teachers.

Good schools have lots of rules but a code of honor and the sheer horror of doing something stupid and being branded for it keeps students in check.

By and large, Thai kids are lovely. Looking for monsters? Go home and teach.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (21st January 2020)

Some students don't mind it, but they tend to resent it in the later years. It may have been Aristotle that said 'if you smack the child, then he will smack you back' So use your power with caution. It was funny, one time I saw a autistic student glue an I.D. picture on his homework. This is an example of where one would not smack a child. Just an innocent kid

By Big peacock, The playhouse (21st January 2020)

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