Options for the best international schools in Thailand
Most international schools in Thailand will be opening in August, but how do I choose a good school for my children? This is a question that I get asked so many times and a tough one to answer. Let’s give it a go then.
Why August? Well most schools realize that they big aim is university entrance and opening in August gives them a month or more lead in teaching and learning over schools that wait until September and they close right after the international exams in May whereas Western counterparts hang around for a month after the exams when the students have completed their studies and have nothing to do. UK and USA schools often work until the end of July when the main exams are over in the first weeks of May. Smart international schools.
“Which is the best one?” should be rephrased as which is the best one for my child. Generally you get what you pay for, just the same as a car, mobile phone, house etc.
The big four in alphabetical order are International School Bangkok (ISB), often known as the American school and not to be confused with American School Bangkok (ASB). NIST on Sukhumvit is quite cosmopolitan with over 50 nationalities, Patana is sometimes called the British school and Ruamrudee International school which has quite a “rich” Thai, Thai-Farang population but also has a Swiss-German annex that follows their own curriculum. The big four are all excellent schools with specialized, qualified teachers, for example the French teachers come from France, the English teachers are English or American, teachers are often examiners for international exams, text writers and are fully trained. No visa run teachers here! These schools send students to the top universities in the world every year. Entrance to Ivy Leagues colleges like Harvard and Stanford, UK’s best like Oxford and Cambridge, Asia’s top universities in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Singapore are seen every year, often with scholarships. Student have little problem entering Thammasat, Chula or Mahidol.
The problem is that you get what you pay for and these schools give a lot, therefore they cost a lot. It is a fair mathematical exercise to calculate the bottom line for any school. Take the annual feel (some schools do 2 semester, some do 3 terms), add all sorts of extras like registration, deposit, uniform, transport and whatever the school is trying to keep out of the tuition fee. The big four could come to a million baht a child for the first year, to get an idea just go to Google and type in “fees Thailand international school” and you can see most of the one hundred plus international schools in Bangkok. Many student’s fees are paid for by the parent’s company in their employment package. Embassies, companies, financial institutions etc. That is the type of student that your child would be mixing with at the big four.
Other options? There are many, try this. It’s the International Schools Association of Thailand website which is more of a directory. There is a huge number of international schools in Thailand, all have their good points.
I would like to go back to “which is the best one for my child?” You have to make a list of strengths and hopes. Strengths – what is your child good at? Be realistic, is it languages, mathematics, English, science, music, sports, personality, what? Hopes – where would you like your child to go to college? USA, UK, India, Australia, Thailand? If it is Thailand, you could well just go with a Thai government school and save all of that money. Now you should have jigsaw shape for your child with their strengths and hopes and you just have to find the school that it will fit into.
OK, so how to choose an international school?
Find the full cost for one year at school to see if you can afford it.
Is location important? Most parents would like to send their children to a school that is close to their home, especially when their children are little and they are still new to Thailand. This can give the parents a sense of closeness to their children and also safety. Usually, relocation services will give similar recommendations when they introduce you to your new neighborhood in Thailand. Sending small children for hours on a bus seems like torture. Many parents choose the closest school for this reason and decide to change schools at a later age. How much later is a tough question.
Teachers and staff
No matter what school your children attend, they will spend most of the school day with their teacher. Teachers and staff are the real humans behind the school. The quality and quantity of the teachers in the school are very important. Fully qualified teachers with teaching certificates and degrees relevant to their subjects that are here on a work permit, that’s what you are looking for. Also look at the principal’s background. A great principal can really make a school. Try to be there during a morning assembly.
Check the class sizes, ideally an average in the low teens where some classes are really small and some may go up to 20. I have seen Thai classes of 50 plus!
Good schools follow the International Baccalaureate (IB), USA system or a National Curriculum and do not make it up for themselves. Are the course offerings sufficiently extensive to meet your child’s needs? How many co-curricular activities (arts, sports, clubs, community service) are offered? What types of standardized tests are offered, and how do the students perform? In the last year, what universities accepted the school’s graduates?