The Sorry State of Thai Education – Part 1: Ridiculous O-NET Questions

Thai secondary school students taking examination. Image source:

We’ve heard much lamentation about the sorry state of Thai education and how Thai students perform so poorly compared to those in other countries far and near. Not only that Thai students rank near the bottom in international standardized test scores, they even flunk national standardized tests year after year.

Thai students need to pass the O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test) to graduate at the primary (P.6), lower secondary (M.3) and upper-secondary (M.6) school levels. O-NET is organized by the National Institute of Educational Testing Service (NIETS). Ever since O-NET has been implemented 6-7 years ago, it has been criticized for many deficiencies, while students have performed extremely poorly on the O-NET tests. Every year, students and parents complain about O-NET and the media report how bad it is. And the next year, the same thing happens all over again.

How bad? Well, let’s look at the O-NET scores from last year among the upper-secondary O-NET for M.6 (Grade 12) students (which are the most important as they are used for university admission). The 2011 average O-NET scores for all 8 subjects tested, save one, were below 50%. The scores in the most important subjects were even worse: under 20% for Math and English and 30.90% for Sciences.

  • Thai language (42.61%)
  • Social science (46.51%)
  • English (19.22%)
  • Mathematics (14.99%)
  • Sciences (30.90%)
  • Health and physical education (62.86%)
  • Arts (32.62%)
  • Vocational education and technology (43.69%)

Still worse news, NIETS Director Mr. Sampan Phanphruek said in early 2011 that the trend showed the scores in the three most important subjects steadily declining over the past three years. For instance, in 2010, the average scores were “better” for English and Math: 23.98% for English and 28.56% for Math. In other words, the trend has been going from very, very bad, to ghastly. Statistical breakdowns of the scores will leave any Thai who cares about Thailand’s future further shaken.

Each year there are roughly 350,000 M.6 students taking the test in each of the 8 O-NET subjects. The table below shows the lowest score group, top score group, the mode (majority) score group, and the actual highest score achieved for each subject. (Maximum score for each subject is 100%.)

Table: Statistical breakdowns of 2011 M.6 O-NET scores


Bottom score group (N)

Top score group (N)

Majority score group (N)

Highest score (N)


0-10% (77)

90-100% (2)

30-34% (92,100)

92% (1)

Social Science

0% (21)

80-90% (52)

40-50% (170,252)

87% (1)


0% (21)

90-100% (148)

10-20% (206,611)

100% (1)


0% (1,274)

90-100% (1,056)

0-10% (164,372)

100% (92)


0% (3)

90-100% (5)

20-30% (183,055)

92% (1)

Health Education

0% (4)

90-100% (5)

60-70% (153,151)

92.5% (5)


0% (9)

60-70% (64)

30-40% (156,763)

67% (2)

Vocational Education

0% (60)

80-90% (7)

40-50% (114,228)

82% (4)

Source: Kru Nid Guide “คะแนนสูง-ต่ำ’โอเน็ต-GAT-PAT’ คณิต-อังกฤษได้ไม่ถึง20นับแสน,” 24 April 2011,

If you think the average scores are bad, look at the majority scores. More than half (over 200K or 59%) of M.6 students who took the O-NET exam got just 10-20% of the right answers in the English subject; nearly half (47%) were in the bottom 10th percentile who got just 0-10% of the Math answers right; and just about half (52%) got 20-30% of the Sciences answers right. Now, there are usually 5 multiple choices in the O-NET questions at the M.6 level. Any guess will give you a 20% chance of getting the right answer. I can imagine how the kids in the “0” group score managed to get a perfect Zero–just fill out your name and fall asleep or day dream until it’s time to go. But to get less than 20% in any subject would take some effort.

Are Thai kids really that stupid?

Some probably are, as it is statistically inevitable. And on the other end of the bell curve there must be some extremely bright ones, as is usually the case. But looking at the misshapen O-NET bell, I suspect something other than Thai kids’ scholastic abilities is involved. Obviously, judging by the number of students that scored perfect “0” more than a few simply gave up on the exam. Quite a few excelled in all subjects except Arts (really, what’s wrong with that subject with the highest score only 67%?). But given the scores of the majority, would it be fair to say that the majority of Thai school kids are stupid as their scores suggest? What do these scores reflect in terms of quality of the Thai education? These questions are worth discussing but for now let’s look at what kind of questions Thai students have to answer in the O-NET exams.

The question most talked about this year appeared in the Health Education exam which M.6 students took just took on 19 February.

Q2: If you have a sexual urge, what must you do?

a) Call friends to go play football.

b) Talk to your family.

c) Try to sleep.

d) Go out with a friend of the opposite sex.

e) Invite a close friend to see a movie.

Lest you forget, this was a question asked to 17- and 18-year-olds. Supposedly, the NIETS Director came out, after much incredulity and mockery expressed by Thai society, and said that “a) Call friends to go play football” was the correct answer. But the former NIETS Director gave an interview, possibly before the current director gave his, and said she believed “b) Talk to your family” was the correct answer. There you go. What is an appropriate response for a hormone-raging 18-year-old Thai when he or she feels a sexual urge? Go out a play football like a good boy (if you are a girl, then pretend to be a boy), or say to mommy “Mommy I feel horny, what should I do?” Or try to sleep? Of all the five choices, 17- and 18-year-olds would more likely choose d), or c), but they’d rather be caught wearing their mother’s mumu before choosing either of the “correct” choices a) or b).

This was a question in Health Education. What exactly was this question testing? Health or sex education? Or sexual morality? If sex education, then choice c) could have been reworded to read “Masturbate and go to sleep,” which would have been a correct and realistic answer for either sex. If sexual morality, well, why was it being tested in Health Education? Even if we allow that it’s relevant, “whose morality” was it being testing? And which NIETS director’s morality would be correct?

Two more questions from the same set in Health Education:

Q1: If you are a couple, what is an appropriate behavior according to the Thai tradition?

a) Walking together hand over each other’s shoulders, shopping.

b) Going out together, eating and seeing movies.

c) Putting head on the others’ lap in public.

d) Going to the beach, staying overnight together.

e) Feed each other in restaurants.

Does anyone know what is the appropriate Thai behavior or tradition for couples? And if there is such a thing, by whose definition is it “appropriate”? Again, what kind of knowledge does this question evaluate?

Q3: What is “transvestic”* behavior? [*/lakka-phet/, this rather old Thai term is often understood as both transvestism and homosexuality, although /lakka-phet/ has obtained a more clinical definition of “transvestism”, while another clinical term /rak-ruam-phet/ refers to “homosexuality”]

a) Collect underwear of the opposite sex.

b) Dress in the style of the opposite sex.

c) Love someone of the same sex.

d) Expose one’s genitals.

e) Be a peeping tom peeping on a friend of the opposite sex in the bathroom.

Have teenagers pick a transvestite or a homosexual from a lineup of perverts! A nice way to test knowledge and ensure understanding and respect for diversity in the process? Pardon me, I just can’t help it.

This type of questions is not new. The NIETS was in hot water for exactly this sort of questions two years before, for a similar set of questions in the same subject in 2009. Here it is, with a different gender angle (reported by The Nation).

Nid was a beautiful girl and many boys were after her. She rarely turned them down when asked out on a date. In the end, she had sexual relationship with a friend and showed signs of morning sickness. Worried, Nid consulted her male friend and he told her she should have an abortion. She followed his advice and died of vaginal bleeding.

Q1: Why did many boys like Nid?
a) She was beautiful.
b) She was friendly.
c) She liked going out at night.
d) She did not reject their requests.

Q2: What is the most common danger for girls going out at night?
a) Being robbed.
b) Being drugged.
c) Being raped.
d) Being physically assaulted

Q3: When running into problems, whom should Nid have turned to?
a) A male friend
b) A close friend
c) Homeroom teacher
d) Parents

Q4: What is the best way of dealing with pregnancy while in school?
a) Take maternity leave
b) Undergo abortion because it is impossible to raise a baby at this age
c) Drop out of school to find a job and raise the baby
d) Lodge a complaint with police to force those involved to take responsibility

Q5: What should Nid have done to avoid her tragic end?
a) Preserved her virginity
b) Not engaged in sex because she was not mature enough
c) Paid attention to her studies
d) Not engaged in premarital sex

In response to heavy criticisms for this particular set of “ridiculous and irrational” questions, the then NIETS Director Dr. Uthumporn Jamornmarn (who said the correct answer was “Talk to your family” if having a sexual urge) insisted that all the above questioned were “well designed.” “We checked and rechecked every question. We can explain why we asked this or that.” But hear one of her explanations: “since abortion was not allowed under Thai law, students who knew about this should have been able to choose the right answer…. It took university lecturers and teachers five to six months to come up with these questions.” (Wow! I really want to know who those geniuses were.) The former NIETS Director also said at the time that she was planning to bar people from publicizing O-NET questions in the future without receiving prior permission from NIETS. Well, she did follow up on that. The questions from this year weren’t supposed to have left the exam room. But obviously they were so irresistible. The kids couldn’t stop themselves memorizing (or copying them secretly), and shared with us more ridiculous questions that NIETS must have spent months designing.

Given the kind of questions asked in Health Education, it’s amazing that over 40% of exam takers managed to get as much as 60-70% of the answers correct. One can’t help wondering if Health Education is the subject at which Thai high school students perform best in the O-NET exam, what kind of questions are asked in other subjects which most of them flunk.

Here’s one question in the Sciences subject which was sneaked out from this year’s O-NET.


Q4: Locals have found a bizarre item. It is round and soft. If it is not fed water, it shrinks and becomes a hard object. This hard object, when given water, will return to its soft, bigger state. What is it?

a) Naga egg

b) Giant salamander egg

c) Quartz

d) Chaa Khaimuk “Pearl tea” (flour balls in milk tea)

e) Hydrogel

This should be an easy guess, given only two choices sound scientific. But “naga egg”? “Pearl tea”? Who says the NIETS has no sense of humor? I admit, this is my most favorite O-NET question.

I checked on the NIETS website, in search of more sample questions and got a link from there. I looked at sample questions in English subject and could imagine why many Thai students couldn’t pick the right answers. They way many questions was designed, only students with a very good understanding of grammar, high level of fluency and familiarity with colloquial English could answer correctly. Most Thai students with their level of English (judging by their teachers’), must be confused and can’t see the fine difference among the answer choices. I guess even native English speakers may be confused by some of the questions. Let’s see some.

Q: Sak goes to see a doctor. The first thing the doctor says to him is: “…………”

a) Can you tell me everything that’s wrong?

b) So what have you been doing?

c) May I help you?

d) What seems to be the problem?

Q: You are in a taxi in New York City and the taxi driver is driving too fast.
You say : “……….”

a) Step on it, driver.

b) Break the car, driver. [Wonder if the exam writers meant “break” or “brake” the car.]

c) Slow down, driver.

d) Speed less, driver.

Q: Mr. Smith has just been promoted to president of your company. You are
happy for him. When you meet him, you say :”……….”

a) Lucky for you.

b) Congratulations.

c) Fine promotion.

d) Better luck next time.

More sample questions can be seen on this page. (The link to sample Math questions is broken.)

As I am writing this, students and non-students alike are still complaining about the O-NET questions, lamenting and RIP-ing Thai education on various websites and social media. Common complaints are that the O-NET questions are too difficult, ridiculous or too vague. Many say the questions bear little relation to what they have learned in class or even in cram schools. And talking of cram schools, many have also said that their teachers don’t teach everything in class but save the best bits for “tutoring” class after school, for which they have to pay, which of course, poor kids can’t afford.

Surely, the scholastic performance of Thai students can be improved in many areas, but it appears that they aren’t being well taught or well tested. Judging by the questions asked in O-NET, it seems not only the students need to be properly tested. The O-NET exam designers need to also be given some proper exams. First, the very tests which they supposedly spent months writing, checking and agreeing on, as a committee: see what percentage they will get the answers right in each subject.  Second, they need to be tested whether they really know how to write standardized tests. These O-NET tests are churned out year after year showing terrible performance by students. But who is testing the O-NET exam writers? Or the NIETS? Given the kind of questions they ask and the scores of students shown above, it would be fair to ask about their competency, wouldn’t it?

It’s not that the NIETS has no long-term plan to improve the O-NET scores of Thai students. They do apparently. The current NIETS Director reportedly said  that the NIETS recognized students at all levels (primary, lower and upper secondary) do very poorly in key subjects. The top concerns are English and Math. “Schools must step up on improving [??],” he said. He didn’t specify what exactly the schools needed to improve. But as for the NIETS, it does have a clear goal. By 2018, the average O-NET scores of Thai students in 5 key subjects (Thai, Math, English, Sciences, and Social Science) will be above 50%. Should one feel reassured or should one shudder at the prospect of 6 more years of this type of O-NET questions?!

Compared to national tests like O-NET,  Thai students actually perform better in international standardized tests like PISA – The Programme for International Student Assessment used in OECD and many other countries – which is a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils’ performance in mathematics, science and reading.

Part 2 of this Thai Education series will discuss  Thai students’ international test scores and what they say about the quality of Thai education.


The article was originally published on February 23, 2012 for SiamVoices on Asian Correspondent (see many comments there).

36 responses to “The Sorry State of Thai Education – Part 1: Ridiculous O-NET Questions

  1. It doesn’t really matter if people criticize NIETS.

    It’s one of those non-government agencies set up by the military to be independent of all those corrupt politicians – and hence is above public oversight .

    It’s management is under no official obligation to answer to anybody and its budget can not be touched.

  2. EXCELLENT, Kaewmala,

    Well written and well thought out. I look forward to reading Part 2.

    In the meantime, I have a solution to the overall problem: Make
    the exam easier. Pose questions that even first-grade students
    can answer correctly. That way, hai na all students and the image
    of Thailand will be elevated. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

    I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is for us farang to deal
    not only with the Thai obsession for gaining face or not losing face,
    but the challenge of being critical–even when only attempting to
    help. And that creates more problems for Thais.

    For example, I have a dear Thai friend who teaches English in high
    school in Korat. We met on line a decade ago and her English was
    reasonable. When we later met, I was unable to understand her
    spoken English. Literally. Even after asking her to repeat and repeat
    her words, she still sounded like she had marbles in her mouth.
    Bad enough. But she invited me to her classroom to help provide
    her students with some English conversation practice.

    And Thai culture does not permit me to point out the consequences
    of such inadequacies.

    Just one more example:
    A new Thai friend is completing work on her Master’s in English.
    She recently did a research project and sent it to me with the
    following message:
    “For me I feel very serious with my research…I face with some
    big problem I have a problem about English gramma…I bother
    you help to check gramma of this research……But if you are
    busy…..I am sorry that I bother you…..again and again.”

    The above is verbatim. I did not change, add or delete a single
    word. How many years of English study and still unable to pen a
    simple request for help. (You should have seen the paper she
    submitted to me; virtually illiterate.)
    I called and asked if she wanted me to rewrite the paper in perfect English. “Yes,” she replied.
    “And you will submit the paper as yours to your English professor?”
    I asked.
    “Yes,” she said again.
    “But that would be unethical,” I protested.
    She said, “Ethics? In Thailand?” and she laughed.

    Keep up the good work,


  3. I prefer Rabelais’ five chosen methods of dealing with the sexual urge:

  4. I’m a native English speaker (American) with a university degree and a professional journalist and writer. Most of the sample test questions listed above are so bad, either because there’s no way to clearly know the correct answer based on the question, or because the correct answer could be any of several of the choices, depending on one’s personal viewpoint.

    The questions and the various answers above simply don’t measure students’ aptitude in those subject areas in any kind of objective, meaningful way.

    The test results and publicity about them point to there being a lot of poorly educated kids, at least viewing the results from the surface. But after looking at the details, it certainly appears that the bigger dimwits are those academics (???) who spend months devising such a stupid, irrelevant bunch of exam questions.

  5. Jaybird, the exam isn’t designed to test the student’s “personal viewpoints” – It’s designed to test whether the student can repeat the official viewpoint of the test-makers.

  6. Hey, Paul: I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is for us farang to deal
    not only with the Thai obsession for gaining face or not losing face,
    but the challenge of being critical–even when only attempting to
    help. And that creates more problems for Thais.

    Is there ever an occasion where a farang opens his mouth on a Thai issue that doesn’t concern him without making it all about him (and his fellow farangs), or without expressing himself in a way that screams “I’m a condescending ethnocentric colonialist, bow before me, inferior primitives of Thailand”? It appears not.

    When we later met, I was unable to understand her
    spoken English. Literally. Even after asking her to repeat and repeat
    her words, she still sounded like she had marbles in her mouth.
    Bad enough. But she invited me to her classroom to help provide
    her students with some English conversation practice.

    I wonder what your Thai is like? Probably incomprehensible gibberish. Like the noises a rabid shit-slinging monkey’s, perhaps.

  7. Yes, but if Paul spoke Thai like “incomprehensible gibberish. Like the noises a rabid shit-slinging monkey’s, perhaps” he certainly wouldn’t be hired to teach it at a western institution.

  8. Please. If Paul here wanted to help, he’d be–oh I don’t know–helping. Teaching English for free maybe, participating in some sort of charity, doing good and decent things. Instead he’s whining on the Internet that Thai culture is giving him such trouble. His interest, like that of most of you, is seizing an opportunity to ridicule, sneer, and feed that farang superiority complex. Don’t pretend. It comes through in the way you talk about us. Every word drips contempt and white man’s burden. I’d ask what it is that keeps your lot here in Thailand, but it’s not like that’s a serious question. Living here is cheap, and on top of that you get the chance to gloat how superior you are–in your imagination–to the locals. On which note, you will never be “local.” All you are is a bunch of tourists who long overstayed their welcome.

    The double standard is, of course, evident too. Paul is free to criticize Thais in whatever manner he chooses, and so are the rest of you. But a Thai criticizing one of you? Goodness no, the nerve! Thais are just sensitive or afraid of losing face or whatever it is you’ve invented in your head that particular day.

    FranklyDiscreet: Yes, but if Paul spoke Thai like “incomprehensible gibberish. Like the noises a rabid shit-slinging monkey’s, perhaps” he certainly wouldn’t be hired to teach it at a western institution.

    Ah, you’d like to talk about western education, would you? How about the sorry state of education in the US where people fight over the legality of teaching evolution in schools? You know, evolution, that fundamental and basic concept in biology? Which a significant number of westerners would like to replace with creationism in classrooms?

    Bring up any problem with Thailand, and it’s one google search away for me to point out something equally hideous (or more!) happening in the west. That includes sex trafficking, unemployment, backwardness, superstitious gullibility, and certain living standards issues. The farang approach seems to be that Thai shit stinks, but white shit never does. Is “hypocrisy” conveniently omitted from the expat lexicon along with “racism”?

    • Excuse me, WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?!?!?! We are here to HELP. You think we get paid well?? No. You think we’re creating a little nest egg to retire on? Please. My salary hardly can pay for the plane ticket it took to get here. It is the Thai school systems which so desperately want a white face to be in front of the classroom, even though countless numbers of inadequate farang teachers are hired ever year that have no business teaching, all because they are white and from a native English speaking country. Yea see, no superiority complex there, I have plenty to complain about when it comes to farang. I find it absolutely appalling that here you are calling us good for nothing freeloaders and then tell us to work for free and do charity, because we obviously don’t deserved to be paid because we are the “white oppressors” who came and colonized your land (which historically ever happened in Thailand). you don’t want us here? Fine. Let’s see how well Thailand does when its future generation is incapable of communicating to any foreign nation in a common tongue.

    • Mur said, in part:
      …His interest, like that of most of you, is seizing an opportunity to ridicule, sneer, and feed that farang superiority complex. Don’t pretend. It comes through in the way you talk about us. Every word drips contempt and white man’s burden. I’d ask what it is that keeps your lot here in Thailand, but it’s not like that’s a serious question. Living here is cheap, and on top of that you get the chance to gloat how superior you are–in your imagination–to the locals. On which note, you will never be “local.” All you are is a bunch of tourists who long overstayed their welcome.
      -and THAT my friends, is the stark reality you will find lurking behind the fake Thai smile. Thanks Mur, you just de-murred any suggestion that there is integrity behind the Thai smile; in the absence of evidence to the contrary (and in direct reference to your hateful diatribe), it would seem that there isn’t. Perhaps this is the very reason why ‘Paul’ and others feel the need to point it out?

      The Thai people would do well to take particular, and humble note of such honest comments, and adjust their ‘welcoming’ behavior accordingly if they want to keep those tourist dollars flooding in. After all, one dollar is worth 30x more that one baht is worth. It’s not an inferiority complex if you actually are inferior, and its no shame to acknowledge inferiority in the presence of greater people/intelligences/systems of doing things. Everybody has to grow up, even countries; if you are still “growing up” to first world level, you’re inferior to Nations that have already achieved it. Denying reality is delusional behavior. Looking up to and emulating a superior is admirable…tearing them down because of envy or xenophobia is not.

      Rather than the obstinate knee-jerk reaction of false pride that must surely be completely at odds with the teachings of Bhuddism, perhaps Mur could defer to a less aggressive way of expressing a differing viewpoint…thereby not only making the point, but also maintaining integrity as a speaker. It’s rather ironic to criticize the ‘falang’ for having a “superiority complex” when one’s own published retort reeks of inferior and invalid ad-hominem responses. That’s why I haven’t bothered to address any more than a fraction of the retort. It’s not a superiority complex if you actually ARE superior; is that not in fact an underpinning precept of Thai society?

      I thank Mur for demonstrating to us all, how even the most well intentioned of ‘falang’ can expect to be treated by some Thai. I personally find the attitude Thai-er-some. I encounter it every day, everywhere, while living among them. It’$ the reason I’m taking my money elsewhere. But thanks for confirming it in a public venue, I thought it was just me…

  9. Excellent post!

    It’s a shame that just looking at the O-NET scores might give people the impression that Thai kids are stupid. Looking at the questions we obviously have to question what this test wants to measure…

    Thank you for enlightening us, kaewmala!

  10. Thanks all for leaving your comments. Much appreciated. This is a critical piece (as most of my articles here are) and hence it invites critical exchanges. @Mur, I understand and sympathize with your point of view as there are indeed some foreigners who love Thailand bashing as a form of sports. However, I don’t see that @paul dee was doing a Thailand-bashing act just for the sake of it. His criticism was valid, although I myself wouldn’t put the notion of face at the center of that example.

    True, there’s also always a danger of being a reductionist; such as that the “face culture” can explain everything that’s wrong in Thailand. It doesn’t, and indeed every culture has a notion of “face” although few other cultures are more obsessed about face than Thailand.

    Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, be more forgiving, and always stay polite and respectful. After all, most people who come here to my blog do care about Thailand. As for those who live to insult others just so that they can feel better about themselves, we’ll know how to take care of them. And I do “take care” of them sometimes.

    Cheers, 🙂

  11. Pingback: The Sorry State of Thai Education – Part 2: Test Scores, Standards and Accountability | Thai Woman Talks – Language, Politics & Love·

  12. “Cynical Thai | February 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Reply

    Jaybird, the exam isn’t designed to test the student’s “personal viewpoints” – It’s designed to test whether the student can repeat the official viewpoint of the test-makers.”

    Cynical Thai, you didn’t understand my complaint. My complaint WAS that the sample test questions recited above very easily could have had multiple seemingly “correct” answers depending on the personal views of the different exam takers. That’s not the way to design test questions for standardized academic testing.

    The questions and answers should measure whether the students learned the curriculum they were being taught in school. I doubt very much that part of the students’ curriculum for the year included being taught to play football anytime they feel a sexual urge.

    Or whether it’s better to talk with a parent, or a friend, or a teacher when they need some kind of advice. How can there be a single “correct” answer to that kind of question. The test questions need to be composed in a way where only one choice among the answers can be correct based on the curriculum being taught.

    The students don’t necessarily have to personally agree with the curriculum being taught. But at least the questions and the correct answers need to be based on factual content the students have been taught.

  13. Excellent points, Jaybird.
    Thank you for your input Frankly and TJC.
    And if my point on saving face was unjustified in Kaewmala’s eyes
    on Feb. 26, I would submit to you that you made that exact point
    (though not blatantly) in Education Part 2. Just look at how many
    people in responsible positions deflected responsibility. Made
    excuses. Pointed the finger of blame at others. I submit that was

    As to the ad hominem attack leveled by Khun Mur, his reaction
    bears out my observation relative to criticizing Thailand or anyone
    and anything Thai. His suggestion that I teach free should be
    forwarded to the liberal-minded Thai authorities that already vetoed
    that idea, despite my skills and credentials in both the English and
    the Thai languages. Ditto for charity work. The orphanage where I
    volunteered my services demanded that I apply for a work permit.

    And I have a suggestion (not a criticism) for the uncouth poster
    Mur: Because you do not know me, you would be well served to
    avoid making assumptions about my motivations and attitudes.
    And on behalf of all farang, thank you for sharing your thoughts
    on Thai hospitality and views toward foreigners, and for making
    us feel welcome in the Land of Smile.

    • Paul, one can reasonably argue that face saving has a lot to do with lack of accountability in Thai culture. However, it wouldn’t be all or the only reason. There are many more reasons which I alluded to in Part 2, that I’m sure you have picked up too.

      Even in your original example, I said I wouldn’t put face “at the center”, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t about face or your face reason was “unjustified” as you took it. It was relevant, but it wasn’t all there was to it. This is what I meant about being a reductionist – when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. The issue of ethics (or lack thereof) in your friend was also partly responsible.

      As for the treatment of farang teachers, surely that’s a problem too and face surely has something to do with it. But again that’s not all. There’s the side of conservatism, nationalism – if not chauvinism and xenophobia. As for the latter, foreign teachers with dark skin, or not Caucasian, will have even more to complain about. All the problems that Caucasian foreign teachers face + racist attitude.

      I’ll leave it here. I appreciate all your comments, really – and if you don’t mind, I’m thinking of using your original example in Part 4 which is about English education in Thailand. There’ll be more chance to comment on teaching English in Thailand.


  14. This is good. I do not mean the results, but that there are actually people and groups who are following this as I always do and it seems like Khun kaewmala has done an excellent job in the way she follows and brings to life The Sorry State of Thai Education. I report on many different aspects of the Thai education system because of the fact that I do care about the young children and teens who are directly affected by all this nonsense. I care because I had taught in 3-government schools for four years, 4-private language centers for another four years before realizing that the Thai education system is a dead joke. I became a Private English Language Consultant in 2008-present. Conclusion: It is the Thai people who are the blame, the Thai voters must demand real changes starting at the ballot box. Hiring more qualified foreign teachers or giving every student an iPad so they can chat with their friends on Facebook will not help until you change the system beginning with the people.

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  18. I have lived in Thailand for 16 years. My wife is Thai and all three of my children attend Thai government schools (M3, M4 and M6, currently). I work in the Education industry. My mother was a teacher in the US school system for 30 years. My wife’s aunt, whom she was very close to, was a teacher in a Thai school. I have literally hundreds of friends who are teachers in many countries. And I state this with no glee–the Thai education system is absolutely terrible. It is fatally flawed in so many ways its tragic. Reading these test questions (and confirming their existence with my kids as we laughed about how ridiculous they are) is no surprise to me at all.

    In fact, many teachers in Thailand often do not teach much in class. Generally speaking, the students show up late and leave whenever they want. They do not bother to listen to the teacher and simply talk amongst themselves. The teachers cannot fail them. Of course the teachers often do not show up for class and no substitute is provided. And many teachers make far more in their home tutorials than they do as teachers so there is a built-in conflict of interest–why teach the students in class when the less they learn results in an increase in after-school classes?

    I send my children to school for social reasons and tell them “just graduate”. But I know perfectly well that they need a great deal of extra classes, both online and locally, to provide them with an actual education that they should be receiving at school.

    I remember my first visit to a Thai school. I was living in Hong Kong at the time and my wife and I visited her aunt. We arrived at school at 9 am. Her aunt was in the middle of teaching her Pratom 4 students but, upon seeing us, left her class and spent the next three hours meeting with us. After an hour I asked, somewhat dumbfounded, “What are your students doing while you are here talking to us?”. “They are ok”, she explained. My mother till doubts that this story is true–she cannot believe a teacher would just abandon her class like that, especially when the students are so young. But I assure you it actually happened. And it is not an isolated incident.

    Other countries certainly have their problems but to compare the US education system to Thailand is simply uninformed.

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  20. I’m a Thai with a graduate degree and I grew up in the US. Based on this ONET, these are stupid questions. Thai students are not stupid. These test questions are for stupid White folks who grew up on Sex, Drugs and Rap music nowadays. Thai students are not experienced the same life and environment (Sex at 10 or smoking at 8 as I have seen in the US). This is not a fair tests. Thai students are prepared for academic.

    • Khun Somjai, I am disheartened to see your “stupid White folks” comment. Considering that you grew up in the US, I expect you’d have more sensitivity. Indulging in sex and drugs and even rap music is hardly exclusive to young “White folks” in the US. Poor education system aside, sex, drugs and rap music are not unfamiliar to Thai youth. Thailand’s ranking No. 1 in teen pregnancy in Asia and No. 2 in the world is a clear testament to that. Not to mention an increasing rate in HIV infection among Thai teenagers. IMO tackling such a tantamount problem as a broken national education system should be done with eyes open. Useful analysis and effective solutions are based on facts – not wishful thinking or prejudice.

  21. Good graduate degree, Somjai. What was it in…Tinglish?? -“Thai students are not experienced the same life (sic) and environment…Thai students are prepared for academic”. Academic what? So much for “grew up in the U.S” , huh?

    Perhaps you are being very typically Thai and greng jai in this posting of your…less than graduate degree level, grammatically embarrassing comment? I don’t have a graduate degree in ANYthing, yet my (T)inglish seems to be so much more sophisticated than yours. If you wish to employ the logical fallacy position of ‘appeal to authority’ (per the I’m a Thai with a graduate degree, boast)…then at least make an effort to mitigate your superficial claim by avoiding grammatically flawed ‘Tinglish’. After all, “Thai students are prepared for academic”, right?? And you ARE a ‘graduate degree’ Thai student, after all…posting an ‘academic’ comment.

    I claim no such superficial appeal to authority. When you speak from a position of integrity in the first place…there’s no need. Greng jai to you.

    • Dear Truthteller, The flaw in Somjai’s comment, to me, lies not so much in her level of English (which is surprising if she really did grow up in the US), but in her racial slur. Her comment about Thai students can perhaps be forgiven if she really grew up in the US and has been out of touch with the current state of things in Thailand. I have given my reaction. I know some comments can be annoying but not everyone has the same level of discernment and sensitivity. Let’s keep it friendly. Thanks. 🙂

      • I’m not sure I understand what you mean about Somjai “being out of touch with the current state of things in Thailand”. Is there something profound happening at this time which wasn’t happening…or in place, “before”?

        “Annoying” comments…ultimately do not merit a response of course, but I will sometimes participate in discussion if a particular point needs to be made.

      • “out of touch” in reference to this particular point in her comment: “Thai students are not experienced the same life and environment (Sex at 10 or smoking at 8 as I have seen in the US)”.

  22. Whilst the premise itself is questionable as far as ‘sex at 10…smoking at 8’ goes in the U.S (evidence beyond anecdotal would need to be provided to support such a brazen claim), it’s certainly a shame that Thai students might in fact be “in touch” with reference to this particular point. I must assume it’s simply your intention to convey that Thai students are not “out of touch” with “the same opportunities and experiences available to students in the U.S. education system”. This would seem to make more sense.

    While the inference is that the 2 education systems are ostensibly equivalent, the evidence as outlined in a ranking of Universities:

    -indicates that overall, the US is the best provider of quality higher education and Thailand is in 41st place out of 48 countries. It would therefore be intellectually dishonest of (me) to concur that “the same opportunities and experiences (are) available to students (as) in the U.S. education system”. Thai students may not be ‘out of touch’ with the same opportunities and experiences available to students in the U.S. education system…but they can hardly be said to be “in touch” with them either, based on this evidence.

    Pride aside, the course of action is clearly to model Universities higher up on the list. Honestly, that would be the best policy. And Thailand would certainly benefit from that in the long term.

  23. I’m a high school student from Michigan, (USA) yeah, I though all these problems would b solve by now. Guess not.. I once stood up for these kind of problems, but I got banded… yeah, the thai-english teacher banded me, and said I was hypocrite. I dont think so. Yes , I am 100% thai but grew up in Europe, then I came back to live in Thailand I face this. There is no right and wrong answer on the test, I see my friends struggling and some of them going in to a very dangerous depressing zone. They called the test: “the judge or ur brain” so if somebody got a low score, that person would b bullied and banded from friends. I mean, WTH?! once again, its not them, its the test! From my opinion it should not be like this. I know for a fact that thai student have a good education and are pretty smart + focus in their studies. I chose to study in America fro a year ago, because I didnt want to go through this again, I found out after all, that I was not stupid and was at the same level as other kids in my age from other countries. I dont need a test to judge me to make me feel bad. Life is more then a piece of paper that tells me result of a test. I honestly think somebody should stand up for this, and change it. Even farang teacher should step in, they might look at u, like: why does this bother you?” but u have to help us and stand up for us. The more voice, the louder and the more attention it gets.
    (srry for ma not so perfect eng, 3year of english)

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  25. I was asked to check an English O-Net test by one of the Thai teachers at my school. After taking the test myself I not only found that some of the questions were ambiguous, had many misspellings, used incorrect words (e.g. ‘ream’ instead of ‘team’) or had two or more possible correct answers, but found that some of the answers on the actual answer sheet were incorrect. I found that this resulted in a maximum score of 80%. The test as a whole is ridiculous with confusing questions, difficult terminology and vocabulary that many Native English speakers would have difficulty understanding and over lengthy pieces of text from which the students are required to dissect an answer. If the organisation that creates these tests were just to employ the services of a Native English speaker for recommendations / suggestions as to the content, to proof read them and check the answers the majority of the problems would be resolved.

  26. I have recently written to ASEAN to see if they can do something about the Thai education system. The problem as far as I see it, are many but there is a culture of blame which goes around. When the students cannot pass or do well they blame the teacher. “He is too serious” or “it is too difficult” they will complain.
    The truth is this (I have taught for 5 years in Thailand – Kindergarden, Pratom and High School) – English Maths and Science and was successful in all of them. I think I am equipped to make these observations.
    1. There get taught far too much grammar
    2. The testing is multiple choice (another problem)
    3. They do not do enough reading or writing
    4. They are not encouraged to do creative writing
    5. The parents complain too much (yep it is them too while taking no responsibility themselves)
    6. There are massive amounts of corruption in Thailand. It is designed to look great, but deep down there is very little substance. Yep, we can complain about the UK or the USA but I think the US and UK are different. There it is not all about face or looking good, but rather substance. Many schools are making a killing in education. Foreigners have few rights here and when they try and change the system and gets the kids to learn they are fired. Many have learnt this and now there are few dissenters. Most have left or been fired to go to inferior schools.
    7. The students do not realize how easy English is. This is the tragedy of it all. They think it is a 1 million grammatical rules and do not learn the basics. Many do not even use full stops. How can you write English without full stops? After 12 years they still do not use them, a key function of the English language. English is not about perfection but about communication. Instead they learn a million grammatical rules which they never use, remember or understand. If they kept to the basics they could get this language in 3 years – from learning the alphabet to writing and reading sentences. I know, I have tried it.
    8. In the end they could do this if they followed the rules and tried with their teachers. Unfortunately there are younger, and maybe more pleasant younger teachers which are now making their way into the schools (also with no experience), and so the Thai education system goes from one crisis to the next while they keep making fatal mistakes. When they on the right path and making progress they go and get a more handsome teacher. Would this happen in the West..?? Would a 25 year old get a position over a 55 year old veteran with 20 years experience..?? NO of course not but IT WILL happen in Thailand and this is at the very core of why education keeps going down. It is always about appearances.
    9. I do not say for a moment this country is inferior, but if it wishes to move away from being a factory of the world, to being an intellectual center then it is going to have to improve its education system. The no fail policy has to thrown in the bin where it belongs. Complaining parents need to be put in their place. If they do not like it then they should teach the kids themselves and see what it is like. They need to be less sensitive n the marks. Until they graduate from high school then let them fail a bit, and get up to speed before they start to expect 80 and 90%. I had kids in my class who could hardly write – Pratom 4 and when I kept failing them I was told “do you know who his mother is?”. She was one the head Ajarn’s and so he refused to try hard. Corruption has got to stop. We are trying to help your kids. If Thais followed the same hard system we did, then they would learn. They need to stop being so sensitive. And yes I am learning the Thai language – how to write and read it.
    10. I love Thailand in many ways. Yes it is cheap to live here, but it is also frustrating when you are trying to help them, and they throw you out because they say it is too difficult, when in fact they can learn it, if they made a little more effort. And they would be better off at the end. Reading and writing English has got to come back into the Thai curriculum and the multiple choice system has to be done away with and this will make all the difference.

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