The growth, or better said, the “explosion”, of the number of international schools in Thailand, Asia, and the world has been amazing over the last 25 years. In Thailand, this growth started in 1992, when the Thai government initiated the opportunity for international schools to accept Thai students. At that time, there were only a handful of international schools in Thailand, and it was extremely difficult for Thai children to be admitted to these schools.
The reasons for this increase are many, but the two primary factors were the need for Thai students to learn English and related to that was the need to utilize the internet much more, where 80% of the information is in English. These two factors have brought us to where we are today, with over 200 internationals schools in Thailand enrolling as many as 40,000 Thai students. This does not include the many bilingual schools that are operating and teaching in both Thai and English. Worldwide, there are currently over 5,000 international schools, with a projection that the number will double in the next 10 years, with most of that growth happening in Asia.
These new international schools vary greatly in size, orientation, and quality, but the one thing that they all have in common is that the medium of instruction is in English. Whether they are American, British, IB based, or IGCSE, large or small, with a kindergarten through 12th grade program, a kindergarten or a primary school only program, students are taught in English as the medium of instruction. Each of these international schools is required to be accredited by institutions based in the West which assures that the programs these schools are offering meet Western standards and are truly preparing the students to be English speakers, critical thinkers, globally aware, and have the technical skills necessary to be successful at the university level.
The implications for this growth are huge for students, parents/families, and the country of Thailand. All are faced with new opportunities and challenges and hard decisions.
The opportunities for these students are exciting. In the past, only very wealthy Thais could attend universities outside Thailand, especially in Western countries. Wealthy students were able to go abroad and study in private schools K-12 schools in the West, where they learned English alongside native English speakers and had the academic preparation enabling them to obtain admission to Western universities. Now this door is being opened to many more Thai High School graduates. Not only are they gaining English skills, but they are taking a college preparatory Academic program that provides them the knowledge and skills to be admitted to universities throughout the world. Many of these international schools also have academic counselors that work with students and their parents to apply to Western universities, and often with a scholarship attached.
These opportunities are very exciting, but also scary for both the students and their parents. Parents worry about the financial costs, and also worry if their children are prepared to function in a more open and faster paced lifestyle. It can be a huge change going from Thailand to the USA or UK. For many, the only knowledge they have about Western countries is what they see on TV or in the movies, which does not always fit reality. Thankfully, most of these Western universities have excellent programs to orient foreign students into all aspects of life in their universities and communities, but there is still an adjustment for an 18 year old who is going into a whole new world. Fortunately the feedback from the graduates, who do make the move, is very positive. They tell us how powerful and rewarding this change is for them.
These young 18 year olds who study in the West are being exposed to a world very different than what they see in Thailand or wherever they come from in Asia. The economic, political, and social approaches/systems they encounter at this time in their life, when they are very open and impressionable, can and often does have a powerful impact. They are taught to question and critically think about the world in whole new ways. As they return to Thailand, or wherever they are from, they can and likely will impact how they interact with parents, family, and the society as a whole. Technology, through media and the Internet has and will help to “cushion” some of this, but there will be adjustments.
Another important aspect to this growth is the opportunity for Western educators to move to Thailand and work. As someone who has recruited teachers from all over the world, it is wonderful to see how powerful it is to teach and live in a culture that is very different from their own. This is a wonderful way for these young educators to expand their own thinking and learning. Some stay, but many return to their home countries, with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world.
It is an exciting future we are facing, and the growth and expansion of international schools is accelerating the changes. Hopefully, the changes will be mainly positive and will lead to better understanding of different cultures and ways of thinking. It will help us to know and respect our differences and what makes us unique and special, and facilitate the world to a more global community. It is a winning formula!
About the Author
Dr. Roxy J. Pestello Ed D is Associate Director at KPIS International School. He served as Deputy Head of School for six years and as Interim Head for one year at the International School Bangkok (1996-2003). Roxy was responsible for every area of the school’s management at some time during his seven years as Head and Deputy Head. During the year (2004-05), he served as the Consulting Director, helping to set up a new residential school in an area outside of Bangalore, India. Currently he is the Associate Director of Keerapat International School in Bangkok, Thailand advising the school Owners and Administration on all aspects of school.